Over the course of four days, at the G20 in Rome and COP26 (the 2021 United Nations Climate Change Conference) in Glasgow, Scotland, Prime Minister Modi spoke at nearly a dozen events, expanding on India’s plans to counter climate change.
India’s record since the 2015 Paris Accord and initiatives such as the International Solar Alliance (ISA) and Coalition for Disaster Resilient Infrastructure (CDRI), as a part of which Mr. Modi (along with other leaders) launched the ‘Infrastructure for Resilient Island States (IRIS)’ at the World Leaders Summit at COP26 were widely welcomed.
The announcement of India’s new Nationally Determined Contributions (NDCs) and the “Panchamrit” or five goals for the future elicited applause from across the audience.
Missing however, was any reference to India’s own region, the subcontinent, South Asia, without which India’s multiple forays on fighting climate change could well prove fruitless.
South Asian region and Climate Change:
South Asia is one of the most vulnerable regions to climate shocks.
The region is living through a “new climate normal” in which intensifying heat waves, cyclones, droughts, and floods are testing the limits of government, businesses, and citizens to adapt.
More than half of all South Asians, or 750 million people in the 8 countries — Afghanistan, Bangladesh, Bhutan, India, Maldives, Nepal, Pakistan, and Sri Lanka were affected by one or more climate-related disasters in the last two decades.
Accelerating climate adaptation is critical to building resilience to the rapidly warming climate in the region.
South Asia is pioneering many climate-smart solutions, including innovative community approaches to coastal resilience, scaling up renewable energy and regenerative forestry.
South Asia’s feeble voice: South Asian initiative on climate change:
- The absence of a South Asian initiative on climate change led by India, accrues to a number of obvious reasons:
- India-Pakistan tensions that have led to the degradation of the South Asian Association for Regional Cooperation (SAARC) process, especially since 2014, when the last SAARC summit was held;
- Events in Afghanistan and the Taliban takeover which will bring it closer to its Central Asian rather than South Asian neighbours;
- The differences over pollution issues within the Bangladesh-Bhutan-India-Nepal (BBIN) grouping that has held up its initiatives like the common Motor Vehicle Agreement (due mainly to Bhutan’s opposition); and
- Slow movement amongst the Bay of Bengal Initiative for Multi-Sectoral Technical and Economic Cooperation (BIMSTEC) countries along the Bay of Bengal that have yet to bring about a common charter at the global level despite adding climate change as an area of cooperation a decade ago.
Other drawbacks in South Asian region countries group:
South Asia is slowly becoming the world’s biggest area of concern when it comes to climate change.
According to this year’s Global Climate Risk Index, India and Afghanistan are among the top 10 countries worldwide in terms of vulnerability, but South Asia classifies for the overall lowest values.
By one estimate, 20 out of 23 major cyclone disasters in the world in the past have occurred around the Bay of Bengal region, and global warming, coastal degradation and soil salinity as well as water scarcities cause the deaths of thousands in South Asia each year.
The Asian Development Bank now predicts a decrease of 11% in South Asian GDPs by 2100 if “Business-As-Usual (BAU) Emissions” are maintained.
With global warming and sea levels rising, other estimates predict there will be nearly 63 million climate migrants in South Asia by 2050.
- While India and other countries in the region access global banks, including the BRICS-led New Development Bank (NDB), the Beijing-based Asian Infrastructure Investment Bank, and Asian Development Bank for projects individually, there is no single South Asian entity the banks could work with for a more targeted focus and more concessional financing for the problem that faces the region.
- Growing carbon footprints as well as post-COVID-19 economic compulsions are driving countries into closer regional coalitions, looking for solutions closer home, than those provided by globalisation and long-distance supply chains.
- South Asia has remained an exception, persistently showing lower inter-regional trade and connectivity, and lower levels of cooperation on migrant labour issues, inter-state tourism and cross-border employment than other regions.
- Finally, New Delhi has often warned of the pernicious influence of ‘Chinese solutions’ to problems in the subcontinent, ranging from unsustainable infrastructure financing to environmentally harmful projects as part of the Belt and Road Initiative (BRI), but it has been unable to proffer a viable alternative, with or without its Quad partners.
- When New Delhi failed to respond to Sri Lanka’s request for assistance with its currency and debt crisis last year, the Rajapaksa government turned to Bangladesh for a currency swap arrangement.
- The problems between India and Pakistan that have multiplied manifold in the past few years are no doubt a major obstacle, but not one that cannot be surmounted in the face of a common challenge, as the special SAARC conference on COVID-19 in March 2020 showed.
When India speaks of the need for climate justice, global funding and climate adaptation technology transfer, India’s voice would only be strengthened multiple times if it speaks for South Asia as a whole.
According to the World Bank’s newly launched South Asia road map, climate-smart investment opportunities in South Asia total a whopping $3.4 trillion, with “energy-efficient green buildings” alone representing an investment potential of more than $1.5 trillion. Green transport connectivity and infrastructure, electric vehicles could represent another $950 billion in investment opportunities by 2030.
This does not include the vast sums of funding available for cross-regional solar grids, windfarms and run-of-river energy projects.
Need to work and implement South Asia Climate Roadmap:
- The (WBG)World Bank Group’s South Asia Climate Roadmap will help the region ramp up its climate action in key transitions:
- The Agriculture, Food, Water, and Land Systems Transition
- The Energy and Transport Transition
- The Urban Transition
- The WBG will also work to achieve systemic resilience across sectors and mobilize financing and investment.
- Recovery from the COVID-19 pandemic offers South Asian countries a unique opportunity to adapt to and mitigate climate change by massively investing in resilient infrastructure, re-skilling their populations for high-productivity jobs, and rebuilding their economies around cleaner energy.
- The World Bank Group is committed to this agenda and helping the countries of South Asia tackle the impacts of climate change.
- The South Asia Climate Roadmap builds on the World Bank Group’s Climate Change Action Plan and commitment to boosting climate action at the country level by directing 35 percent of its lending portfolio in South Asia to climate-related actions, on average, over the next five years.
- The South Asia Climate Roadmap will also support the development of key cutting-edge analytical tools to inform country climate planning and development strategies in South Asia.
When it comes to climate change, there is a chance to turn this trend, and for India, the largest country in the region sharing the most boundaries with other South Asian neighbours, to lead the way to find holistic solutions: accessing funding, tapping the latest climate adaptation technology, and finding cross-border markets for renewable energy networks.
Mr. Modi’s “One Sun One World One Grid” and ‘Panchamrit plans’ would clearly pack more punch if they contain a clear road map for the region, and strive for a common South Asian taskforce to tackle the enormous challenge that lies ahead for India and its neighbourhood this century.