SAARC nations one on climate change

As rising seas, melting glaciers, floods and cyclones are increasingly putting millions of people at risk in South Asia, the South Asian Association for Regional Cooperation (SAARC) met in Dhaka last week to find ways to mitigate the impacts of changing climate. Experts and ministers from SAARC member countries discussed the impact of changing climate and adopted an action plan for three years.

Atiq Rahman, a leading Bangladeshi environmental scientist, said that it was important for the region to unite, as environmentalists have long warned that SAARC’s member countries — Afghanistan, Bangladesh, Bhutan, India, the Maldives, Nepal, Pakistan, and Sri Lanka — are among the worst affected by climate change.”The latest [Inter-governmental Panel for Climate Change (IPCC)] report says the sea-level rise will be rapid — a vast swathe of land will go underwater —food security will be threatened and the millennium development goal on poverty will not be reached,” said Rahman, lead author of the report.

For the first time South Asian environment ministers issued a joint plan to fight the effects of global warming. They also pushed for the developed countries to establish a special fund dedicated to saving the affected countries from the effects of climate change. The action plan adopted in Dhaka seeks to identify and create opportunity for activities achievable through regional cooperation and South-South support in terms of technology and knowledge transfer. It also establishes common regional understanding of the various concerns of SAARC member states around the UN Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC).

This new beginning of cooperation and exchange of technology and information will benefit the entire region, according to Rahman. “Everybody will be serious as everybody is affected by the external threat,” he said. The action plan, covering 2009-2011, puts forth action plans for climate change mitigation, technology transfer, financing and investment mechanisms, education, training and awareness, monitoring, plus assessment and management strategies of impact and risks.Fakhruddin Ahmed, head of the interim government of Bangladesh, called for putting collective pressure by SAARC on the developed nations to make an unconditional commitment to reduce their greenhouse gas emission levels to save the vulnerable regions of the world from the perils of climate change.

Ahmed said that the SAARC countries should speak in one voice to ensure that the developed countries commit new and additional resources to support regional adaptation efforts. “We should also remain vigilant against any attempt to make adaptation support contingent upon our commitment in mitigation,” he said. The industrialised economies must provide adaptation funds and facilitate technology transfers without any conditionality, he stressed.

The IPCC forecasts that global warming would result in sea-level rise, with a resultant increase in coastal flooding and salinity. “In 2007, two successive floods ravaged Bangladesh as well as parts of India. The rise in frequency and intensity of cyclones are ominous testimonies of climatic shifts in our region,” Ahmed explained. “Climate change will disproportionately hurt the poor.” — IPS