Climate change knows no national boundaries as it affects the whole planet. However, its effects on regions and countries are disproportionate. Based on the level of adaptation, resilience, and preparedness, some regions are more vulnerable to these changes as compared to others. South Asia is one of the most vulnerable regions to the impacts of climate change.
Large population, a strong dependence on agriculture, geographic location and governance challenges make South Asia susceptible to the ravages of climate change. South Asia is already deeply impacted by climate change despite contributing relatively little to global greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions.1 The region is currently experiencing rising temperatures, changing precipitation patterns, more extreme weather events, including intense fl oods, droughts and storms, and rise in sea levels. These changes have taken a toll on the region’s economic performance and on the lives and livelihoods of millions of poor people.
These impacts are likely to worsen in the future as little has been achieved so far in the attempts at mitigating and adapting to climate change. As far as climate change is concerned, the “abnormal” would be the next “normal” in the region. Unusual and unprecedented spells of hot weather are expected to occur far more frequently and cover much larger areas in the future. Rainfall is expected to become more unpredictable. Abrupt changes in the monsoon could precipitate a major crisis, triggering more frequent droughts as well as greater fl ooding. Crop yields are expected to fall signifi – cantly by the 2040s because of extreme heat. Although it is diffi cult to predict future ground water levels, falling water tables could be expected to go down further on account of increasing demand for water from a growing population as well as from industry.
Melting glaciers in the Himalayas and rising sea-level at the coastal areas could signifi cantly hurt agriculture, affecting millions of livelihood while jeopardizing food security in the region.Melting glaciers and loss of snow cover of the Himalayas are expected to alter the fl ows of the glacier-fed rivers affecting irrigation. Similarly, in the coastal areas, rising sea-level and storm surges could lead to salt-water intrusion in the coastal areas, impacting agriculture, degrading groundwater quality, contaminating drinking water and possibly causing a rise in diarrhoea cases and cholera outbreaks. Additionally, seasonal water scarcity, rising temperatures and intrusion of sea water could threaten crop yields, further threatening the region’s food security. Should current trends persist, substantial yield reductions in both rice and wheat could be expected in the near and medium-terms.
In addition, increased risks of physical damage from landslides, flash floods, glacial lake outbursts and other climate-related natural disasters are also expected. Climate change is also expected to have major health impacts, increasing malnutrition and related health disorders. Heat waves are likely to result in a very substantial rise in mortality and death. Climate change impacts on agriculture and livelihoods could also increase the number of climate refugees leading to social confl ict.
These impacts are and will be felt most by those who are socially, economically, culturally, politically, institutionally or otherwise marginalized. In the South Asian context, these will include those living under the poverty line; women, children, the elderly, the disabled, tribal communities; those living in landlocked countries, close to coastlines and on river banks; and Track II vital for climate change cooperation in South Asia Abid Qaiyum Suleri The engagement of non-governmental, unoffi cial contacts and activities between a host of stakeholders serve as an informal platform to foster cooperation in climate action. Trade Insight Vol. 12, No. 3, 2016 11 those who rely on agriculture for their livelihood.
Given the vulnerabilities of these countries and the impacts they face, it is imperative for them to build their climate resilience. Resilience is defi ned as the ability of a system and its component parts to anticipate, absorb, accommodate, or recover from the effects of a potentially hazardous event in a timely and effi cient manner, including through ensuring the preservation, restoration, or improvement of its essential basic structures and functions.
Climate resilience and adaptation are often used interchangeably. However, resilience is a broader term than adaptation. South Asia should opt for ‘adaptation’ strategies that typically involve specifi c actions by decision makers in response to a current or anticipated threat that exceeds a threshold of acceptable impact. For example, creating urban canopies as shades against heat waves is an adaptation strategy.
In addition to adaptation measures, there is a need to work towards creating a climate resilient South Asia. The focus here must be on building the overall adaptive capacity of societies and their ability to increase such capacity. Creating and enhancing resilience to climate change can, in fact, open a window of opportunity for cooperation among regional neighbours who have common socio-economic and socio-cultural contexts.
Given the scale of climate change impacts, any step that South Asian countries take independently to combat them are likely to be insuffi cient. In order to make any real progress, a coordinated effort is crucial. Likewise, there is plenty that these countries can learn from each other. For example, Pakistan has just started to promote solar energy generation while the system is well established in India and rural Nepal.
In the past, historical baggage prevented many South Asian countries to collaborate to improve human development. If climate change goes unaddressed due to poor bilateral relations among South Asian neighbours, it will be harmful for all parties and could create situations which further exacerbate tensions. For example, if India were to invest heavily in hydropower to meet its energy demands in an unsustainable manner, it could impact Pakistan’s downstream water access. Additionally, India and Pakistan must work with other nations in the South Asia region, which is one of the least integrated regions of the world, to develop a regional climate strategy.
A regional climate change strategy could address, among others, areas such as enhancing water security, supporting vulnerable communities, promoting energy security and mitigating climate induced disasters.
Given the animosity among SAARC (South Asian Association for Regional Cooperation) member states, ‘Track II’ diplomacy involving nonstate actors such as non-government organizations, scholars, experts and academics, becomes vital in strengthening overall cooperation in South Asia. This approach can certainly be effective for reducing vulnerability to climate change and enhancing climate resilience in the region. Track II engagement of non-governmental, unoffi cial contacts and activities between scholars, organizations and a host of other stakeholders, may serve as an informal platform to foster cooperation in climate action. It can help draw lessons from best adaptation practices and build social resilience.
The Track II approach to fi ght climate change is also an important opportunity to engage South Asian experts and infl uential persons in the climate change discourse. Such eminent personalities may be in a better position to sensitize policy makers on climate change. In addition, there is also a need that people to people interactions be facilitated including youths, journalists, local governments, research institutions and private sector and civil society organisations.
Given the existing level of engagement of ‘non-state actors’, in climate change cooperation in various countries in South Asia, one important support Track II can extend is in collating background data. This can be used to develop a shared repository for evidence based analysis and assessment. Civil society organisations have the capability and credibility to gather data and undertake situation analysis and research studies. They can also pilot initiatives to demonstrate effective ways of addressing climate change.
Knowledge thus generated can immensely help the Tack I offi cial diplomatic processes at the regional forums. It can bring together the South Asian governments and encourage them to renew their resolve to jointly address climate change challenges.
The engagement of ‘non-state actors’ could also contribute towards the implementation of the common positions taken by the countries on the global agenda. One example is the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs)—which has included ‘Climate actions’ as one of the 17 goals—that will govern the post-2015 development landscape. It is thus imperative for the South Asian countries to put in place laws and institutions, in coherence with the SDGs, and take urgent actions to combat climate change and its impacts. „ Dr. Suleri is Executive Director, Sustainable Development Policy Institute (SDPI), Islamabad. This write-up has benefi ted from discussions that took place in a Track II dialogue on climate change jointly organized by SDPI and Development Alternatives Group, New Delhi in 2016.
Dr Abid Qaiyum Suleri is the Executive Director at Sustainable Development Policy Institute.