(Photo credits: Biodiversity International via Creative Commons)
The fifth assessment report of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (AR5 IPCC) published on regional impacts from climate change has provided that in South Asia, the climate is changing and the impacts are already being felt. It further highlights that climate change impacts will pose challenges to growth and development of the region. It points out to the need for international cooperation to address these impacts and states that, “International cooperation is vital to avert dangerous climate change impacts and South Asian governments can promote ambitious global action,”.
Among key areas that the Report points as being priority for the South Asia region are adaptation and low carbon development. It provides that “Adaptation will bring immediate benefits and reduce the impacts of climate change in South Asia.” It also adds that adaptation is fundamental to risk management, and that South Asia has many adaptation options.
While adaptation actions are prioritized, the Report also indicates that low carbon development will also benefit the region, and the merging of adaptation and mitigation actions will lead to South Asia’s path to address climate change and its impacts. According to the Report, “South Asia stands to benefit from integrated climate adaptation, mitigation, and development approaches.”
Impacts of Climate Change on South Asia
Globally, sea levels have risen faster than at any time during the previous two millennia – and the effects are felt in South Asia. Changing patterns of rainfall or melting snow and ice are altering freshwater systems, affecting the quantity and quality of water available in many regions, including South Asia. Climate change will have widespread impacts on South Asian society and South Asians’ interaction with the natural environment.
The AR5 highlights that, “The impacts of climate change will influence flooding of settlements and infrastructure, heat-related deaths, and food and water shortages in South Asia.”  It further points to impacts such as temperature extremes (high confidence) which is reflected through the numbers of cold days and nights that have decreased and the numbers of warm days and nights that have increased across most of Asia since about 1950.
Further South Asia is victim to change in rainfall trends. These trends, including extremes, are characterised by strong variability, with both increasing and decreasing trends observed in different parts of Asia. Observations also show that there have been more extreme rainfall events and fewer weak rainfall events in the central Indian region.
In addition to this, the region also experiences sea level rise. Changes of sea level in the Indian Ocean have emerged since the 1960s, driven by changing wind patterns.
Effects of these impacts are already felt, threatening lives, food security, health and wellbeing across many parts of South Asia. Evidence show that there are clear signs that the impacts of climate change are already being felt.
Need for International Cooperation
Given the interdependence among countries in today’s world, the impacts of climate change on resources or commodities in one place will have far-reaching effects on prices, supply chains, trade, investment and political relations in other places. Climate change will progressively threaten economic growth and human security in complex ways, in this region and across the world.
Further transboundary impacts of climate change are felt across the globe, to which actions need to be taken. While impacts are felt, and actions are needed, further needs for cooperation is highlighted by the state of countries in their economic and technical capacity whereby support from those that have a higher level with regard to both will be needed. In South Asia, the capabilities and vulnerabilities are diverse, and cooperation on climate action is needed, with attention to these elements. The political processes at the regional and international level must reflect these needs, in order to implement concrete and effective climate actions.
The AR5 of the IPCC provides that, “South Asian leaders have an important part to play – with all other international leaders – in forging this solution. Cooperating, recognising that everyone must share the effort, and making financial resources available for investment in adaptation programmes and low-emissions infrastructure are important in reaching global agreement.”.
Paris Agreement & Regional Cooperation
The Paris Agreement which entered into force on 4th November 2016, was signed by Parties to the UNFCCC at the 21st Conference of Parties held in Paris, in December 2015. In an unprecedented outcome, the Agreement for the first time brings together all countries under a common cause of addressing impacts of climate change, with all parties taking up contribution towards it. It builds on the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC,) and has as its objective to strengthen the global response to climate change impacts, and keeping the global temperature rise this century to well below 2 degrees Celsius above pre-industrial levels and to pursue efforts to limit the temperature increase even further to 1.5 degrees Celsius.
Decision 1/CP1 of the Paris Agreement highlights the need for regional cooperation in addressing climate change impacts when it states, “recognizing that climate change represents an urgent and potentially irreversible threat to human societies and the planet and thus requires the widest possible cooperation by all countries, and their participation in an effective and appropriate international response, with a view to accelerating the reduction of global greenhouse gas emissions.”
It further adds, “agreeing to uphold and promote regional and international cooperation in order to mobilise stronger and more ambitious climate action by all Parties and non-Party stakeholders, including civil society, the private sector, financial institutions, cities and other subnational authorities, local communities, and indigenous peoples,” which focuses on the need for cooperation not only of State actors but also multiple-stakeholders for effective climate actions.
- Adaptation & Regional Cooperation
The Agreement highlights several areas where regional cooperation is key. However this paper will focus mainly on adaptation and the elements that revolve in facilitating the implementation of the adaptation actions, as based on the climate change impacts assessment of the AR5 IPCCC it is provided as the most important element to the South Asian region.
In the Paris Agreement, Article 7 is the key section which addresses adaptation, and it includes the understanding of adaptation actions needing to have a regional dimension given the climate change impacts faced at different levels. Under Article 7 (2) of the Paris Agreement, “Parties recognize that adaptation is a global challenge faced by all with local, subnational, national, regional and international dimensions, and that it is a key component of and makes a contribution to the long-term global response to climate change to protect people, livelihoods and ecosystems, taking into account the urgent and immediate needs of those developing country Parties that are particularly vulnerable to the adverse effects of climate change.”
The challenges that arise in cooperation in actions at the international level are at times the issues that pertain to sovereignty and the decision-making power of countries through regional and international decision making. In order to address this challenge which might arise, whereby resistance to adaptation actions could develop, the Agreement further provides that it will not be impacting the country’s decision making processes.
Under Article 7 (5) the Parties “acknowledge that adaptation action should follow a country-driven, gender-responsive, participatory and fully transparent approach, taking into consideration vulnerable groups, communities and ecosystems, and should be based on and guided by the best available science and, as appropriate, traditional knowledge, knowledge of indigenous peoples and local knowledge systems, with a view to integrating adaptation into relevant socioeconomic and environmental policies and actions, where appropriate,” which highlights that the countries will be making the decisions on adaptation processes.
Another mention on cooperation which is on adaptation is through the reference to the Cancun Adaptation Framework where it states that, “Parties should strengthen their cooperation on enhancing action on adaptation, taking into account the Cancun Adaptation Framework, including with regard to:
- Sharing information, good practices, experiences and lessons learned, including, as appropriate, as these relate to science, planning, policies and implementation in relation to adaptation actions;
- Strengthening institutional arrangements, including those under the Convention that serve this Agreement, to support the synthesis of relevant information and knowledge, and the provision of technical support and guidance to Parties;
- Strengthening scientific knowledge on climate, including research, systematic observation of the climate system and early warning systems, in a manner that informs climate services and supports decision-making;
- Assisting developing country Parties in identifying effective adaptation practices, adaptation needs, priorities, support provided and received for adaptation actions and efforts, and challenges and gaps, in a manner consistent with encouraging good practices; and
- Improving the effectiveness and durability of adaptation actions.
Such cooperation on knowledge sharing, and providing technical support is vital in understanding best ways for adaptation. Despite certain diversity, there are also common needs and vulnerabilities that the South Asian region faces. While some countries are different from others, they are also similar in impacts faced, vulnerabilities as well as capacities. Given this, collaboration within SAARC on adaptation actions is important to addressing climate change in an effective manner.
- Strengthening Regional Cooperation
The Paris Agreement and its decisions request Parties to strengthen regional cooperation on adaptation where appropriate and, where necessary, establish regional centres and networks, in particular in developing countries, taking into account decision 1/CP.16, paragraph. This includes “facilitating the sharing of good practices, experiences and lessons learned; Identifying actions that could significantly enhance the implementation of adaptation actions, including actions that could enhance economic diversification and have mitigation co-benefits; Promoting cooperative action on adaptation;”
In addition to this SBT44 held in 2016, Partie agreed on a number of activities under the “Nairobi Work Programme under the UNFCCC focusing on adaptation to inform adaptation planning and actions at the regional, national and subnational levels, particularly in relation to, inter alia, ecosystems, human settlements, water resources and health.”
In addition to the specific sections that refer to adaptation, the sections on capacity building also refer to the need for “Fostering global, regional, national and subnational cooperation; Identifying opportunities to strengthen capacity at the national, regional and subnational level.”
Further Article 10 on technology transfer and support provides under sub section 6 that “Support, including financial support, shall be provided to developing country Parties for the implementation of this Article, including for strengthening cooperative action on technology development and transfer at different stages of the technology cycle, with a view to achieving a balance between support for mitigation and adaptation.”
The element of support is crucial for regional cooperation in the context of South Asia as mentioned above, given that while there are similarities, there are also differences that highlight the need for benefitting from one country’s capacities to help the other country adapt to climate change. In doing this, as previously it is important that the countries’ sovereignty is respected and that actions are taken in a manner that the capacity of countries are developed through technical and financial support, as well as resilience being built.
With climate change impacts being felt in the region of South Asia at a higher level each day, and the economic and social vulnerabilities of people of the region rendering them more vulnerable to these impacts, it is important that South Asia as a region takes initiatives to address climate change.
The Paris Agreement entering into force in November 2016, highlights regional cooperation on adaptation as an important element. And it is time for regional actors such as the South Asian Association of Regional Cooperation (SAARC) to take a pro-active role in making climate policy discussed in Nepal in 2014 at the SAARC gathering – where many aspects of climate change and regional cooperation were discussed – be invested into concrete actions. This will in turn contribute to building bridges to address common issues of the region, as well as create/facilitate the creation of links between countries for collaborative actions to address issues related to climate change, through regional cooperation which in turn will (hopefully) lead to a more unified and peaceful South Asia.
 The Fifth Assessment Report of the IPCC: What’s in it for South Asia? Executive Summary, (2014)
 “The rate of sea level rise has been greater than the mean rate during the previous two millennia (high confidence).” IPCC (2013). Climate Change 2013: The Physical Science Basis. Summary for Policymakers (p11)
 IPCC (2014). Climate Change 2014: Impacts, Adaptation, and Vulnerability. Summary for Policymakers (p4)
 IPCC (2014). Climate Change 2014: Impacts, Adaptation, and Vulnerability. Summary for Policymakers (Box SPM.2 Table 1, p21)
 IPCC (2014). Climate Change 2014: Impacts, Adaptation, and Vulnerability. Chapter 24 (p3)
 IPCC (2014). Climate Change 2014: Impacts, Adaptation, and Vulnerability. Chapter 24 (p6).
 IPCC (2014). Climate Change 2014: Impacts, Adaptation, and Vulnerability. Chapter 24 (p6)
 IPCC (2014). Climate Change 2014: Impacts, Adaptation, and Vulnerability. Chapter 18.
 IPCC (2014). Climate Change 2014: Impacts, Adaptation, and Vulnerability. Chapter 10 (p4)
 IPCC (2014). Climate Change 2014: Impacts, Adaptation, and Vulnerability. Chapter 12 (p2)
 Decision 1/CP16 UNFCCC