Islamabad: The conflict-ridden trajectory of the relationship between the two largest countries of South Asia is the biggest impediment in making meaningful progress on addressing the issue of climate change in the region, said Shafqat Kakakhel, former ambassador, who is currently chairperson, Board of Governors, Sustainable Development Policy Institute (SDPI).
Kakakhel was speaking at an event on ‘Regional cooperation on climate issues’ organised by the Institute of Regional Studies here.
Kakakhel argued that India’s reluctance to meaningfully engage with other South Asian countries hindered regional cooperation on issues of mutual concern. Climate change and its impacts in the region were of critical significance because South Asia qualified as one of the most environmentally vulnerable regions, he said adding that while India and Pakistan gained independence as two separate states, it was impossible to divide natural resources, therefore, every phenomenon related to natural resources turned into a shared consequence for the people inhabiting the whole region.
The former diplomat was of the view that the impacts of climate change such as rising sea levels, aridity due to low precipitation, water shortages, glacial droughts, floods, heatwaves and altered levels of monsoons, etc. had to be considered twice as damaging for South Asia because most of the economies in the region were driven by agriculture as a major source of income. He maintained that climate change had the most severe impacts on water resource management—a sector that was inconvertibly linked with all the other sectors and was integral to ensure basic human sustenance.
Kakakhel argued that India and Pakistan had fragile mountain ecosystems, vulnerable river basins, and long coastline, making them both susceptible to the impacts of climate change at various levels. He added that rising populations and rampant poverty in both countries made large segments of the population in the two countries vulnerable to the impacts of climatic changes. Hence, according to him, poverty and lack of coping capacity to address the aforementioned issues resiliently were the key factors.
He said that for South Asian countries to effectively deal with the challenge, all of them needed to come up not only with viable policies but to coordinate them with regional countries to evolve a coherent regional policy on climate change.
He emphasised close engagement with established regional organisations, most notably the Association of Southeast Asian Nations, which was doing some commendable work in the field of climate change. He argued that SAARC needed some major reconfigurations to its functional framework if it was to regain its status as a regional organisation representing the interests of South Asian countries.