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
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
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
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
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.
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
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
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.
This article was originally published at:
The opinions expressed in this article are the author's own and do not necessarily reflect the viewpoint or stance of SDPI.