The South Asian region faces an environmental watershed due to rising sea levels, melting glaciers affecting Nepal and Afghanistan, and overdevelopment that is threatening Tibet’s vital ecosystem. This was highlighted by an expert panel discussion during a webinar on Wednesday.
The Democracy Forum (London-based NGO) convened a panel of experts to discuss this urgent issue and offer possible solutions in the wake of COP 26. The seminar was held on December 15, 2015.
TDF President Lord Bruce warned in his opening address that there are dramatic signs of natural disasters caused by climate change. He also highlighted the vulnerability of South Asia’s urban poor to climate changes.
He stated that the webinar was based on an earlier TDF panel event held in March. This highlighted the regional effect of environmental degradation in the Tibetan Plateau. This ecological damage, as the Dalai Lama stated at a 2015 Climate Conference, Paris, has a devastating impact on ‘billions’ of human lives in China and India, Pakistan, Bangladesh.
He also stated that environmental degradation was not a matter of one or two countries. [but]It is [nothing less]The survival of humanity is more important than its own survival.
The Glasgow Climate Conference’s final communiqué offers South Asian countries a pathway to reducing greenhouse gas emissions and mitigating adverse effects of rising temperatures. However, Lord Bruce stated that South Asian countries have little chance of escaping the dire consequences.
Dr Shalini Dahyani, South Asia Regional Chair, IUCN Commission on Ecosystems Management, offered a broad view of climate issues affecting South Asia. She spoke about the 16 000 ghost villages in India that have been displaced from their Himalayan villages because of loss of livelihood, basic amenities and land degradation. She concluded that natural solutions could provide long-term solutions with many co-benefits to communities.
Tempa Gyaltsen Zmlha, Deputy Director at the Tibet Policy Institute, addressed South Asia’s enormous significance of the Tibetan Plateau.
This vast land mass, located at more than 4,000m above sea-level, is considered the highest and most extensive plateau on Earth. It covers 2.5 million square miles. This vast land mass, which is more than 4,000m above sea level, covers an area of 2.5 million sq. km. It is also known as the Roof of the World’ or the Third Pole’. The Plateau has a significant influence on South Asia’s climate, including the intensity and timing of Indian monsoons. However, it is also important to understand climate change in North America and Europe. Zamlha warned that there have been unprecedented natural disasters such as landslides, avalanches, and other effects of climate change. This situation is further complicated by Chinese dam constructions on Tibetan rivers. These dams could also increase seismic activity.
Dr Sumit Vij (Postdoctoral Researcher at Wageningen University & Research) was focusing on transboundary waters politics and their influence over water and climate policy in South Asia. He asked the question if the South Asia water crisis would lead to water wars. However, he believes this to be a ‘false story’. He spoke out about the co-mingling water and security issues, where water is becoming a pawn in multidimensional conflicts in the region, such as the attack by the Taliban on the Friendship Dam in Afghanistan, which was built in India. Dr Vij said that water is now part of a larger militarization. Instead, the focus should be on strategies for cooperation to pull South Asia from ‘frozen conflict’, governance and management transboundary natural resource, and the use powerful tools like diplomacy and dialog.
Dr Naho Mirumachi, Reader of Environmental Politics at King’s College London, was concerned about the challenges facing South Asia, especially from a water perspective. She considered the interconnected nature and uses of water, as well as the impact of these water users on other human rights, such as drinking water and sanitation. Dr Mirumachi also pointed out the dangers of viewing the situation as a “crisis”, stating that if the problem is viewed as a natural phenomenon, it ignores its socio-economic and political aspects, and absolves states from any responsibility to take action for their citizens.
Dr Kasia Paparocki, Associate Professor of Environment at the LSE, also spoke about this socio-political context. Her main message was about climate crisis rhetoric, and the corresponding responsibilities of countries of the world’s north in addressing South Asia’s challenges. Dr. Paprocki didn’t see the loss of land in Bangladesh, for instance, due to climate-induced rising ocean levels as an inevitable outcome. In fact, such narratives are used to guide interventions in the region for climate adaptation. If climate crisis is viewed as inevitable, she suggested, then strategies to address it are different. She said that many of the most serious impacts of ongoing ecological changes in the region are the result development interventions that have exacerbated the conditions of ecological and social insecurity in Bangladesh’s coastline areas – part the legacy of colonialism.
Tim Forsyth, Professor of Environment and Development, Dept of International Development, London School of Economics spoke on the topic of phasing-out coal. He described how Alok Sharma, chair of the UK conference, stated that India and China would have to explain their position to other countries after COP26. This statement was made after negotiations to phase out’ coal. India and China, however, only committed to gradually reducing coal. Prof. Forsyth argued that the situation is more complex because he highlighted the history in the Climate Change Convention on technology transfer and industrial developments, which made Sharma’s comments look different. He also discussed the main tasks required to eliminate coal, as well as the obstacles to doing so. For example, the complexity of India’s dependence on coal, and how countries who want to grow their industry and develop cannot just stop relying on it.
TDF Chair Barry Gardiner (MP), summarized discussions by saying that one cannot view the climate crisis as a single entity apart from bio-diversity. Also, we cannot see the biodiversity crisis and climate as distinct from sustainable growth goals. He also spoke out about a ‘global Green Grid’ initiative, which he had discussed with Indian Prime Minister NarendraModi. To a question from the audience on whether peace should be at centre of climate issues Gardiner stated that justice had to precede peace and sustainability had had to precede justice.
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