South Asia: Eye of the Storm at Paris Climate Summit

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Chennai’s record breaking rains over last 100 years bring home the flood  water as well as a point on adapting to climate change.

Early in 2015, a landmark year for Climate Change, http://www.belisarius.org.uk/ Robert Macfarlane published a book, ‘Landmarks’. In that searching book, Macfarlane passionately presents the way we deploy and destroy words and phrases connected to our ecosystem. “We have forgotten 10,000 words for our landscapes….” he stated, adding that we are using increasingly impoverished language to describe the nature.

Macfarlane is known for his exploration of alleys and avenues of nature and the languages that describe them. It is not sure if he has explored the language of hopes and despair deployed by the negotiators during the global climate negotiations. South Asia, cynosure of poverty and milling impoverished humanity, is the living example of, how along with vanishing language of environmental justice, even the landscape and landmarks too get lost!

Has Robert Macfarlane, included in his book vanishing words like archipelago of Maldives and Sunderban of Bangladesh? And what about phrases like Khumbu Glaciers of Nepal, Ganges Delta and white tigers of Bangla Desh?

Just about a year back Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) released its fifth assessment report which, based on observations and modeling, conveyed the stark message with unprecedented certainty that Earth is warming. It stated with 95%, that is “extremely likely” certainty that the cause of the warming lies in human activities. Such certainty is accepted in the world of science as ‘ gold standard’ to rate the validity of a proposition made after assessment from observations and trends. It is beyond doubt that global warming is here with us and we are living in the climate which is warmer by 0.85 deg C as compared to the temperature mid-19th century, when the world was steaming its industries and had started belching out carbon dioxide (CO2) due to burning of the coal and other fossil fuels. Presently emitted CO2 is more than carrying capacity of the Earth. NASA this month reported that human-induced CO2 continues to increase above levels not seen in hundreds of thousands of years: currently, about half of the carbon dioxide released from the burning of fossil fuels remains in the atmosphere and is not absorbed by vegetation and the oceans.

The observations in 2015 have consistently beaten the forecasts made in IPCC’s fifth assessment report, which now can be termed as ‘ moderately conservative’! Year 2014 has now been recorded as hottest year on the record since NASA started recording temperatures in 1882.What more, the average monthly temperature trends in 2015 show that it will be hotter than 2014. The CO2 concentration has reached 400 ppm as against 380 ppm in year 1997 when in Kyoto, all the industrialized countries agreed to legally binding emission reductions. It is now predicted that the landmark figure of warming by 1 deg cent would reach by year 2020 instead of 2050 as predicted by the most likely scenario by IPCC. Worst, such predictions would not be affected by the emission reduction measures taken in Paris summit because they are the result of already emitted Green House Gases (GHGs)

Climate Change does not recognize the national boundaries created by humans. It’s impacts differ from region to region and they are already imparting sufferings on the people inversely proportional to their incomes. South Asia, the most populous region in the world inhabited by nearly 1.8 billion people will be subjected to unprecedented extreme events, rising sea levels, changing rainfall patterns, floods, expansion of deserts, melting of glaciers, loss of fish stocks due to sea-acidification, extinction of endemic species and decrease in agricultural productivity.

It is pity that South Asian nations have not utilized their collective negotiating tool, SAARC (South Asian Association for Regional Cooperation) in latest climate negotiations. Political differences and border conflicts are overshadowing the opportunities for collective combat against the climate change which itself may give rise to possibility of resolving the conflicts between the South Asian nations. Nowhere in the world exists the close interdependence of the well being of the people and environmental sustainability, between economic development and social inclusiveness than in the South Asian region. Paris summit provides unprecedented platform for SAARC to rekindle the future of the people in the region.

Melting of glaciers in Bhutanese Himalayas and resulting floods due to global warming would cause havoc not only down-the-slope population in Bhutan but also critical supply of hydroelectricity to India. The submerging of the Ganga-Brahmaputra delta due to rising sea would not only affect people of Bangla Desh but also India due to massive migration of the environmental refugees searching for the land. It would be worst that 1971 situation similar to what world is witnessing in Europe. Floods in Pakistan would not only affect the Pakistan’s people but also affect their agrarian economy resulting into rise of food prices that may result into possible violent reactions as were seen at the start of the ‘Arab Spring’ which in turn would feed into terrorism affecting the whole region. Acidification of the oceans would reduce the fish stock, tempting the fishermen of one country to cross the international waters leading to imprisonments and political tensions, as seen in case of India, Sri Lanka and Pakistan. Floods in Nepal due to melting Himalayan snow, like already witnessed in case of Kosi, could damage infrastructure, loss of life and increased refugees in India and Bhutan. The submerged part of Maldives would slowly force the population to move out of the island and finally creating an ‘abandoned country’.

There are enormous benefits of action against global warming. Such actions could touch the life of poor in South Asia. Adopting to climate resilient agriculture would provide the food security, ambitious plans on renewable energy would eliminate the energy independence and reduce air pollution menace that is making life of urban societies unbearable, disaster management plans would prevent spread of diseases like Malaria, afforestation would help in preserving the biodiversity and livelihood for the poor, and finally climate-smart politics would help in promoting peace in the region, which Bill Clinton at one point termed as one of the dangerous ‘flash point’ of the world .

PM Modi has sparked off the rejuvenation of SAARC when his government took over in 2014. There were hopes that SAARC group would become formidable platform to debate and negotiate the post-2015 climate agreement. South Asian region represents all the climate related disasters that could be listed from melting of glaciers to sea rise to extreme weather events. World is aware of the same. The threats of environmental migration was never such a grave threat as it is today in South Asia. It would make the current migration in Europe look like a ‘baby movement’.

The flaring debates and erupting arguments from South Asian negotiators would dominate the Paris summit taking place over next 12 days, mainly because about 25% of global population, South Asia emits about 4 per cent of the GHGs, where as USA with about 4 % of global population emits 25% of the GHGs. The ‘carbon space’ occupation cannot be more unjust than this.

PM Modi, when he talks about climate justice, he probably speaks for all South Asian nations, a block that inhabits worlds largest number of poor who will be affected the most due to climate change though their contribution to climate change is the least.

PM Modi has brilliantly demonstrated his SAARC strategy at the time of his oath taking ceremony in 2014 by inviting all the SAARC heads of state. Would he meet them in Paris to build the SAARC-strategy along with the India strateg

One cannot choose one’s neighbors, but one can definitely choose a way to build solidarity with neighbors and speak with one voice in Paris on emission reduction commitments, reminding rich countries of their failure to meet their commitments, to pay back their climate debt, provide financial and technological assistance and finally stop destroying the language, phrases and words of the environmental diplomacy. END

By Rajendra Shende, IIT-Alumni, Chairman , TERRE Policy center, Former Director of UNEP .

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