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SOUTH ASIA: Eight Nations Unite to Combat Climate Change

Farid Ahmed

DHAKA, Jul 7 2008 (IPS) - As rising seas, melting glaciers, floods and cyclones are increasingly putting millions of people at risk in South Asia, the South Asian Association for Regional Cooperation (SAARC) met here last week to find ways to mitigate the impacts of changing climate.

Downpours flood the streets of Dhaka as SAARC leaders meet to discuss a regional action plan on climate change. Credit: Farid Ahmed/IPS

Downpours flood the streets of Dhaka as SAARC leaders meet to discuss a regional action plan on climate change. Credit: Farid Ahmed/IPS

Experts and ministers from SAARC member countries discussed the impact of changing climate and adopted an action plan for three years.

Atiq Rahman, a leading Bangladeshi environmental scientist, told IPS that it was important for the region to unite, as environmentalists have long warned that SAARC’s member countries – Afghanistan, Bangladesh, Bhutan, India, the Maldives, Nepal, Pakistan, and Sri Lanka – are among the worst affected by climate change.

“The latest [Inter-governmental Panel for Climate Change (IPCC)] report says the sea-level rise will be rapid… a vast swathe of land will go underwater… food security will be threatened and the millennium development goal on poverty will not be reached,” said Rahman, lead author of the report and executive director of the Dhaka-based research organisation, Bangladesh Centre for Advanced Studies.

For the first time South Asian environment ministers issued a joint plan to fight the effects of global warming. They also pushed for the developed countries to establish a special fund dedicated to saving the affected countries from the effects of climate change.

The action plan adopted in Dhaka seeks to identify and create opportunity for activities achievable through regional cooperation and South-South support in terms of technology and knowledge transfer. It also establishes common regional understanding of the various concerns of SAARC member states around the U.N. Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC).

This new beginning of cooperation and exchange of technology and information will benefit the entire region, according to Rahman. “Everybody will be serious as everybody is affected by the external threat,” he said.

The action plan, covering 2009-2011, puts forth action plans for climate change mitigation, technology transfer, financing and investment mechanisms, education, training and awareness, monitoring, plus assessment and management strategies of impact and risks.

Fakhruddin Ahmed, head of the interim government of Bangladesh, called for putting collective pressure by SAARC on the developed nations to make an unconditional commitment to reduce their greenhouse gas emission levels to save the vulnerable regions of the world from the perils of climate change.

Ahmed said that the SAARC countries should speak in one voice to ensure that the developed countries commit new and additional resources to support regional adaptation efforts. “We should also remain vigilant against any attempt to make adaptation support contingent upon our commitment in mitigation,” he said. The industrialised economies must provide adaptation funds and facilitate technology transfers without any conditionality, he stressed.

The IPCC forecasts that global warming would result in sea-level rise, with a resultant increase in coastal flooding and salinity. “In 2007, two successive floods ravaged Bangladesh as well as parts of India. The rise in frequency and intensity of cyclones are ominous testimonies of climatic shifts in our region,” Ahmed explained.

The ferocity of Cyclone ‘Sidr’ in November last year took us all – even the experts and forecasters – by surprise. Another killer Cyclone ‘Nargis’, which originated in the Bay of Bengal in April 2008, devastated the Irrawaddy delta of Myanmar, Ahmed said.

Climate change will disproportionately hurt the poor and its irreversible impacts will steal the livelihood options of millions of our citizens already living below the poverty line, said Ahmed.

Quoting the IPCC report, Ahmed said that Bangladesh could lose as much as one-third of its landmass due to the rise in sea level and the Maldives could disappear entirely. The floodplains of India and Pakistan could face permanent inundation, he added. “Millions of our citizens could be permanently displaced. These are not scientific conjectures. They are cautious predictions – often the best case scenarios – based on rigorous data analysis and simulations,” he said.

The adverse effects of global warming will derail all our efforts to achieve the Millennium Development Goals by 2015. “It’ll unleash the tragedy in human history, far graver than the ‘Black Death’ or the atrocities of World War II. We cannot, and must not, sit idle and let this happen to us,” Ahmed asserted.

Following the meeting, New Age – a major Bangladesh daily – said, “We believe that the cooperation that the member states have promised each other in sharing meteorological data and building capacity in the area of expertise on climate change issues can lead to a more holistic approach to understanding and combating the adverse impacts of climate change in the South Asian region.”

“Given our vulnerabilities, inadequate means and limited capacities, we need to ensure rapid social and economic development in our region to make SAARC climate change-resilient,” said SAARC Secretary-General Sheel Kant Sharma. “Development provides the best form of adaptation,” he stressed.

Bangladeshi deputy environment minister Raja Devashish Roy said Bangladesh had dedicated 437,000 dollars to fight climate change, but that alone could not fight the effects on his country.

Plans to fight climate change need to be integrated into all sectors, he said. “Thirty million taka is just the beginning. We’re engaging at an international level of negotiating. We are going to push for more funds to come into Bangladesh,” he said.

Roy reported that more discussion would take place on the modalities of setting up a South Asian fund on climate change at the July SAARC summit in Colombo.

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