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South Asian legislators vow to collaborate on climate action

Source: Thomson Reuters Foundation - Tue, 7 Jan 2014 11:42 GMT
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Local engineers prepare to install a wind turbine to electrify a coastal village near Kharo Chan in Pakistan's southern Thatta district. TRF/Saleem Shaikh

ISLAMABAD (Thomson Reuters Foundation) - Legislators from across South Asia have promised to pool their efforts to cope with the impacts of a changing climate, which they see as a common threat to achieving sustainable development.

Pakistani parliamentarian Syed Mushahid Hussain, who also chairs the Asian Parliamentary Assembly, said some 120 participants at a December conference in Islamabad agreed to collaborate on climate change adaptation and mitigation programmes, and to generate national and regional policy recommendations for climate action.

Pakistani Senator Saeeda Iqbal, who has chaired Pakistan’s Senate Committee on Climate Change since 2011, warned that without tackling climate change together, it would not be possible for South Asian governments to achieve post-2015 sustainable development goals for water, sanitation, food security, poverty reduction and health. These are still being worked out by U.N. member states.

Iqbal noted that regional cooperation on climate change has stayed off the South Asian political agenda, perhaps due to unrelenting political mistrust rooted in both internal and cross-border conflicts.

Politicians must now make bridging that trust gap a priority for the wellbeing of over 1.6 billion people in the region, she stressed.

“It is high time that we South Asian politicians rose above respective political interests, and pondered over framing joint climate action, collective river basin management, technology transfer, sharing technical know-how, high-yield and climate-resilient crops, forest management and renewable energy,” Iqbal urged.

Ramon San Pascual, executive director of the Asian Forum of Parliamentarians on Population and Development (AFPPD) – which organised the gathering along with the Islamabad-based Sustainable Development Policy Institute (SDPI), Climate Action Network South Asia and Oxfam - said bringing parliamentarians together to discuss climate issues was critical for effective climate action.

“Coming from their constituents’ districts, they possess a better understanding of where and how sustainable development goals and people’s lives and livelihoods get hurt by climate change risks. Such an understanding can strengthen assessments of vulnerability and help hammer out viable climate responses,” San Pascual argued.

Parliamentarians conceded there are some good climate mitigation and adaptation programmes in South Asian nations that have yielded replicable results and offer lessons for other parts of the region.

MANAGING FORESTS AND RIVERS

For instance, Nepal’s unparalleled experience in community-based forest management and forest-fire detection offers opportunities for Pakistan to learn how to stabilise and eventually roll back deforestation, senator Iqbal noted.

Forest experts at the Kathmandu-based International Centre for Integrated Mountain Development say that over one quarter of Nepal’s forests, which cover more than 1.1 million hectares of public land, are managed by nearly 20,000 community forest user groups.

Ganesh Shah, a Nepalese parliamentarian, told the conference that these groups - supported by government policies and legislation - have made striking improvements to the size and density of forests, while enhancing soil and water management.

“We are always ready to share our experiences with Pakistan to save its forest cover and expand it,” Shah said. An estimated 43,000 hectares of forest are cleared every year in Pakistan, according to a U.N. report.  

Mokhlesar Rehman Sarker, joint secretary at Bangladesh’s Ministry of Environment and Forests, noted that many countries are connected by trans-boundary river basins.

India and Pakistan are Indus riparian partners, while India and Bangladesh share the Brahmaputra River, and Nepal and India share the Koshi and Mahakali river basins and several others. Pakistan and Afghanistan share nine rivers, including the Kabul.

There are agreements governing the use of water from shared river basins, such as the Indus Water Treaty. But these often become politicised, actually blocking inter-state or intra-regional cooperation over water resources, Pakistani senator Iqbal said.

A. Z. M. Saleh, a senior research associate at Unnayan Onneshan, a centre for development research and action in Dhaka, said the Indo-Bangladesh Joint River Commission (JRC), formed in November 1972, provides a good example of how to manage trans-boundary river basins affably.

Before the JRC was created to resolve longstanding issues over water use in the Ganges river basin, Delhi and Dhaka had fought over the issue, making bilateral relations tense, Saleh noted.

RENEWABLES TECHNOLOGY

Abid Qaiyum Suleri, executive director of the SDPI, said the region could benefit from India’s unprecedented progress in recent years on renewable energy, water conservation, flood warning and high-yield crops.

But that would mean shifting government policies “from mere political agendas to cooperation in science, research and technological advancement and technical know-how”.

Fareeha Mehmood, a renewable energy researcher at the SDPI, said India enjoys a leading position in wind turbine manufacturing that could guarantee excellent efficiency at a relatively cheap cost in Pakistan’s wind corridors.

A joint venture could offer Pakistan an opportunity to learn from India’s experience in wind energy and benefit from technical cooperation, allowing Pakistan to tap its wind power potential of over 346,000 MW, Mehmood added.

Pakistan could request technical training and assistance to manufacture windmills locally, enabling it to offset its worsening energy crisis, she suggested.

Ikram Syed, an Afghan parliamentarian, said South Asia is ranked as the world’s most food-insecure region, with 400 million chronically hungry people. Changing weather patterns have intensified this, affecting crop yields, and turning food exporting countries into importers. India, for example, imported potatoes from Pakistan to cope with shortages last month.

Except for rice, the region faces production deficits in wheat, corn, edible oils and pulses, Syed noted, quoting UNICEF reports.

But a shared history and similarities in governance systems and institutions among countries in the region could help them overcome some of the climate-linked challenges they face, he added.

“There is enormous scope for cooperation and joint complementary actions to tackle common agriculture and water-related problems that have been intensified further due to a changing climate,” Syed told Thomson Reuters Foundation.

Saleem Shaikh and Sughra Tunio are climate change and development science correspondents based in Islamabad.

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