Sunday, June 29, 2008

SAARC can act as one on climate change


BANGLADESH WILL return to the democratic process as soon as feasible and all political parties, government, and general people will be united forgetting all enmity to take the country forward. India's government and its communist allies will find a suitable solution over a civilian nuclear deal with the United States to continue their coalition in the parliament. To lessen tension between Pakistan and Afghanistan over Afghan President Hamid Karzai’s comment’s that he will send troops to Pakistan to attack militants; both countries will sit to resolve the problems through dialogue.

But climate is not something that we can fix whenever we want. Because most climate models predict gradual future changes to climate, related to the steadily increasing greenhouse gas concentrations and carbon emissions. But ice and sediment core records reveal that, in the past, climate has changed abruptly - possibly in as little as 10 to 20 years. Such rapid change in the future could make prevention and adaptation strategies difficult and expensive to implement.

We are altering the environment far faster than we can possibly predict the consequences. Comparable climate shifts have happened before, but over tens of centuries, not tens of years. The unprecedented rapid change could accelerate the already high rate of species extinction as plants and animals fail to adapt quickly enough. For the first time in history, humans are affecting the ecological balance of not just a region but the entire world, all at once.

The alarmists in the global warming debate have had their say--over and over again, in every newspaper in the country practically every day and in countless news reports and documentary films. They have dominated the media’s coverage of this issue. There in an increasing need for governments, organizations, businesses, and even individuals to understand and help tackle the issue as climate change is one of the biggest challenges we are facing today.

In view of the growing demand to form a regional action plan for adaptation to climate change and mobilizing funds for the purpose, environment ministers of South Asia are going to sit for the first-ever such meeting in Dhaka on July 3, 2008. Before that, according to the 29th session of the SAARC’s (South Asian Association for Regional Cooperation) council of ministers in New Delhi in December, 2007, an expert-level meeting will be preceded on July 1 and 2, who will make an in-depth assessment of the probable impact of climate change on the region and will suggest measures to tackle the situation through regional cooperation. A fund titled “Fund for Climate Change” has also been proposed to seek funds from donor agencies whose representatives have been invited to the meeting.

Climate change effects on everyday, everywhere. Hundreds of people were reported dead and a passenger ferry MV Princess of Stars having onboard around 700 passengers and 121 crew members were capsized due to typhoon Frank (Fengshen) in Philippine on June 22, 2008. Kansas, Indiana, and Iowa had been heavily affected by floods on June 6-13, 2008. Rising flood waters swamped the central US river city, forcing residents to flee their homes and officials to abandon city hall amid a wider crisis that had left 20 dead. On November 15, 2007, the category 4 cyclone Sidr in Bangladesh uprooted more than 3,153 lives and unknown number of homes.

Humans are changing the Earth's climate so fast and devouring resources so voraciously that the survival of the world's ecosystems and of humanity itself is at stake. According to the German Scientists, the climate will be changing more quickly in this century than it ever has in the recent history of the earth. Besides various organizations of UN body, governments of different countries, non-government organizations, scientists, or individuals, many regional organizations throughout the world are now working together to cope with climate change as most of the times in any natural disaster, neighbouring countries in the region are usually effected.

2008 will be a decisive year in the battle against climate change. Hopefully, it will see us forge an international consensus so an agreement can be reached in Copenhagen in 2009 that will allow us to build on the Kyoto Protocol. Although there are many disputes among them, but one of the main themes and objectives of the 34th G8 summit, which is to take place in Tokyo, Japan on July 7-9, 2008, is environment and climate change. The economic impact of climate change, rising food prices, and a broad range of other trade, growth and development issues were discussed at this year's OECD’s Ministerial Council Meeting at OECD headquarters in Paris on 4-5 June 2008. World leaders will lay the groundwork for a global agreement through the 14th Conference of the Parties to the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change in Puzon, Poland on December 1-12, 2008.

After a two-day summit in Brussels, Belgium on March 14, 2008, EU (European Union) leaders declared an ambitious plan to fight climate change and agreed to implement a 20% cut in greenhouse gases by 2020, compared with 1990 levels. The EU leaders also agreed to consider cutting value-added tax (VAT) on environmentally-friendly domestic products, which aims to increase the use of so-called green goods. NATO Secretary General Jaap de Hoop Scheffer urged the 26 member nations to bear climate change in mind as one of the key elements as it will lead to international tensions and conflicts over resources, water, farming lands and will also increase migration.

According to the World Bank climate change expert Richard Damania, the poorest of the poor in South Asia are the most impacted by climate change. The impacts of higher temperatures, more extreme weather events such as floods, cyclone, severe drought, and sea level rise are already felt in South Asia and will continue to intensify. “We are going to see the wet parts of South Asia become wetter causing flooding and affecting more people. We will also see the arid areas getting drier. This will hurt the poor the most,” he said.

Bangladesh is set to disappear under the waves by the end of the century, said US government’s NASA space agency. The International Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) predicted that Bangladesh is on course to lose 17 per cent of its land and 30 per cent of its food production by 2050. The country has already begun to feel the effects of the climate change as flood periods have become longer and the cyclones that hit the country cause greater devastation. As sea-levels rise, the IPCC warned that 35m refugees could flee Bangladesh's flooded delta by 2050.

The impact of climate change on India, a hotter and poorer country, is likely to be worse. According to the Peterson Institute for International Economics, India's agriculture will suffer more than any other country's. Assuming a global temperature increase of 4.4°C over cultivated areas by 2080, India's agricultural output is projected to fall by 30-40%.

The 2004 tsunami is the deadliest in recorded history. In the aftermath of the quake resultant tsunami waves killed over 280,000 people in towns and villages along the coasts of the Indian Ocean. Over 3 million survivors had their livelihoods destroyed. India, Indonesia, Malaysia, Maldives, Myanmar, Sri Lanka, Thailand, and Somalia were affected. It killed over 40000 people in Sri Lanka. Thousands of those missing were never recovered. Sri Lanka expects that over the next two decades the sea-level will rise by half a meter with dry areas becoming drier and wet areas becoming wetter, leading to floods in some areas and drought in others.

Maldives, which is made up of 1191 islands, is a very low-lying island nation. During the past decade, the sea on average in the Maldives has risen by one millimetre every year; that means one centimetre in ten years. Since 80% of its islands are no more than 1m above sea level, within 100 years the Maldives could become uninhabitable.

Governments of these regional countries are trying to find some way to address the climate change. For the first time, government of Bangladesh allocated BDT 300 crore to create a special fund for enhancing public adaptability to face the challenges of climate change. India has adopted a vaunted policy, the National Action Plan on Climate Change and formed a powerful council of ministers, bureaucrats, scientists, and businessmen to co-operate on the issue.
Recently, the Ministry of Environment and Natural Resources in Sri Lanka launched a Climate Change Secretariat and the Sri Lanka Carbon Fund. Pakistan Environmental Protection Agency is working to improve and protect the environment. But together, they can take a common stance on the climate change issue.

No doubt to say that SAARC is too important and could be more effective for its geopolitical relationship with surrounding countries and emerge as regional strength. But since its inception on December 8, 1985, SAARC has not been able to take up such critical issues. It has shown little concern for the regional political crisis that climate change threatens. #

Ripan Kumar Biswas is a freelance writer based in New York. He could reached at: