Talk of climate change in SouthAsia has been pending since the last SAARC summit held in Kathmandu in 2014. SAARC nations have not met since then. The gains made over years of hard work towards climate diplomacy in the region seem to have been lost.
At his meeting with the SAARC Secretary General Esala Ruwan Weerakoon in Islamabad on December 24, Pakistan Prime Minister exploited the inertia on regional climate talks to the hilt. Speaking of the need to discuss climate change as a block, Khan said he hoped to be able to host the next SAARC summit in Pakistan.
In 2008, the SAARC Environment Ministers Dhaka Declaration on Climate Change included a three-year action plan that urged the international community to promote partnership and provide additional finance to address climate change.
The 25th year of SAARC concluded with the 2010 Thimphu Declaration on Climate Change. The document set an ambitious goal for SouthAsia to lead the world in furthering renewable energy, cutting carbon emissions, and reducing poverty while strengthening resilience to climate change.
The 2014 SAARC summit had member countries’ commitment to work together against climate change. But the 2016 summit, planned to be hosted by Pakistan, was postponed indefinitely due to friction between India and Pakistan following the Uri attack. This has also brought dialogue on climate change in the region to a stand-still. Bangladesh, Bhutan and Afghanistan had also declined to participate in the Islamabad meet.
Little has moved since then. There have been ministerial level discussions but no statements have been made. The gains made over years of hard work towards climate diplomacy in the region seems lost.
A climate crisis in the making
Mountains are warming up to 0.7°C faster than the global average. Glaciers are unable to take the heat any longer and the threat of glacial lake outburst floods is a twenty-first century reality. Yet, a regional approach has been missing even though all SAARC member states face climate change risks. Bangladesh, Bhutan, India, and Nepal share river basins.
The World Bank’s ‘Climate Change Action Plan 2021-2025 — South Asia Roadmap’ released days before the Glasgow Climate Change Conference put the number of vulnerable people living in climate change hot-spots in SouthAsia at over 800 million.
It said that by 2030, the annual economic losses from climate change in the region will average USD 160 billion and that, by 2050, South Asia could see climate migrants totaling over 40 million.
Bangladeshi environmentalist and academician, Ahmad Kamruzzaman Majumder feels that the need for South Asian solidarity to combat the effects of climate change is now more urgent than ever.
“SouthAsian countries have not been able to sit together, discuss common issues, and come up with a unified vision,” Majumder told the Nepali Times newspaper. “Doing so would make it easier to pressure developed countries in the international forum.”
“Climate issues have been overshadowed by geopolitical issues,” the newspaper quoted Majumdar as saying. “Pakistan also does not seem interested in holding talks with India.”
A report by the environment advocacy group, Germanwatch in early 2021 said that Bangladesh is the seventh-most climate crisis impacted country in the world. It is followed by Pakistan at the eighth position and Nepal at the tenth position.
Neither did the SAARC raise the climate issue as a single block at the 2021 United Nations Climate Change Conference (COP26).