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Regional Cooperation to Combat Climate Change: The Way Forward

~Dr. A. Atiq Rahman

Executive Director:  Bangladesh Centre for Advanced Studies (BCAS)

Chairman: Climate Action Network – South Asia (CANSA)

Visiting Professor:  Fletcher School of Law and Diplomacy, Tufts University and Harvard University,

Boston, MA, USA


1.   Introduction


This paper is based on the presentation given by the author at the Fifth WIEF roundtable on climate change held in Dhaka, organized by the WIEF secretariat on 20 March 2012. The paper will introduce the emerging threat of climate change, identify major concerns, emphasize some of the key findings on impacts on Asia and focus on South Asia as the area of major opportunities for regional cooperation. Further Bangladesh has been analyzed in terms of its vulnerability and multi-faceted and converging impacts and potential for regional cooperation. The cooperation within the countries of South Asia on climate related activities are likely to offer opportunities for risk reductions and contributing to national and regional food, energy, water and human securities. Further the inter sub-regional cooperation between regions and countries of SAARC and ASEAN is also a major opportunity to work jointly on climate change related issues and actions which will enable both the sub-regions move towards rapid economic growth under reduced climate threat and contribute to sustainable development.


The issues of human securities as a major area of further action, research and cooperation has been analyzed. Opportunities for regional cooperation has also been analyzed and identified.


2.   Emergence of Scientific Consensus on Climate Change.


Climate change is the greatest threat to the humanity today. The science has been established over the last decade from many sources. The causes, nature of Greenhouse Gas emission as sources, their impacts of different systems such as food, water, energy, infrastructure, urbanization, forestry, coastal belts, mountainous systems have been well established. The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) in its Fourth Assessment Report has identified the scientific basis of sources, scenarios and potential risks in its first working group while the second working group addressed the vulnerabilities, impacts and adaptation. It has also considered world in terms of larger regions and Asia has been such a region. The third working group of IPCC addressed the issues of policies and options under different issues and sectors. This IPCC report (2007) has been recognized with the Nobel Peace Prize, 2007.


3.   Key Concerns


The threats and impacts of climate change is multifaceted, multi dimensional and multi-sectoral. The terminologies such as “Global Climate Change” “global Warming” does not represent the seriousness and the severity of impacts and human, economic and ecological risks and costs of long term, anthropogenic intervention in the climate system. These terminologies often understates the severity of reinforcing impacts, the apparent long term destabilization of the climate system as has been known. Further it has been evident in the last decades that the greatest impacts on the human, economic and ecological systems will be demonstrated, not necessarily at the average of the systems parameter such as temperature, precipitation or sea level rise but by the behaviors extreme events such as floods, cyclones, water surges, drought, extremes of heat and cold episodes, wild fires, localized higher sea level rise. Thus it is the disasters which will demonstrate the strongest immediate signals with major risks and costs to the society. 


It is to be noted that climate change is a global phenomenon but impacts are often local and context specific. So, some of the impacts and actions will be local while others will be regional in character.


Key impacted sectors due to the run away climate change are:

  • Agriculture and food security.
  • Water and health.
  • Resource base and livelihoods.
  • Infrastructure.
  • Rural and urban development.


One of the key and more alarming trend is that climate change will affect the poor most and disproportionately as they are most vulnerable and have least capacity to resist extreme impacts such as cyclones, floods, droughts, sea level rise or salinity intrusion.


4.   Climate Change, Development and Regional Cooperation


Climate change impact tends to undermine many of the development goals and threatens most of the basic securities. These includes human securities such as

  • Food and Nutrition
  • Water
  • Health
  • Energy
  • Livelihoods and
  • Social issues


As it is evident that many of the extreme events have experienced over ten fold increase in the last decade and scientists have often linked them to climate change. These include extreme climatic events such floods, cyclones, salt water intrusion, drought, sea level rise, land slides, wild fires, extremes in heat and cold stress, erratic rainfall and localized unprecedented fog formation, wild fires. All these affect the lives of ordinary people and tend to impact the yield of crop and agriculture, ecosystems, infrastructure and housing. Institutional capacities were often undermined. All these threaten to affect the normal course of development and affect the poorest most.


Thus urgent and coordinated actions are needed to incorporate or mainstream climate change concerns into the conventional development process. All actors including central and local governments and their agencies, international and development partners, local and international NGOs, civil society and all development and environmental actors need to work together in a coordinated way. Three broad and interactive areas that need urgent attention arte:


  • Food, Water, Health and Energy, Security
  • Disaster Risk Reduction, Livelihood and Social Protection
  • Climate resilient development incorporating present and future risks of climate change.


Many of these will need to be done at the national and local level. But there are a number of issues related to climate change which need to be addressed at the multi-country and the regional level. For example inter-country shared larger ecosystems such as river basins, mountain ranges, forests; common disaster such as cyclones, floods, sea level rise of drought can sometimes affect a whole region. As an example, in the South Asian Context the glacial melt in the Himalayan mountain or rainfall in the upper riparian countries affect lower riparian in terms of water flow and flooding. So glacial melt in Nepal, Bhutan is likely to impact areas of India and Bangladesh. Similarly common cyclones in the Bay of Bengal can affect India, Bangladesh and Myanmar. Sunderbans, the World’s largest mangrove forest shared with 40% in India and 60% in Bangladesh need to be addressed jointly to protect the forest and the floral and faunal species therein or manage ingress of salt water or tourism development. The Brahmaputra river system is shared between China, India and Bangladesh. So many developments of today will have to take into consideration of water flow regime in a climate change world for sustainable development of the river basins as a whole. Not considering these are likely to sow the seeds for future conflicts and sub-optimal decision making for all the populations and all the countries in a region. Further regional development of trade routes and transport infrastructure development does need to take a regional and climate change dimensions into consideration of planning and future economic development.


5.   The Asian Dimension


Asia is the most populous continent with over half (more than 4 billion) of the global population. The IPCC in its Fourth Assessment report, Working Group II, chapter 10 has analyzed Asia as a whole and seven of its sub regions, namely, North Asia, Central Asia, Western Asia, Tibetal Plateau, East Asia, South Asia and South East Asia.


Some sub-regions in Asia have made attempts to form political units. More established political units are South East Asia (ASEAN) and South Asia (SAARC). According to IPPC 60% of Asia’s population is rural and 38% population lives within 100 km of the coast. The executive summary of the IPCC Asia Chapter highlights the summary findings as follows. Following are some as the examples quoted from the IPCC Fourth Assessment Report, Impact Adaptation and Vulnerability, Chapter 10 (Cruz et al, 2007).


Summery findings:

  • New evidences show that climate change has affected many sectors in Asia (medium confidence).
  • Future climate change is likely to affect agriculture, risk of hunger and water resource scarcity with enhanced climate variability and more rapid melting of glaciers (medium confidence).
  • Marine and coastal ecosystems in Asia are likely to be affected by sea-level rise and temperature increases (high confidence).
  • Climate change is likely to affect forest expansion and migration, and exacerbate threats to biodiversity resulting from land use/cover change and population pressure in most of Asia (medium confidence).
  • Future climate change is likely to continue to adversely affect human health in Asia (high confidence).
  • Multiple stresses in Asia will be compounded further due to climate change (high confidence).


  • Climate change impacts in Asia
    • Climate change and variability: Extreme weather events in Asia were reported to provide evidence of increases in the intensity or frequency on regional scales throughout the 20th century. The Third Assessment Report (TAR) predicted that the area-averaged annual mean warming would be about 3°C in the decade of the 2050s and about 5°C in the decade of the 2080s over the land regions of Asia as a result of future increases in atmospheric concentration of greenhouse gases (Lal et al., 2001a). The rise in surface air temperature was projected to be most pronounced over boreal Asia in all seasons.
    • Vulnerabilities and adaptive strategies
      • Vulnerable sectors: Water and agriculture sectors are likely to be most sensitive to climate change-induced impacts in Asia. Agricultural productivity in Asia is likely to suffer severe losses because of high temperature, severe drought, flood conditions, and soil degradation.
      •  Vulnerable regions: Countries in temperate and tropical Asia are likely to have increased exposure to extreme events, including forest die back and increased fire risk, typhoons and tropical storms, floods and landslides, and severe vector-borne diseases. The stresses of climate change are likely to disrupt the ecology of mountain and highland systems in Asia. Glacial melt is also expected to increase under changed climate conditions. Sea-level rise would cause large-scale inundation along the vast Asian coastline and recession of flat sandy beaches. The ecological stability of mangroves and coral reefs around Asia would be put at risk.
      • Adaptation strategies: Increases in income levels, education and technical skills, and improvements in public food distribution, disaster preparedness and management, and health care systems through sustainable and equitable development could substantially enhance social capital and reduce the vulnerability of developing countries of Asia to climate change.
      • Observed climate trends, variability and extreme events

Past and present climate trends and variability in Asia are generally characterized by increasing surface air temperature which is more pronounced during winter than in summer. Increasing trends have been observed across the seven sub regions of Asia.  Interseasonal, interannual and spatial variability in rainfall trend has been observed during the past few decades all across Asia.

However, given the vastness, differences in geo-spatial and climatic parameters, social and governance systems in Asia as a whole, it is difficult to have a generalized analysis, adaptation or sustainable development plan. That is more pragmatic to be considered at the national or sub-regional levels such as SAARC (South Asian Association for Regional Cooperation) or ASEAN (Association for South East Asian Nations).


6.   The Most vulnerable Country: Bangladesh Case Study.


Bangladesh has become the poster child of climate vulnerabilities and impacts. Most impacts evaluations assess Bangladesh as the most vulnerable country or one of the most vulnerable countries. This is mainly due to the multiple vulnerabilities to which Bangladesh is exposed.


The Maldives which is composed of a set of atolls is most vulnerable to sea level rise. For one metre sea level rise most of the atolls of Maldives with go under water. Consequently the country is likely to disappear and most of its population displaced at a future time. With the inundation of Maldivian islands the sovereignty of a nation will disappear under the impacts of climate change. But as the population of Maldives is less than a million, while Bangladesh population is over 150 millions. It is thus often said that Bangladesh is probably more vulnerable. This comparison is false. The fact remains these countries will be extremely vulnerable to the impacts of climate change.


To answer the question “Where will climate change be impacting most”? the following four areas can be the identified:


  • Human beings at the community level
  • Enterprises and economic activities
  • Ecosystems, natural resources and environment and
  • Institutions and organizations.


Community Based Adaptation (CBA) has emerged as a dominant mode of adaptation strategy that communities are pioneering and undertaking themselves, sometimes with support from national and local government or NGO-civil society support. They depend on their experiences and indigenous knowledge to undertake these. There has been six world conferences on CBA jointly organized by the Bangladesh Centre for Advanced Studies (BCAS) and International Institute for Environment and Development UK during 2007-2012, addressing different aspects and sharing experiences between scientists, practitioners and policy makers. Enterprises and economic activities such as shops, local markets, agricultural, fisheries, forestry and social enterprises are addressed by the people to reduce the risks and impacts of climate related activities and disaster risk reduction strategies including cyclones, floods, drought, erratic rainfall, local fog, heat and cold stresses.


Ecosystems such as forestry, water bodies, habitat, infrastructure – all are being affected and --- people and organization reacting to these risks and impacts of climate induced activities are in the frontline of these consequences.


Institutes such as schools, local govt. bodies, social institutions, formal and informal organizations are being organized to reduce climate risks and impacts. Bangladesh is one of the most climate vulnerable countries because of multiple climate induced stressors. These are listed below.



Impacts 1 to 8 are local and context specific which 9 to 11 are generic in nature. A short analysis is given below:

Looking at the impacts from South to North, the specific impact is reported in short.


6.1.        Sea Level Rise

The Southern part of Bangladesh being a delta in formation, is extremely flat. One meter sea level rise will affect 17% of the country area covering the flat coastal zone. This represents 13% of the population of over 150 million, representing around 20 million people. Though there are many hydraulic infrastructures such as embankment and polders, the gradual ingress of salinity, both in the water and the soil, affects agricultural production. Though salt tolerant variety of rice crops have been developed, they are not high yielding and as other vegetation species are being affected, livelihood becomes very difficult. So it is assumed that millions of people will be forced to migrate as livelihood opportunities dwindle.


The ingress of sea level rise is happening at around 7 mm per year, much higher than the 3 mm/year global average. Given the increased melting of polar ice, Greenland ice sheet and glaciers it is assumed that over next 50 years most of the coastal area will be inundated  by saline water in a business as usual scenario. There are option of Bangladeshis Delta Plan to redress some of the impacts. But the challenges of sea level rise for Bangladesh are huge and affect millions of lives.


6.2.  Cyclones

It is evident that cyclones are increasing in the Bay of Bengal. Over the last 5 years three mega cyclones have hit the coastal areas. Sidr (November 2007) had a maximum wind velocity of over 250 km/hour, while cyclone Aila (March 2009) has forced a huge amount of salt water breaching protecting hydrological barriers and devastating communities in the coastal area of Bangladesh. This has exposed huge population almost irreversible salinity.


Cyclone Nargis (May 2008) on the other hand hit the Myanmar coast killing over 160,000 coastal population in Myanmar. It has been suggested that if such a cyclone hit the Bangladesh coast only less than 10,000 people would be killed because of the comprehensive cyclone preparedness programme already in place in Bangladesh coast. These three mega cyclones happened in the Bay of Bengal over a period less than 5 years, while each of such mega cyclone has a return period of over 20 years.


3.   Deeper Penetration of Salt Water

As sea level rise increase cyclones with higher wind velocity will force salt water to penetrate deeper affecting crops and enhancing soil salinity. This will reduce agricultural productivity.


6.4.        Erratic Rainfall

The agricultural dependent Bangladesh has almost reached self sufficiency in food production and able to feed the population with rice, wheat and maize. Though there continues to be nutritional deficit, carbohydrate deficit is being overcome. But climate induced instability and erratic rainfall is affecting agriculture by incorporating water supply instability. The irregularity in rainfall is reported by most farmers across the country. They state that “something is not right” in their expected precipitation behaviour most necessary for their cropping cycle.



6.5.        Flooding

Both intensity and frequency of flooding is reported to be increasing. Sedimentation is reducing the river beds to handle rapid water flow, thus contributing to increasing floods. the Himalayan snow melt and erratic precipitation, particularly outside Bangladesh in areas of India, China, Nepal, Bhutan and Tibet plateau is contributing to increased flooding. It has been reported that over 10% increased in flooding coverage has been there over last 15 years.


6.6   Drought

Northwest Bangladesh, particularly the Barind tract is susceptible to regular drought. The drought modeling demonstrated a significant increase in drought in the decades ahead indicating water stress.  This would have serious implications on agricultural productivity in the future. The good news is that drought stress tolerant shorter growing period variety of rice has yielded good results recently.


6.7.         River Bank Erosion

Bangladesh is the interplay of three major river basin systems; namely (a) Brahmaputra, (b) Ganges- Padma and (c) The Meghna.


Much of the banks of these rivers are not consolidated, remain unstable and fragile. Breaking of the river banks and formation of large sand /sediment bars called “Chars” is a continuous process of erosion and accretion. These Chars are unstable islands formed as interplay of land and water resulting in huge amounts of sediments into the river.


As river bank break large pieces of land including infrastructure and vegetation is devoured by the river. This causes displacement of huge populations who often have to migrate out of the region mostly into slums of urban centres into a life of squalor.


6.8.        Impacts on Chittagong Hill-Tracts (CHT)

Recent modeling research by Bangladesh Centre for Advanced Studies (BCAS) has shown that though total amount of rainfall with remain similar, this precipitation will be confined over a shorter period of time in the near future. This will give rise to higher intensification of precipitation over a shorter time period in the CHT. The hilly splopes of CHT is covered with soft top soil which are likely to be displaced due to stronger torrents resulting in mud slides affecting both agriculture and habitat. The sharper release of water is also likely to reduce the continuous and regular water flow through the established streams.  All these will undermine agricultural productivity and soil stability in CHT.


6.9.  Water

Most of the climate induced impacts will play out in the water sector. Too much water results in floods while too little water will result in drought, as discussed earlier. Wrong type of water or water quality will affect water for agriculture, and productivity. It will also threaten safe drinking water. Intrusion of salt water not only reduces crops and other vegetation and fresh water fisheries but also poses serious problem of access to safe drinking water. Floods also cause water pollution resulting in water borne diseases. Thus water challenges will result in disruption in agriculture resulting in food shortages and inducing food insecurity.


10. Health

Water borne diseases, such as diarrheal diseases, increases with floods as well as sharper summers and heat stress while vector borne disease such as malaria and dengue are also on the increase.


Salt water intrusion has forced many communities to be more dependent of higher salt and sodium content in their intake. This is likely to increase blood pressure in local communities, particularly women and excepting mothers. In a coastal area of Dakope, the higher concentration of salt and associated higher blood pressure induced ecclemptia and pre-ecclemptia in local women has been reported.


6.11.    Food Security and Livelihoods.

As has been discussed earlier, a number of issues related to rainfall, drought, salinity, heat stress, cyclones, droughts and floods result in a potential decrease of agricultural productivity. This threatens food security.


There are external issues that also affect food security. For examples local effects of climate induced droughts in North America decreased the productivity of corn in 2010-12 in the global market increasing the global price of corn. This has a bearing on the price of other cereals, thus making, the Bangladesh farmers lose their comparative purchasing powers.


6.12.    Convergence of Risks and Impacts

These multifaceted risk and impacts play on each other and intensify the risks and magnify impacts. Food, water, energy, health, livelihood and social securities are all impacted by the different climate induced events. Thus extreme events get more intensified and thus affects the different securities. This particularly affects the societal capacity for adaptation and enhancing resilience to confront the impacts of climate change.


7.   Poverty – Disaster – Human Security Links to Climate Change

A set of schematic diagrams represent an approach to understand the linkages between development and climate change. This is better decomposed into the climate change relationship with poverty, disaster and human security. Climate change induced extreme events undermines the efforts of reducing poverty, a pre-requisite for sustainable development. Disaster enhances health impacts, undermines capacity to confront risks.



Figure 2 shows how development efforts over time increases capacity to fight poverty but climate induced health hazards and disasters undermine attempts to get out of poverty. Major security concerns and linkages are seen in Figure-3. Livelihood- poverty are all interlinked and undermined by climate change as evidenced in Figure-4. Figure-5 demonstrates the linkages between different elements.













Climate change forces the instability and growing human insecurities. This is shown in Figure-6. Figure-7 demonstrates climate change, ecosystem service and how these continue to affect human displacement leading to migration. Thus climate change is increasing the threat of migration and social instability.


Thus regional cooperation offers one of the opportunities to enhance basic human securities.


8.   Regional Cooperation in Climate Change

Asian continent is complex, vast and does not form a cohesive unit for any practical or political management or governance by an integrated group of actors. Over the last decades South Asia and South East Asia have made some progress in regional cooperation. ASEAN representing the countries of South East Asia has made significant progress while SAARC (South Asian Association for Regional Cooperation) has initiated and made some progress. But its governance structure has limited SAARC to achieve the exploitation of the tremendous potential for regional cooperation that exists in South Asia region.


South Asia is particularly vulnerable to the impacts of climate change. High concentration of population particularly in South Asia has made it the hub of global poverty. So climate impact will significantly affect the human security in the region, particularly life and livelihoods of over three quarter of billion poor people living in Asian.


Cooperation in climate change offers new horizon, for hope and potential as South Asia region moves towards rapid economic development.


In a recent address of the author to the civil society conference in Colombo, Sri Lanka in December 2012 of the Climate Action Network South Asia, the issues were analyzed as follows, in a message from the Co-chair of Climate Action Network South Asia (CANSA)




South Asia is a region of great opportunities as well as tremendous contrasts. Most of the countries in South Asia have made significant economic progress in the recent past, even during the global recession in the last decade. Yet South Asia has the largest concentration of global poverty. A region with a long history of great civilizations and learning, international trade and local governance systems, it has also seen some of the worst excesses of colonialism as well as valiant independence struggles for establishing national identities. All South Asian countries have made significant progress in the democratization of their polities, societies, and economies and these efforts continue.


In the north of this region lie the mighty Himalayan and Hindukush mountain ranges. In the south lies the Indian Ocean. In the east is the Bay of Bengal, and in the west is the Arabian Sea. Three countries with large populations (Bangladesh, India, and Pakistan) have long coastlines, two countries are island states (Maldives and Sri Lanka), and three countries are land-locked (Afghanistan, Bhutan, and Nepal). South Asia also contains two of the world’s largest river systems: the Ganges–Brahmaputra–Meghna river system, which flows through Bangladesh, Bhutan, India, and Nepal; and the Indus river system, which flows through India and Pakistan. One of the most vulnerable major deltas in the world is also located in this region.


Their geographical locations, their exposure to multiple climatic threats, and their large populations of the poor make the South Asian countries particularly vulnerable to the impacts of climate variability and change. These are likely to affect basic human needs and securities, including food, water, energy, livelihood, health, and social security. The poorest are always the most vulnerable to climate change, and South Asia is the largest hub of global poverty. Models show that the impacts of climate change will be particularly strong in the deltas, low-lying coastal regions, fragile mountains, small islands, deserts, and drought-prone areas of South Asia. Hundreds of millions of people are likely to be affected. The governance systems, institutions, ecosystems, and human communities of South Asia are likely to suffer considerably under the impacts of uncontrolled climate change. The potential displacement of populations poses a special challenge.


The governments of the SAARC region have made a number of important declarations on climate change. Some initiatives on joint research on meteorological studies, food security, and regional strategies have been undertaken under the aegis of SAARC. The differences in the approaches of the SAARC member countries are reflected in their positions in the global climate-change negotiating fora. These have been discussed in this report.


The civil society of South Asia has played a leading role in the global climate change discourse right from its beginning. Civil society representatives have made significant contributions to scientific studies, policy analyses, strategies and actions, advocacy, and information dissemination in their respective countries, as well as regionally and globally. Areas where South Asian civil society, research and academic institutions, and the media have made significant contributions include formulating concepts of per capita greenhouse gases (GHG); advancing adaptation science, policies, actions, and concepts; and advocating climate justice-related issues as well as grass-roots actions.


Climate Action Network South Asia (CANSA) has been the leading South Asian civil society forum on climate change since 1990. It presents the Southern perspectives at climate negotiations and undertakes inter-governmental, regional, and national actions. CANSA has been the only Southern Climate Action Network (CAN) node that has continued in existence for more than two decades. It has now entered into a phase of engaging in activities on a greater scale, playing an important catalytic role, and in providing services. Its membership has increased significantly. Most of the major civil society players in South Asia are part of CANSA.


Climate-change discourse is entering into a new phase, characterized by more visible extreme events, greater awareness and organizational progress in each country, stronger scientific basis for the need for adaptation, and continued reluctance by many Annex 1 countries to significantly reduce GHG emissions. At the same time, the early mobilization of resources, both internally and externally, is visible. It is now being increasingly realized that greater climate actions, accountability and transparency in decision making, and mainstreaming climate change into normal development planning have become essential. Further, South Asia is suitably poised to play a major role in climate discourse in the future. It is also qualified to take up the mantle of leadership by engaging in greater cooperation in the arenas of both analysis and demonstrated action.


The communities of South Asia are doing their bit by taking action at the local level to address the impacts of climate variability and change. Community Based Adaptation (CBA) has become the rallying cry for many climate-change practitioners. All actors and stakeholders—including government agencies, civil society organizations, research and academic institutions, NGOs, private sector entities, and local communities—must work together so that South Asian development objectives, including poverty alleviation, are not threatened by the impacts of climate change. Early and meaningful action in the areas of adaptation, mitigation, technology development and exchange, and fund mobilization should allow South Asia to withstand the impacts of climate change and to ensure an effective and fair climate deal in Doha and beyond.



8.1   The SAARC Declarations on Regional Cooperation on Climate Change


There has been three major SAARC declarations on climate change. These are:


(a)  SAARC Dhaka Declaration on Climate Change: Environmental Meeting 2008.


(b)  SAARC Thimpu Declaration 2010 at Sixteenth SAARC Summit and


(c ) SAARC Addu Declaration “Building Bridges” Seventeenth SAARC Summit, Maldives


The key elements of three SAARC declarations have been summarized as follows.

It appears that there is general goodwill amongst countries to enhance knowledge sharing, comparing and learning from best practices, exchange weather/ climate and scientific data, reduce vulnerabilities, technology development and sharing, disaster management, move towards sustainable development practices and poverty reduction, low carbon and sustainable development, technology options and practices.


While Asia as a whole differ in many ways, South Asian countries on the other hand, are closer and likely to individually and collectively gain from many common elements. These are


  • Economic Development
  • Socio-cultural practices
  • Climate Vulnerabilities
  • Adaptive capacities
  • Technology arrangements


9.   Major Opportunities for Regional Cooperation

SAARC and ASEAN are emerging regions with economic market opportunities to develop complementary economies. The opportunities for greater cooperation exist at two levels in two key regions in Asia.

  • SAARC in South Asia
  • ASEAN in South East Asia.


Further there is another emerging group of the Most Vulnerable Countries (MVC) which includes the least developed and island countries of South Asia. Regional efforts in climate change and development actions has been low. Opportunities for greater cooperation exists at two levels.



a.   Inter Country Cooperation Within the Region.

In SAARC, the countries have their economies, their human security concerns including food, water, energy, livelihood and social securities which can be complementary. SAARC have made progress of SAPTA (South Asia Preferential Trade Agreement) and SAFTA (South Asian Free Trade Area). There has been development of a food bank, a South Asian University and a set of regional data centres.


b.   Inter Regional Cooperation

There is a very strong case where SAARC and ASEAN can be working together where complementary activities, a larger joint market will enable and develop economic growth, environmental protection with ecosystem services and enhanced social justice.



Summary boxes below highlights the following:


(a)  Opportunities in Asia for Cooperation in Combating Climate Change

(b)  Cooperation between countries in respective regions of SAARC and ASEAN.

(c)  Cooperation potential between SAARC and ASEAN group.



9.1   Simultaneous Economic Growth and Climate Protection

South Asia’s development needs demand greater amount of energy, particularly for electricity and fuel for all citizens and all sectors. South Asian countries are in a state of rapid economic development. The countries of complementary needs and markets can create an atmosphere of economic growth. Goods and services will need more energy and nodal transportation across the South Asian region. To meet these new demands in a climate change world, the planning will have to make these initiatives climate resilient. Though climate change offers one of the greatest challenges, it also offers opportunities to getting the planning process optimized at a regional level.


Since South Asia is moving ahead economically with a large population and much of the infrastructure has to be created at a post climate change world. It would be pertinent and appropriate to incorporate climate resilient and sustainable development practices. These will include practices of


      (a)  High Efficiency in energy, water, resource and land use.

      (b) Low carbon economy where possible.

      (c)  Scaling up to a size of infrastructure that complements multiple sectoral, national and regional needs for greater trade between countries.

      (d)  Ensuring securities of food, water, energy for all regional population.

      (e)  Enhance disaster management practices in respective countries and is the region by joint planning and actions.

      (f)  Learning from and building on good practices in each country and extend those regionally.


At one level South Asian leaders have made important declarations but has been low of follow up actions and implementation. Climate change being a major regional threat with long term consequences demanding new and sustainable ways to doing planning and implementation of many projects and strategies, it would offer significant opportunities for new dimension for cooperation. This cooperation will be based on win-win option for each country and the regional welfare as a whole.


9.2   Opportunities of Regional Cooperation in Climate Change

Much of the opportunities emanates from a large number of circumstances related to climate change and sustainable development future potentials.


9.3.1   Sharing Common Practices


Climate change affects all countries of Asia but most in South Asia as well as Asian countries who are mostly coastal. Coastal states, hilly and mountain regions are particularly vulnerable. Many of South Asians and ASEAN countries are coastal and mountainous. So, common approaches of learning and practices can be shared.


9.3.2    Reduction of Poverty

South Asia is the greatest poverty hub. ASEAN countries have less poverty, but the numbers of poor in several countries are large. Poor are most vulnerable to climate change. So development in a climate change world will have to support the poor and rapidly move them out of poverty. Enhancing economic activities in a rapidly enhancing market and increasing the purchasing power of the poor in a larger regional context will need to address poverty reduction and climate issues simultaneous.


Reduction of poverty will strengthen the national and regional markets as well as reduce the burden of investment in climate change resilience.



9.3.3.      South Asia in early efforts of energy development.

The enormous amount energy would be needed to transform South Asian economy. South Asia has large potential of hydropower located in the Himalayan region particularly in Nepal and Bhutan. If developed optimally this could serve the whole. South Asian region with adequate energy with low carbon input. This of course, needs serious investment, project development efforts, market assurance and sovereign guarantee for energy importing countries, such as, Bangladesh, Pakistan and even Sri Lanka. These efforts would shift hydro energy supplying countries such as Nepal and Bhutan into rapid economic growth and their citizen with market access, goods, services and reduced poverty.


9.3.4.   Renewable Energy and Energy Sharing.

Optimal utilization of renewable energy services in South Asia could set examples in the world. Bangladesh now leads the world with over 1 million poor households already connected by solar photovoltaic electricity. This number is expected to reach 2 million by 2015. Nepal has made significant progress in household biogas systems. Many Indian rural areas have also been served by biogas, solar thermal and photovoltaic. India has made significant progress in wind energy. Hence with this as a baseline South Asia can share experiences, markets, energy technologies and investment in renewable energy.


9.3.5.   Leading Future Low Carbon Development Path.

As climate change challenges stimulated by major extreme events across the world become dominant, low carbon economic development will be required for future development path. South Asia could give leadership in this future economic growth and become an innovation hub for new and appropriate technologies serving the vast population. Future energy, devices efficiency and market can create a new wave of economic activities.


9.3.6.   Enhanced Connectivity in Transport and Trade

An emerging South Asia will need greater transport road, rail and water ways connectivity and communication for greater trade, tourism and mobilities. There are already progress in transit of North Eastern Indian States with rest of India through Bangladesh. Similar road transport strengthening national networks connecting to regional networks are being considered.


As South Asia develops, the citizens will be more mobile within the nations, region and internationally. Efficiency and climate resilience consideration could complement economic and transport development.


9.3.7.   ICT Highways and Services

Given the large manpower and technical training in information and communication technologies South Asia, new low energy high communication technologies and network will enable the efficient energy based future economic development of  South Asia.


9.3.8.   Disaster Risk Reduction

In a climate change world, the occurrence of extreme events will only increase in their frequencies and intensities. Floods, cyclone, water stress, heat and cold stress, mud slides are some of rapid onset climate change induced disasters and extreme events. Slow onset events of drought, sea level rise and consequent saline intrusion are projected to be more frequent and intense. Because of existing vulnerability some progress has already been made.


Pakistan has confronted major and unprecedented floods, Bangladesh, India and Myanmar has faced severe cyclones. Severe drought has also been experienced by India and parts of Bangladesh. Floods have also affected India, Bangladesh, Sri Lanka. These events will only become more severe and frequent. These affect the situations of food energy and health securities of population, particularly the poor.


There has been successful management of reducing morbidity and mortality of cyclones in the Bangladesh coastal areas through developing Comprehensive Disaster Management Project (CDMP), Ministry of Disaster Management has been created to reduce disaster impacts. Presently climate change induced events have been incorporated into disaster management. Similarly India has created Ministry of Non-conventional Energy, helping in transforming renewable energy future for India.


SAARC has also initiated disaster management training, SAARC Regional Agricultural Information Centre, food bank. Building on these early initiatives, South Asian countries can reduce the impacts of disaster and climatic extreme events.


9.3.9.   Regional Food Security

South Asian leaders and SAARC have taken matters of food security quite seriously, establishing regional food bank. There is a need to analyze the food security risks due to runaway climate change and associated extremer event, threats on food, water and energy securities. South Asia with all its varied ecosystems can provide sufficient and adequate goods and services for all its citizens in a forthcoming climate change world. Regional cooperation can be used to address this.


9.3.10.   Emerging Issues

There are a number of emerging issues which can be better addressed through regional cooperative and South Asia could take lead in these. Two key emerging areas are :

      (a)  Climate Induced Migration and

      (b) Loss and Damage.


(a)  Climate Induced Migration.

There have been several recent initiatives as shown in Figure-14, which addresses the issue of climate induced migration. Over the period this is likely to emerge as a major issue. Displacement will often be triggered by collapse of ecosystems, such as coast livelihoods and extreme events such as sea level rise, cyclones, droughts and floods. Displacement potential and future strategies are demonstrated in figures below. These include Climate Change induced Potential Migration: Recent Initiatives and Early Responses and Displacement potential and future strategies. This raises the key issues relating to manage human displacement. To avoid social conflicts, key approach will emanate from managed displacement. A regional approach may find this more appropriate and could give leadership to UNFCCC or any other resolution processes.

(b)  Loss and Damage

Loss and damage is emerging as a key issue of discussion at the UNFCCC negotiation and is of particular interest to developing countries. As financing on adaptation become more prominent and allocations of funds become aspects of crucial discussions, the science, research, policy and decisions around loss and damage will emerge significantly more important in the UNFCCC discourse. Thus this is of particular relevant to South Asian peoples, governments, civil society and researchers. Given the emerging area, South Asian government could assert leadership and build consensus and reduce conflicts around these emerging issues.



9.3.11. Urgent Responses and Regional Cooperation

As the climate discourse in progressing, despite all the problems, faltering around Kyoto Protocol and unwillingness on incapacity of industrialized country governments to make their commitments or financial allocations and contributions, South Asia has a particular opportunity to lead the future with demonstrable leadership.


Despite these, in all the four key areas South Asia could jointly play role. These four issues are

  • Adaptation
  • Mitigation
  • Technology and
  • Finance


Several South Asian countries individually have already given leadership in areas of national strategic decision, internal funding mobilization, initiating integration of climate change into overall development process and involving people and communities in climate decision making and giving solutions. Though far from being optimal to meet the needs, these initiatives will add to demonstrate developing country leadership.


Since countries of South Asia belong to key developing country groups such as the Basic group, G77+China, LDC as well as the Most Vulnerable Countries group, given a development of political will amongst governments of South Asia, a common and acceptable compromise positions could evolve.


Further, the civil society, research community and NGOs are already engaged and integrated in common activities. The key NGO forum in the form of Climate Action Network South Asia (CANSA) is already working with South Asian Governments and SAARC Secretariat to create enabling conditions for enhanced cooperation in South Asia.



9.3.12. Climate Change Contribution to Sustainable Development

In the paradigm of 21st country development with poverty reduction, mobilization of the energy and resources of the vast population and addressing sustainable development of each South Asian country and collectively as a South Asian region offer an opportunity to work towards sustainable South Asia. The complementarities in a climate change world will become essential for achieving sustainable development for each country and into a region of progress, economic growth and climate change leadership. This is schematically demonstrate in Figure below.


The new paradigm of sustainable development of South Asia will require reduction of poverty, preparing for a climate change world with risk reduction, appropriate adaptation and climate change governance. The economic market will have to create jobs as well as ensure the key human securities including food, water, energy, livelihood, health and social security of every citizen.


All the government and citizenry agree on these but the commitment to implement is vital. The cost of non-cooperation on the citizens of South Asia is enormous. A regional cooperation taking into consideration climate change as a challenge to be confronted and opportunities in designing a sustainable world incorporating these elements for a future world of rapid economic growth which is environmentally sound and socially just. A greater integration of South Asia will release socioeconomic and environmental energy and human resources towards a sustainable South Asia. Greater and closer interaction between the countries of the SAARC region and ASEAN region will release an opportunity of great integration in Asia which could give leadership in an emerging world of sustainable development with climate change issues, consensus and solution built in into a larger economic world and greater resource base.



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