SAARC to Rescue India on Climate Change Before Lima?


The 20th Conference of Parties (COP) to UN sponsored Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC) is going to be held from 1 to 12 December in Lima, Peru. Since the US-China bilateral climate deal on the sideline of Asia Pacific Economic Cooperation (APEC) early this month, the world has eerily been watching India's 'breaking news' short of indication of targeted greenhouse gas (GHG) reduction. Between APEC and COP 20 (Lima), the 18th SAARC summit (South Asian Association for Regional Cooperation:26-27 November) in Nepal provides a breathing space for India. Will India be able to use this Summit to spell out its message for Lima or Paris (2015)?


Despite dormant for obvious reasons as a regional institution, the BJP led NDA government in Delhi has reinvigorated SAARC with new hope. Indian Prime Minister's 'neighbours first' foreign policy has revitalised the regional grouping. Those who believe that SAARC is only a political grouping, they have knowingly battered the bloc into gradual decay. At best for present Indian government, the SAARC is the potential socio economic developmental bloc to rescue India's growth, thereby fuelling regional growth. Leave the political squabbling at border check points as it not only retards the growth of SAARC but it undermines its capability to deliver on developmental fronts. While regionalism is thriving in other parts of the world after 9/11, the India-Pakistan irritants and bilateral baggage have been deteriorating the efficiency of SAARC. It is Pakistan who has displayed immense immaturity by isolating itself from the rest of the world.


Indian Prime Minister's call to 'end poverty together' in the region during his Independence day speech has direct linkages with the collective efforts to fight against climate change, which is arguably a major threat to national security as much as terrorism or economy slowdown. What is the agenda Indian Prime Minister is taking with him to tackle climate change cooperatively with counterparts in the SAARC Summit?


As a group, SAARC has not been adequately represented in international environmental negotiations. Barring the 1992 Rio Summit when SARRC had a formal submission, it took almost 17 years to voice unanimously through a common statement at 15th COP (2009) in Copenhagen. Precisely, it was due to then Indian environment and forest minister’s initiative for a common SAARC strategy during 8th SAARC Ministerial Meeting in Delhi in October 2009. The SAARC Statement was drawn as the India's position of combating climate change through 'principle of common but differentiated responsibilities' and provisions of Kyoto Protocol.


Subsequently, the sixteenth SAARC Summit in Bhutan 2010 was roped into climate change as the central theme.  The SAARC Statement, submitted by Bhutan at 16th COP in Cancun, Mexico, stated that 'equity' and  'common but differentiated responsibilities and respective capabilities' were the principles to achieve a global outcome. Having now SAARC as an observer in UNFCCC, it is equally expected a statement on climate change from this Kathmandu Summit. India needs to maximise this Summit venue to push for a statement which reflects its position to make inroads to Lima.  India must not be 'single man standing at Paris' or 'last of Mohican' in Lima as an obscurantist or ostracised after China's deal with US.


India's other 'primus inter pares' grouping like BASIC (Brazil, South Africa, India and China) and BRICS (Brazil, Russia, India, China and South Africa) may not provide respite from international pressure especially from European Union and international civil societies. The BASIC group had already sent a clear message to Lima COP for 'developed countries to walk the talk', means need more financial assistance in green climate fund (GCF) to tackle the climate change with usual riders of emission reductions during last Basic Ministerial Meeting in August. BRICS has not evolved a pressure bloc in UNFCCC though it can be left to fight for rights of E-5 (five emerging economies) in global development financial architecture- World Bank, ADB, and IDB etc. The SAARC has opened a venue for India to maximise in UNFCCC.


Currently, SAARC energy grid has been an apple in the eye for India as well for others. The progress is somewhat expected in this Summit as a signing agreement depending on Indo-Pak normalisation of talks. Reliable but not completely renewable energy in this part of the world comes from highly GHG emitting thermal and large hydro. As the wish lists of SAARC countries for upcoming thermal and hydro projects for feeding region's growing demand, It is India's best interest to propagate renewable energy like solar, wind, mini hydro into this energy grid. Access to energy is fundamental to eradicate poverty but not through fossil based energy.


While India has intended to phase out dependence on thermal power, it has to prepare an outline for such plan immediately.  The phase out does not mean to export thermal projects to Bangladesh and Sri Lanka. This ambitious plan of getting rid of thermal power also does not mean to extend support to establish coal mining in Australia or coal plants in South East Asia. The fundamental survival questions of Pacific Islands is at stake due to sea level rise which fuels by global emissions. The Indian Prime Minister met these countries last week with an acknowledgement of fighting climate change together. But, How? A mitigation plan of minimising dependence on fossil fuel for South Asian economy would be the best possible way to dribble the climate talks till Paris by India.


Similarly, a disaster retards a country's development progress into several decade backward. Natural or climate change induced disasters have taken huge developmental and human toll since 1992 when the SAARC completed a first ever study on disaster and GHG emissions in the region. During 17th SAARC Summit at Male, countries signed the SAARC Agreement on Rapid Response to Natural Disasters in 2011. In these three years we have witnessed Kashmir deluge, Uttarakhand Tsunami, Koshi threat, Phailin, Hudhud to name a few but a regional disaster response yet to materialise.

The international disaster decade (2005-2015) resolution as Hyogo Framework of Action (HFA) approved in 2005 to make world safer from natural hazards. During the HFA period, most SAARC countries have remarkably received external assistances to build the preparedness but ignore the resilience capacity of poor in this region. While the drafting of HFA 2 (2015-2025) is being processed, SAARC is completely absent so far as a regional unit. The Summit may espouse for a regional disaster response as an adaptation plan into respective countries long term economic planning.  While much has to be done by Indian delegation in Lima, at least a message or two can be sent from this Kathmandu Summit.

Author Note
Dr Avilash Roul, Senior Fellow, Society for the Study of Peace and Conflict Studies, Delhi.