What Implications will Climate Change have on South Asia?

Inoka Perera

The potential future effects of global climate change include more frequent wildfires, longer periods of drought in some regions and an increase in the number, duration and intensity of tropical storms. Credit: Left – Mellimage/Shutterstock.com, center – Montree Hanlue/Shutterstock.com.

by Inoka Perera 11 September 2019

Over many centuries, South Asia has been
grappling over strengthening its national security, sovereignty and territorial
integrity defining security purely in terms of military might, self help,
balancing and bandwagoning against opposing threats whereas today, the region
is challenged by security threats that neither military nor weapons
proliferation can resolve. The crisis of environmental security has begun to
jeopardize South Asia to an extent that it can no longer ignore this
transboundary issue and instead, it must act fast towards a common regional
commitment to combat climate change.

While the two largest countries of the
region India and Pakistan continue to fight for territory and power, these two
countries are presumably the most affected by the challenges of climate change.
In fact, of the 10 most polluted cities in the world, seven are in
India and two in Pakistan, according to the World Economic Forum
. In recent years, both
India and Pakistan are challenged by extreme weather conditions of heat
strokes, rising temperatures and
more erratic rainfalls causing floods, excessive rainfalls and droughts
throughout the year.

The consequences of climate change to the
South Asian economy are considered to be dire and devastating such that
according to the United Nations Climate Change Organisation, by the end of
this century, climate change could cut up to 9% of the South Asian economy
every year
.
The Asian Development Bank (ADB) report entitled ‘Assessing the Costs of
Climate Change and Adaptation in South Asia’ predicts that by 2050, the
collective economy of six countries—Bangladesh, Bhutan, India, the Maldives,
Nepal, and Sri Lanka—will lose an average 1.8% of its annual gross domestic
product; by 2100, the loss will be 8.8%.

However, fighting climate change
unilaterally is certainly not an option. The world has already been warned, its
effects are global and therefore it is time South Asia gets together in a
multilateral initiative to protect its people, economy, and the living strands
of life. Fighting climate change multilaterally has nevertheless, often gone
under the radar of national agendas in South Asia as a result of the growing
levels of suspicion and the lack of a common identity and a mainstream goal as
a region. Thus, the crisis that the region faces is under-appreciated by both
governments and people. However, the region is warned. By 2080, Global climate change (GCC) will likely increase food demand
by around 300% due to the high degree of population, higher income, and demand
for bio-fuel;

and this rise will likely create an imbalance between food supply and demand
even without the effects of GCC and, as is expected, if there is a decline in
food production due to GCC, it is likely that there will be more crises over
food supply and demand, and a relentless rise in prices, threatening food
security.

Therefore, climate change will certainly
leave South Asia in a catastrophe, affecting not only the economy but also
agriculture, a major source of living in the region which in turn will increase
levels of poverty, food insecurities and undermine the overall living standards
of South Asians.  Many institutions
including the World Bank believe that South Asia would be one of the most
affected areas due to GCC. In 2013, the World Bank noted that ‘‘in the past few decades a warming
trend has begun to emerge over South Asia, particularly in India, which appears
to be consistent with the signal expected from human induced climate change’’
. This region is likely
to face a warming of around 0.016 °C and 1.0 °C.

The Indian Ocean region has significant
geo-economic advantages with two-thirds of global oil trade and one-third of
global cargo trade passing through it but yet suffers from multiple
trans-border security challenges—“piracy; armed robberies at sea; terrorism; trafficking in
narcotics, arms and people; illegal fishing; in addition the dangers posed by
natural disasters and climate-change”. This region produces around 6 million
tonnes of marine produce
and has one of the largest
concentrations of fisheries workers in the world. Climate change and strategic
competition in these waters, alongside tremendous and unsustainable demand for
marine products are cause devastating affects to these waters to the detriment
of every country which shares them. In fact, the impact of climate change might
fundamentally alter the shape and size of South Asia itself as an island nation
like Maldives today has reason to fear that by 2100, if sea levels rise by 20 inches or more, large tracts of the
island itself would disappear,
turning many of its less than 300,000
people into eco-refugees.

Environmental security is in its very
nature a transnational crisis concerned with issues, namely resource depletion,
transborder pollution and global warming and therefore the main countries in
this basin, India, Bangladesh and Nepal, have no choice but to cooperate. Nevertheless,
the politicization of sharing natural resources and environmental sources have
created an incessant air of suspicion of a ‘big brother-small brother’
temperament between India (‘big brother’), Bangladesh and Nepal, preventing the
settlement of the transboundary waters shared by the three countries. In
addition, clouds of suspicion between the partners have continued to derail
conclusive settlements, particularly between India and Bangladesh on the Teesta
river waters and between India and Pakistan on the Indus Water Treaty which is a marvel of
international diplomacy but barely championed at home.

Therefore, the challenges put forward by
climate change given then souring populations and decreasing economies, pose a
greater challenge to the environment sustainability and all aspects of human
security in South Asia. The crisis of environmental security that South Asia
faces today gets far less attention than traditional concerns of security of
borders or territory. But the impact of climate change and pollution has forced
us to consider Lorraine Elliot’s definition of human security
(caused by environmental and other kinds of equity crisis): “If peoples and
communities are insecure (economically, socially, politically,
environmentally), state security can be fragile or uncertain.” It is essential therefore
that the countries in the region unite towards a resilient South Asia with more
concrete climate actions in a multilateral mechanism. Even though most
researchers argue that environmental and human security crisis may likely not
create an outright war between India and Pakistan or between other countries in
the South Asian region in the near future, there is however, little doubt that
such tensions will keep rising


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