South Asia amongst it many challenges face another major one that of climate change. This impacts three of the most vulnerable and least developed countries in the region, Bangladesh, Nepal and Maldives. India is one of the largest polluters and thus invites attention too. While Nepal and Maldives have dramatized the threats faced with a meeting of the cabinet in two opposite ends of the pole, the base of Mount Everest and under water respectively, Bangladesh is fighting on behalf of the least developed countries for more resources. India is also in the forefront in the rich versus poor divide at Copenhagen along with China.
The outcome of COP 15 is still quite uncertain, but the high degree of awareness that this conference has created in South Asia should lead to adequate mitigatory measures in the days ahead. For countries like India and Bangladesh would have to shift from a demand for funds approach to that of implementation to ensure that the adverse impact of climate change is reduced through internal regulatory control.
Whether the governments in South Asia have the capacity or the will to do so remains to be seen? For there is a high level of political disorder in the region at present. Take for instance India, politically the most stable, the differences between the high profile Minister of Environment, Jairam Ramesh and the equally prominent negotiators former diplomats Shyam Saran and Dasgupta have raised the heat in New Delhi if not in Copenhagen. Ramesh is willing for a compromise while the foreign policy war horses of yester years well versed in the nuances of global diplomacy have stuck to the agreed positions debated in the country for some time now.
The Minister can take some credit with India’s proposal to set up climate innovation centres for developing green technologies receiving approval. One of the centres will be located in India and will design and develop relevant technologies. The Bureau of Energy Efficiency is likely to be the lead agency in the country, but is this small victory enough as the greater challenges of mitigation, adaptation and financing remain unaddressed.
The reluctant Prime Minister Dr Manmohan Singh facing the challenge of riots in Andhra Pradesh and having traveled to Washington and Moscow over the past fortnight flies to Copenhagen; his first task may be to make peace between his minister and key negotiators.
Nepal which made much with a cabinet meeting at the base of the Himalayas in oxygen masks has been in turmoil for the past few months with the Maoist holding the governance in the country to ransom. How will a treaty in Copenhagen with interests of the least development countries being taken up loudly be implemented in Kathmandu remains to be seen?
Maldives another climate stressed country lacks the funds to implement decisions in Copenhagen, in fact the high profile President Mohammed Nasheed refused to attend COP 15 claiming there was no money for his visit till hosts Denmark came to his relief. The country already on IMF and ADB relief will find it adequate to stave off the climate challenge in the years ahead.
Bangladesh has the same problem of funding to implement climate change proposal, even as the country faces the threat from reduction in valuable land space as the sea rises each year. The Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina is continually raising her voice on behalf of the Least Developed Countries but is not finding much succour as World leaders seem to be taking little notice of her countries plight being a deltaic nation. There are $ 10 billion on the block but with so many wanting to share the same, these may just not be enough to support the LDCs led by Bangladesh.
All this outcry could have got more funds but apart from the European Union, the other big players with deep pockets as United States and Japan playing politics, the overall results from Copenhagen remain doomed.
South Asian states could be well advised to seek solutions within the Sub Continent. For a change India and Pakistan have been on the same page in COP 15, a rarity in these times of Balochistan added to the familiar tune of Kashmir and terrorism. This unity needs to be carried forward.
Appointing a separate minister for climate change would be one option which would denote a focus which has been missing so far with the minister’s for environment and forestry relieved to carry out other challenges. Sharing the abundance of climate credits within the region could be another option; Bhutan for instance can share its additional sequestration capacity (carbon absorption capacity) of 4.7 million tonnes to advantage.
Thus rather than turning COP 15 as an opportunity for underwater photo op and seeking more money home grown solutions will be more in order. Are the South Asian leaders up to the challenge remains to be seen?