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Climate Change and Security in South Asia

Organised by Friedrich-Ebert-Stiftung (FES)

8 December 2010, LalitpurReport Prepared by:

Ritu Raj Subedi
Associate Editor
The Rising Nepal

The world has now wakened up to the consequences of climate change albeit at slow pace. The humanity is facing formidable challenges of climate change because of its own follies and reckless actions. The utter disregard to the nature has put its existence under threat. Human's avarice to exploit the natural resources at inexhaustible level has invited unimaginable problems seen in the melting of glaciers, rising in temperature, erratic pattern of monsoon, rising level of sea, depletion of ozone, loss of rain forest and flood havoc. These climatic changes occurred earlier too but their intensity has now increased at alarming scale, impelling people to raise ethical questions over the industrialisation and modern civilisation that are to blame for the ever increasing environmental degradation locally and globally.

The earth's third largest pool of glaciers of Himalayas and Tibetan plateau that sustains South Asian civilisation has also become the victim of climate changes. The drying of headwater to changed land use is eroding the land's capacity to support life and livelihood and risks inducing migration of people with the potential to flash local and trans-border conflicts. With the increasing population and decreasing natural resources, the livelihood in South Asia has been strained. Climate change has several implications for the people in the region. To highlight these aspects coherently and intellectually, Friedrich Ebert Stiftung Nepal chapter invited Dr. Christian Wagner, Head of Research Division, German Institute for International and Security Affairs (SWP), here on December 8, 2010. He spoke on 'Climate Change and Security in South Asia' at a programme where a large number of experts and professionals from cross-cutting fields shared their views as well as commented Dr. Wagner's paper.

Dr. Wagner said the people and the countries have been facing a lot of environmental problems for many years in the form of deforestation, change in annual monsoon, rising temperature and melting down of glaciers.

The German expert said, "The climate change will add another dimension to the already existing environmental problem. It aggravates the whole environmental situation and affects development negatively."

Climate change in forms of floods forces the rural people out of their land. They seek for better economic opportunity in the city. "Therefore, it creates very new dimension and aggravate economic and employment problems. Since many years, migration may have also political implications. For example, in India there is tension between the migrants and local people, giving rise to violence in Assam, Maharastra. Similar, cases are found in other South Asian countries including Sri Lanka and Pakistan."

He noted that the climate change appears in new form of migration- be it in national or translational level. About 20 million people have been internally displaced, creating new tension in the region. Indo- Pakistani conflict has displaced many people.

Around 2.3 per cent migration, which happened due to the rise in water level, will sharpen conflict in the 21st century, he argued and added that conflict in Kashmir is related to resources.

Urbanisation is another factor to increase climate change, he said.

He mentioned that positive developments have also taken place in the region. Civil war in Nepal and Sri Lank came to an end. Reconstruction works are underway in Nepal and Afghanistan.

However, climate change impacts will intensify conflict in South Asia, claimed the German scholar.

Dr. Wagner said that Koshi and Gandaki rivers supply 6 per cent of water for Nepal and India and bilateral cooperation was needed to check floods causing damages to the both nations.

"There is the need of regional cooperation to protect people from long term and short term impact of climate change. But, South Asia governments have failed to deliver goods to public, invest in education, job creation and social security, which have weakened the efforts to mitigate the climate change consequences" he added.

He claimed that political reforms have taken a back seat while corruption, poverty and unemployment have risen across the region.

There should be international and regional cooperation to help Nepal by providing it with resources, institution and technology, he said.

The study has shown that advanced nations are more responsible for high gas emission. "Therefore there is the need of common understanding and the rich nations have bigger responsibility to support the developing and poor nations like Nepal to adapt to climate change."

Dev Raj Dahal, head of Nepal FES Office, said that sustainable development path is the one way to shift from the consumption of fossil fuels (coal, cold and gas) to alternative source of energy (solar, water, wind and biogas).

"South Asia leaders have to upgrade the policy making and institutional capacity to address climate change by marking a transition to a low-carbon economy and scale up interregional cooperation in hydropower, river management, flood data monitoring, etc and strive do no harm to nature," he said.

Dahal further noted that when the environmental security was translational in nature national separateness could not be alone become a rational solution.

He said that there was the need of paradigm shift from resource-intensive production to knowledge intensive one for just and sustainable development. "The architecture of humanity is not artificial creation; it is built on the ethical foundation of social life intrinsically embedded in nature."

Udo Weber from German embassy said that climate change had cross-cutting impacts and the nations should forge global and regional cooperation to deal with it.

He informed that Germany supported Nepal in energy, renewal energy, solar system, biogas, which helps rural population to contribute to diversification of rural economy so that they are not vulnerable to climate change impacts.

The German government is supporting ICIMOD for building regional network here for scientific research.

From the floor

Journalist Narendra Upadhaya asked how water stress lead to conflict and wars in South Asia? Wagner indicated that water dispute could trigger conflict that eventually could take the form of war.

Sambhu Rana said Dr. Wagner's paper lacked comprehensive security concept, which excluded Nepal.

Rana added that leadership, good governance and justice delivery were vital for security.

He expressed doubt on the capacity of Nepalese leadership to restore peace following the departure of UNMIN form here.

Dr. Hari Bansa Jha held the view that Dr. Wagner only focused on negative aspects.
"All South Asian countries, except Nepal and Afghanistan, are witnessing economic growth. Rural India is also changing."

Jha claimed Dr. Wagner failed to highlight the conditions of the climate change.

"What will happen in South Asia if China diverts the Brahmaputra River to Westward region?"

Lal Babu Yadav said that Dr. Wagner kept mum on human security. "Although the state grants rights to people, they are not in position to exercise them."

Yadav said, as there is the identity crisis, there is need of its global definition.

Journalist Dhruba Hari Adhikari enquired about the condition of land reforms and landholding in South Asia where 70 per cent people live in rural areas.

Adhikari also sought Wagner views as to why corruption occurred at same ration in democratic and authoritarian states as well?

Dr. Tulasi Pathak dwelt on the implication of nuclear accident in Nepal since it is surrounded by the nations with nuclear power.

Khadga KC asked Dr. Wagner to see climate change issue from consumer perspective.

He said priority needed to be shifted towards poverty reduction from climate change. He insisted that advanced countries are more responsible for gas emission than the poor countries, so the former have greater responsibility to fight climate change.

Pravash Devkota called for establishing cultural linkage with climate change issue.

Adarsa Pokharel said whether Mr Wagner put all the problems in the basket of climate change. How can corruption be linked to Climate Change? There should be seperation of issues.

Dr. Bishnu Bhandari said that it had become difficult to distinguish between the climate change and change in the weather pattern.

"Climate change is a perpetual phenomenon. It happened and will happen, for example, glacierslakes appear and reappear. We should learn to adapt to it," he said and added that there was indigenous way to adapt to it.

Dr. Prabal Raj Pokharel raised the issue of climate change from the perspective of communication, research and migration.

Dr. Birendra Mishra asked how since Indian independence, commission to settle question and security in south Asia are handled?

Wagner Responses

South Asia is grappled with a lot of problems relating to water, weather and good governance. What I mean to say that the alteration in water structure invites common problem in the region. There is the problem of governance and leadership that affects all.

Recently, in Indian state of Bihar, Nitesh Kumar raised governance issue in the polls and clinched a thumping victory.

I admit Nepal is left out in the concept of comprehensive security in my dissertation.

Inclusive GDP growth and investment in education is necessary. Human security is as important as the issue of climate change. For the adaptation to climate change and mitigation of its effects huge flow of money will be diverted. In the absence of accountable mechanism there is a risk of corruption and diversion of moeny to corrupt elites.

Climate change is a regular phenomenon. We are now talking about its global impacts.

I do not see the possibility of nuclear accident. Nuclear deterrence has not increased in the region. It is true that the western nations have bigger duty to cut gas emission. However, it should be the national agenda of all countries. Public awareness about the negative effects of climate change and proper policy to address them is necessary.

The people have right to protect property in democratic society. The elements of transparency and accountability remain high in democracy. It has structural mechanism to better control corruption but these are lacking in authoritarian state.

The writer can be accessed at riturajsubedi@yahoo.com

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