The issue that needs to be taken head on
With no adherence to geographical boundaries, climate change continues to hover over our heads like a dense, dark cloud of uncertainty. Even with all the sophisticated projections of climate change, only one thing about it remains certain: that it is happening and we better act now.
Realising the gravity of the situation, Climate Action Network South Asia (CANSA) in collaboration with Janathakshan and Asia Pacific Adaptation Network (APAN), organised a sub-regional workshop for the South Asian nations in Colombo, Sri Lanka, to discuss the latest adaptation initiatives taken up and exchange best practices and information. The workshop took place on the 23rd and 24th of February 2015 and was attended by representatives of Pakistan, India, Sri Lanka, Bangladesh, the Maldives, Bhutan and Nepal including representation from the respective governments, the parliaments and the civil society.
The workshop discussed that in addition to the development challenges that the South Asian nations face in general, climate change impacts are creating obstacles in achieving social and economic development agendas. Although some of the countries, like India and Sri Lanka are performing slightly better with regards to economic growth as compared to the rest of them, the challenges this region as a whole faces in terms of climate change effects are stark and severe. Even the latest report of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) marks South Asia as the most vulnerable region to climate change impacts. The adverse impacts of climate change often halt or reverse efforts to reduce poverty and uplift the lives of society.
Differing in geographical characteristics, political scenarios and culture, the South Asian nations are in agreement regarding the most serious implications of climate change that they are facing. Water management, agricultural issues, and loss and damage from natural disasters are the gravest points of concern for these nations. Repeated incidents of flooding, shifting monsoon patterns, decline in productivity of wheat and rice, water shortage and the frequent instances of droughts in the semi-arid regions are plunging these countries into further risk and vulnerability.
Following the COP20 Lima Conference in December 2014 where the SAARC bloc stood up as a single entity for its rights under the UNFCCC principles, this regional workshop was a collective effort to spur discourse on collaborated response to climate change. Country representatives talked about the progress of the National Adaptation Plans and discussed country specific and region-wise challenges.
High population growth rate in some countries like India, Pakistan and Bangladesh were highlighted as a major policy concern, specifically in context of rising urbanisation trends. The need for immediate urban planning and the relocation of people from climate-sensitive areas to safer locations were discussed at length. The issue of the drowning islands of Maldives and the challenge of resettlement of its population looms as a big policy concern at the regional as well as the global level. Moreover, the prospects of shifting from non-renewable to eco-friendly energy resources were discussed, specifically for countries like Pakistan where energy deficit is a major development issue. The participants were in agreement that to tackle the challenges of climate change, a multi-stakeholder approach is required, one that actively involves the government, bureaucracy, academia, civil society and the private sector.
It was encouraging to get insights about the adaptation initiatives being taken up by the nations of South Asia. Even more encouraging was the general recognition of the need of cooperation and collaboration among the nations for an effective response to climate change. Emphasising on the need of regional cooperation, Mr Malik Muhammad Uzair Khan, Member Parliament, Pakistan, commented, “Pakistan like India, Nepal, Sri Lanka and Bangladesh is reeling under the worst impacts of climate change. Clearly, climate change knows no borders and now more than ever it is critical that our leaders come together to share best practices for climate change adaptation and set the region on the path of sustainable development.”
Underlining that capacity building is the keystone to effective adaptation to climate change. The representatives advocated a balanced investment in physical infrastructure and skills of the population. They stressed upon focusing on education and awareness, health, agriculture sector, water management and disaster preparedness to increase the resilience of people and reduce their vulnerability. Besides individual and community level, focus should also be directed at institutional capacity building as, quite often, it is the institutions that are inefficient in setting their priorities for strategic response to climate change.
A major outcome of the workshop was the consensus on shifting the policy focus away from a top-down and incoherent approach to the implementation of a bottom-up and inclusive approach. Pivotal to this approach is a stronger government leadership and transnational cooperation besides strengthening ties between local and provincial bodies. National adaptation policies should be urged to put special focus on the needs of the poor communities that are most vulnerable to the impacts of climate change. The whole planning process should be participatory in nature.
The aspirations to move towards sustainable development can only be achieved through an approach that recognises the challenges of climate change effects on the development agendas and tackles them accordingly. Formulation of national adaptation plans and initiatives are a good step-up towards such aspirations but without implementation and coordination among different units and sectors, mere words and writings cannot solve the issue. Institutional support, political ownership of the issues and coordination and cooperation at all levels is fundamental to adaptation.