Nature and Biodiversity

Why South Asia needs help with climate change

Saleem Shaikh
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South Asian countries, facing climate change pressures, should join forces to demand that rich nations include adaptation and finance commitments as part of their contributions to a new global climate deal, representatives of the region said at the U.N. climate talks.

Countries of South Asia need to demand money, and transfer of technology and technical know-how for adaptation, to cope with increasingly common climate change impacts, particularly floods, the experts said.

That is especially important as the world heads toward a projected 4 degrees Celsius of warming on its current emissions trajectory, more than twice the 2-degree target being sought in a 2015 climate agreement.

“Any climate change deal that is taking us beyond 2 degree Celsius of warming will cause untold problems of hunger, starvation, disasters and conflict in the region. It … must not be accepted,” said Saleemul Huq, an advisor at the Lima talks for the Least Developed Countries (LDCs) group, representing nearly 50 of the world’s poorest countries, mostly in sub-Saharan Africa and Asia.

At a meeting of the South Asian Association for Regional Cooperation (SAARC) last month in Kathmandu, leaders of South Asian countries issued a 35-point declaration underscoring climate change as a severe threat for the region’s socio-economic stability.

“There is the urgency for the global community to arrive at a protocol, another legal instrument, or an agreed outcome with legal force applicable to all by the end of 2015” to deal with climate change, the declaration stated.

Irfan Tariq, a member of Pakistan’s official delegation at Lima, said South Asian nations are focused on putting their region’s vulnerability to climate change-induced disasters at the heart of the Lima talks, now in their final week.

The LDCs also believe the process toward a new climate treaty must provide incentives for ambitious financial contributions to deal with climate change.


But Haq said that, besides money, it will be equally important for developing countries to acquire the technology and technical-know to effectively adapt to climate change and deal with its impacts.

“Most of the (countries) can’t do that on their own and need assistance,” he said.

New Delhi-based Harjeet Singh, international coordinator for climate adaptation and resilience at the charity ActionAid International, said that by working together South Asian countries can more effectively press rich nations at Lima to commit to a 2015 climate agreement with legally binding promises of money for developing country adaptation needs.

South Asia “wants to see with surety that governments’ actions and investments in adapting to the impacts of climate change, including extreme weather and rising seas, are incorporated in their national contributions to a 2015 deal,” he said.

That would “help elevate the adaptation profile in the climate change negotiations,” Singh said.

But treating adaptation as a key part of national contributions, Singh stressed, should not be allowed to be substitute for emission-cutting commitments by the developed countries, particularly the United States and the European Union.

Kathmandu-based Manjeet Dhakal, programme director at Clean Energy Nepal, said getting adaptation commitments incorporated as part of a new 2015 agreement will be key to helping countries that are “hammering out adaptation plans and (need) finances to put these plans into action.”

Adnan Z. Amin, director-general of the International Renewable Energy Agency (IRENA), said energy-deficient South Asia will account for a substantial share of the growth in global energy demand over the next two decades.

That presents an opportunity for the region to invest in renewable energy to meet its demands, “while driving economic growth, employment generation and sustainable development,” he said.

To do otherwise, and invest instead in fossil fuels, particularly coal, “will lead to a spike in local pollution and harmful emissions that could negatively impact international efforts on climate change,” Amin said.

In South Asia, where a widespread lack of electricity hurts efforts to reduce poverty and create better economic opportunities, clean energy could become a key to sustaining economic growth and bettering lives, experts said.

“Clean and renewable energy technology in the region can bridge the energy gap, boost sustainable economic growth, alleviate poverty, create millions of new jobs and lead to environmentally sustainable way of powering South Asia’s growing urbanisation,” said Arshad H. Abbasi, an energy and water expert at the Sustainable Development Policy Institute, a non-government research thinktank in Islamabad.

This article is published in collaboration with Thomson Reuters Foundation Publication does not imply endorsement of views by the World Economic Forum.

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Author: Saleem Shaikh is an Islamabad-based freelance writer for the Thomson Reuters Foundation. 

Image: A farmer visits her rice paddy field outside Hanoi. Reuters / Nguyen Huy Kham 

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