South Asian nations must collaborate on climate

Updated on May 15, 2022 07:41 PM IST

Countries could establish a South Asia Association for Regional Cooperation Climate Fund, which could pay for adaptation and mitigation initiatives with a strong focus on innovations, joint R&D, technology transfer, knowledge exchange, and capacity building.

An Indian worker splashes water on his face to cool himself on a hot summer afternoon in Prayagraj, Uttar Pradesh, India, June 13 (AP) PREMIUM
An Indian worker splashes water on his face to cool himself on a hot summer afternoon in Prayagraj, Uttar Pradesh, India, June 13 (AP)
BySanjay Gupta and Uttam Kumar Sinha

Regional cooperation in South Asia has been an exercise in hope but suboptimal in its outcome. The climate crisis can alter it. Home to about one-fourth of the global population, the region is responsible for 4% of historical global greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions. The annual per capita GHG emissions were 2.6 tonnes of CO2 equivalent in 2019, the lowest of any region globally, while the Gross Domestic Product per capita (purchasing power parity) was $5,814 in 2020, the second lowest globally, just ahead of Africa.

South Asia faces several climate challenges. However, the similarity of the challenges and the complementary strengths of the nations, along with their shared geography, socioeconomic characteristics, and cultures, present opportunities for collaboration among the South Asian countries. For example, the Himalayan countries of Afghanistan, Bhutan, India, Nepal, and Pakistan have large, unutilised hydropower resources. Collaboration on technologies and finances, and the development of a common South Asian power market can lead to increased energy security while reducing power costs and GHG emissions. India’s lead on solar power can help other countries develop this renewable resource as a cheap and principal energy source.

There are existing initiatives that have lessons for all countries: Adaptation strategies of Bangladesh (including its Delta Plan 2100), India’s focus on enhanced energy efficiency, sustainable management of forests by Bhutan, fisheries management by Bangladesh and India, micro-hydropower in Nepal, ecotourism in Maldives and Sri Lanka, and climate-smart agriculture in Bangladesh, India and Pakistan. In addition, India has a rich experience in attempting to develop sustainable and economically productive cities, with programmes such as the Smart Cities Mission, Atal Mission for Rejuvenation and Urban Transformation, Swachh Bharat Mission, Housing for All, Start-Up Mission, Street Vendors Act 2014 and India Cooling Action Plan.

Based on the climate crisis challenges and current initiatives, five key areas emerge for regional cooperation: Sustainable urbanisation (inclusive sustainable municipal services, green transport, pollution abatement and prevention); climate-smart agriculture (water and resource efficiency, minimising food wastage, transport logistics and cold chains, and food processing); disaster resilience (joint and coordinated early warning systems for hydro-meteorological events, shared response mechanisms to disasters including chemical and oil spills in coastal areas, and forest fires); renewable and clean energy (solar and wind energy, power storage technologies, joint development of hydropower projects, regional energy market, and increasing energy efficiency across industries, farms, institutions, offices and homes); and downscaled climate modelling to predict short- to long-term impacts and implement people-oriented adaptation plans.

The private sector will have a substantial role in climate adaptation and mitigation. Thus, relaxation of foreign direct investment rules will help, especially for green technologies, digital firms, fourth industrial revolution technologies, waste management and treatment, disaster resilience enhancing processes, and technologies including in infrastructure sectors such as climate-resilient roads and water transport. Countries could establish a South Asia Association for Regional Cooperation Climate Fund, which could pay for adaptation and mitigation initiatives with a strong focus on innovations, joint R&D, technology transfer, knowledge exchange, and capacity building. The fund could also raise money from private foundations and individuals, corporate social responsibility initiatives, and bilateral and multilateral agencies.

In addition, South Asia needs to double down on pursuing sustainable development goals. Lastly, India could leverage its development assistance to other South Asian countries by joining hands with international development agencies to jointly design, fund, and implement climate resilience programmes.

Sanjay Gupta is an independent international analyst on development issues and Uttam Kumar Sinha works at the Manohar Parrikar Institute for Defence Studies and Analyses, New Delhi The views expressed are personal

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