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IDSA-PRIO Conference on Climate Change: Political and Security Implications in South Asia

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  • November 22, 2010 to November 23, 2010

    Venue: Hotel Himalaya, Kathmandu

    This conference intends to examine the interface between state security, societal or human security, and climate change in South Asia. While establishing direct causal correlation between climate change (environmental degradation/marginalization) and conflict/insecurity is contentious and problematic, one cannot completely dismiss the potential consequences. As global warming impacts on glaciers, waterways, oceans and weather patterns, there has been a growing realisation that climate change as a global and transboundary challenge can only be addressed by enhanced regional cooperation and knowledge sharing across countries.

    Event Report

    The Institute for Defence Studies and Analyses (IDSA), New Delhi and the International Peace Research Institute of Oslo (PRIO) organised a two-day conference on “Climate Change: Political and Security Implications in South Asia” in Kathmandu beginning November 22, 2010. The conference centred on four broad themes: the interface between climate change and security; impact of climate change on water resources; climate change and scarcity; and the role of regional cooperation in addressing climate change issues. The conference was attended by scholars and experts from India, Pakistan, Nepal, Bangladesh, Maldives, Sri Lanka, Norway and the UK.

    The Ambassador of India to Nepal, H.E. Rakesh Sood, in his inaugural address, emphasised the potential adverse impact of climate change for South Asian countries. He highlighted that climate change, as a transboundary issue, could unite people and encourage cooperation and collaboration in place of competition. He dwelt upon the ongoing cooperation between India and Nepal on environmental issues pointing that India had “offered to expand bilateral cooperation in the technical, legal and policy fields related to climate and environment sciences, including by offering additional training slots for Nepali scientists in Indian institutions.” He further added, “Development of our shared water resources in a mutually beneficial manner offers one of the most demonstrable and effective means of addressing the shared problems of climate change between India and Nepal.”

    Delivering his keynote address, former foreign and finance minister of Nepal, Dr. Ram Sharan Mahat talked about the urgent need for sustainable development in South Asia. He said that developing countries face the challenge of balancing economic development in a sustainable way without damaging the environment. He observed that at the present the developmental path is impacting adversely climate change.

    Session I

    In the session ‘Interconnections between Climate Change and Security’, three papers were presented with Janani Vivekananda from International Alert as the chair.
    Halvard Buhaug, PRIO, presented his findings on ‘A Global Perspective on Climate Change and Civil War’, focusing on recent trends in climate change and armed conflict. He argued that climate change might affect civil war risks. Although there is a correlation between climate change and armed conflict, there could be indirect impact of climate change on conflicts.
    Maj. Gen. Muniruzzaman, Bangladesh Institute of Peace and Security Studies (BIPPS), spoke on ‘Security Dimension of Climate Change’, analysing the phenomena from two dimensions: Human Security and Hard Security. To deal with hard security, he argued that national Armies have to play a major role. His argument on the role of Army in disaster management was much debated during the Q & A session. Some participants suggested that civil society and others should be given primary role.
    Col. PK Gautam, IDSA, presenting his paper on ‘War, Peace, and Climate Change in Southern Asia’ emphasised that no definitive evidence is available for the causes of war and conditions for peace. Insights from current historical research have established the link of climate change with war in China and some other regions. Climate related theories of recent civil wars in sub-Saharan Africa are insufficient to understand inter-state wars. He noted that the absence of evidence does not mean complacency. The looming adverse impact of climate change combined with resource scarcities however point to a situation where conditions for armed conflict may get pronounced in South Asia including Tibet. He identified five stresses related to climate change: climate stress, population, energy stress due to scarcity of supply, environmental stress from damage to planet, and economic stress resulting from income gap from rich and poor.

    In the Q&A session, some participants suggested the urgent need for cooperation between China and India on water and river issues. It was also pointed out that there is also a need for river basin and food security cooperation in the region.

    Session II

    This session looked at ‘Climate change and water resources’ and was chaired by PK Gautam. Four papers were presented.
    Nils Petter Gleditsch, PRIO, on ‘Climate change and water wars’ argued that there is little evidence for water as a main issue in war in spite of the fact that there are more water-stressed countries. This was because scarcity can be overcome by cooperation and water can also be saved by trade. New technology and market pricing ensures the availability of water. Although shared water resources may have contributed to tension and low-level conflict between neighbour states, there is little evidence to date that ‘water wars’ is a serious threat. In terms of implications, he suggested that climate change is a major challenge to human security and the challenge should be to reverse climate change and strengthen states’ adaptive capacity. He suggested a closer integration between climate change models including hydrological models and conflict models.
    Som Nath Paudel, Former Secretary, WECS and Coordinator, High-level Task Force Committee on Hydropower Development Plan Nepal, made a presentation on ‘Climate Change and Nepal’s Water Resources: Special Focus On Hydropower’. He argued that Nepal would be affected by the adverse impact of climate change, particularly the glacier melt resulting in flooding and the formation of glacial lakes. However, there is also a general feeling that Nepal would not suffer scarcity except perhaps in lean seasons. He argued the need for a regional model to simulate the impact of climate change. Regarding India, he said cooperation with India in hydroelectricity is only a “click away” once the political parties make up their minds. He felt that India’s interlinking projects will have global ramifications and need to be debated at many levels.
    Sreeradha Datta, IDSA, presented an overview of the IDSA task force report on ‘India’s Water Security: External Dynamics’. Water security for India is emerging as an issue of extreme urgency which requires effective responses to changing water conditions in terms of quality, quantity and uneven distribution. She also focused on India’s riparian relations with other countries and argued for a synchronisation of internal and external water issues of India. She suggested a policy revamp by moving away from a narrowly understood framework of ‘water management’ to a broad based and wide-reaching ‘water resources management’.
    Uttam Kumar Sinha, IDSA, presented his views on ‘Himalayan Hydrology and the Hydropolitics’. He reasoned why sensible riparian policies are required in the neighbourhood. He further augured that South Asia has to be seen in terms of “exponential function” – increasing population leading to greater food demand that increases dependency on water for irrigation and energy. The Food-Energy-Water (FEW) connect is thus critical. It is evident that without water as part of the equation, there can be no long-term solution. In conclusion he suggested that research on climate change impact on glaciers needs to be intensified at the regional level and cooperation should entail sharing of data. The present state of knowledge is inadequate in identifying and assessing the magnitude of potential outbreaks of glacial lakes. Most Himalayan countries already have some form of automated early warning systems. But more remote sensing projects are needed for flood warning systems because they can detect small changes in lake levels and send immediate signals to alarm systems near villages. He also raised questions on the water resources of Tibet as being a ‘global commons’, and whether it should be for China alone or to be ‘equitably distributed’ to the lower riparian states stretching from Afghanistan in the west to Vietnam in the southeast.

    In the Q&A session, some participants observed that glacier melt in the Himalayas is uncertain including the IPCC data on it. Not much research or studies are undertaken except for a few studies by ICIMOD. The point on India being a middle riparian was emphasised. Riparian treaties in South Asia need to be revisited with new hydrological data and findings and a need for moving towards a multilateral approach. A discussion on Indo-Nepal water treaties came about, with many agreeing that treaties between the two have not been successful because of the politicisation the issue in Nepal.

    Session III

    The Session ‘Climate Change and Scarcity’ had three presentations. Ashok Jaitly, TERI, chaired the session.
    R. Ramachandran, Science Correspondent, The Frontline, spoke on ‘Himalayan Glaciers and Water Security’, particularly the Ganga-Brahmaputra-Meghna (GBM) system, which is a major contributor to India’s total water resource potential (over 60%). While analysing the characteristic of the glacier melt he argued that effects of climate change are expected to intensify in mountain areas. The flow of the Brahmaputra could decline by 14-20% by 2050. He suggested that present practices in water resources sector should be reviewed and revised based on risk, reliability and uncertainty analysis. There is a need for reservoirs with capacity that can accommodate the predicted glacial melt in the basin/sub-basin and operate in simulation mode of the expected melt pattern. In the design of medium and major water resource projects, consideration of Standard Project Flood, Probable Maximum Flood, Snow Melt Factor, etc., need to be transformed with climate change inputs.
    Nirmali Pallewatte, Department of Zoology, University of Colombo, spoke on the impact of climate change on Sri Lanka’s coastal ecology.
    Bishnu Raj Upreti, National Centre of Competence in Research (NCCR) North-South, Kathmandu, presented a paper on ‘Climate change and scarcity: Potential social, strategic and political implications’. He argued that South Asian countries are already in conflict and the impact of climate change will further aggravate the fissures. As a way forward he suggested refining and integrating national climate change policy, strategy and regional harmonisation (to develop, promote and apply climate change adaptation and mitigation options). South Asian countries have to collectively as well as individually cooperate with other countries to minimise the effects of climate change. He also stressed on promoting the use of indigenous knowledge in the region and strengthening resource management.

    Before the Q&A session, the chair observed that the efficiency level of utilising water is very poor in South Asia. There is an urgent need for encouraging multilateral, inter-disciplinary and collaborative research on water and climate change in South Asia. Water has the potential of both promoting conflict and cooperation. Some participants expressed the view that large dams may not be possible in Nepal, instead small-to-medium dams should be constructed at the foothills of Himalayas.

    Session IV

    The session focused on ‘Climate Change and Regional Cooperation’. Four papers were presented and the session was chaired by Shebonti Ray Dadwal, IDSA.
    Moazzam Ali Khan, Institute of Environmental Studies, University of Karachi, presented a paper on environmental degradation in South Asia with a focus on Pakistan particularly on water needs. He argued for effective regional cooperation since South Asian countries are equally affected due to climate change. He presented a regional cooperation model to mitigate common challenges and suggested equitable management of natural recourses especially water, safeguarding natural resources, capacity building, strengthening institutions and institutional mechanisms, and establishing a long term partnership based on common objectives without political interest.
    Arvind Gupta, IDSA, presented his view on regional cooperation examining the strengths and weaknesses of SAARC. He agreed that South Asia is highly vulnerable to climate change but also underlined the fact that understanding of the vulnerability is very scant. There is a need for cooperation at international and regional levels on the issue. The key issue at the international level is the need for better understanding on climate change and India’s view on climate change needs to be underlined. He talked about the equity paradigm. Dr. Gupta suggested establishing dialogue to exchange ideas on climate change and prevention, development of clean technology (traditional practices should be included in that), transfer of technology, coordination, strengthening of South Asian data base, regional climate change model and regional research institute.
    Ahmed Shafeeq Moosa, Envoy for Science and Technology, Maldives, argued that disaster gives radical groups an opportunity to mainstream themselves and cited examples of many Islamic radical groups. He argued for an integrated and coordinated approach at the regional level and a national adaptation strategy to avoid this kind of situation. He also argued in support of an enhanced institutional capacity to utilise institutional support and funds and strengthening inter-governmental policies. In terms of adaptation strategy, he suggested that there should be solid knowledge on the consequences of climate change and integrating SAARC into it.
    Isabel Hilton from China Dialogue presented the Chinese perspective on climate change and regional cooperation. She said that China is facing water scarcity both in terms of shortages and pollution. Northern China faces ground water problem. The water table of northern China is dropping. The far-west region of China also faces water problem. As a result China will continue to divert southern rivers to meet its requirements in other parts of the country. On China’s relationship with neighbours on water issues, she said that China has entered into many multilateral agreements since 2004. However, it has many trans-boundary water disputes. Lack of transparency in Chinese water issues has generated suspicions in the neighbourhood.

    During the Q&A session some participants observed that China’s growth is an enigma for everyone. Participants from Pakistan commented that there is a water shortage in Indus due to diversion of water by India. Indian participants argued that empirical evidence does not say so. It was also viewed that China will prefer to settle its water disputes bilaterally rather than at the multilateral level. The Chair concluded that the following steps are necessary to tackle climate change and water disputes in South Asia.

    • An international treaty may not be successful. Regional level cooperation will be more useful and meaningful
    • Network of dialogue is required
    • Capacity building and sharing knowledge
    • Regional coordination and funding
    • Formation of a regional climate change model
    • Strengthening existing institutions
    • Private and public participation
    • Strengthening and sharing of data base
    • Use SAARC structure as template
    • Inclusion of China in the discussion.

    Report prepared by Dr. Nihar Nayak, Associate Fellow, Institute for Defence Studies and Analyses, New Delhi.


    Day 1: Monday, November 22, 2010

    Inaugural Session: 9.30-10.15 am

    Arvind Gupta, Lal Bahadur Shastri Chair, IDSA
    Kristian Berg Harpviken, Director, PRIO
    Inaugural Address: Shri Rakesh Sood, India’s Ambassador to Nepal.
    Keynote Address: Dr Ram Sharan Mahat, Former Foreign Minister and Finance Minister

    Session 1: 10.30-13.00

    Interconnections between Climate Change and Security

    In this session, the speakers will explain the environment-conflict nexus. PRIO researcher Halvard Buhaug will make a presentation based on the PRIO/Uppsala database and GSI models to explore three potentially harmful climate change related issues: food/agricultural production; increase in natural disasters, and rising sea-levels. This session will give an overview of research on climate change and security, focusing on studies that have tried to establish multivariate assessment of land degradation, freshwater scarcity, population density, and deforestation to incidences of civil war. Likewise the interconnectedness and vulnerability of food-energy-water (FEW) to the overall impact of climate change, which has assumed high salience in South Asia.

    Chair: Janani Vivekananda, International Alert

    Sheel Kant Sharma, Secretary General SAARC
    Halvard Buhaug, PRIO
    Maj. Gen. Muniruzzaman (Retd.), Bangladesh Institute of Peace and Security Studies (BIPPS)
    PK Gautam, IDSA

    Session II: 14.00-16.30

    Climate change and water resources

    The one possible mechanism that connects climate change firmly to human security is dwindling resources, and nothing can be more significant in this regard than water resources. As climate change, population and economic activities converge on the issue of water availability, the sharing of water across transboundary water courses will be critical. In the Indian subcontinent, despite various bilateral water treaties, riparian politics is emerging as an important issue. In future the existing treaties will be tested with new sets of upper-lower riparian dynamics, often intensified by claims of ‘absolute sovereign territory’ vs. ‘absolute integrity of the river’. What will be these new dynamics and how will river basin cooperation cope with the new challenges? This session will help give inputs to policy-makers on effective conflict prevention strategies on water basins.

    Chair: Åshild Kolås, PRIO

    Nils Petter Gleditsch, PRIO
    Som Nath Paudel, Former Secretary, WECS and Coordinator, High-level Task Force Committee on Hydropower Development Plan
    Sreeradha Datta, IDSA
    Uttam Kumar Sinha, IDSA

    Day 2: Tuesday 23 November, 2010

    Session III: 10.00-12.30

    Climate Change and Scarcity

    Debates about the consequences of climate change often imply increased stresses regarding assumed future deficiencies in certain public and private goods deemed to be 'scarce' – either currently so or projected. Examples in South Asia include groundwater aquifers, arable land, glacial and river runoff, food supply chains and other complex systems. However, it is still unclear what the potential social, strategic, and political implications of these shifts may be, and how the still unknown scale of climate change will alter modes of production. This panel is designed to illustrate both conventional and novel ways to re-conceptualize ‘scarcity’ dialogues as an opportunity for technological innovation and re-organization of private/public priorities from those that incentivize and subsidize consumption and competition to those that instead encourage conservation and cooperation.

    Chair: Wilson John, Observer Research Foundation (ORF)

    R. Ramachandran, Science Correspondent, The Frontline
    Nirmali Pallewatte, Department of Zoology, University of Colombo
    Bishnu Raj Upreti, National Centre of Competence in Research (NCCR) North-South, Kathmandu

    Session IV: 14.00-16.30

    Climate Change and Regional Cooperation

    In South Asia, climate change may exacerbate natural disasters such as flooding and drought, which highlights the importance of regional cooperation in areas such as disaster preparedness and river basin water management. This concluding session of the conference asks the speakers to reflect on the effectiveness of current policy mechanisms and frameworks for cooperation, what new cooperative mechanisms addressing such challenges might look like, and through which institutional frameworks they might be developed.

    Chair: Shebonti Ray Dadwal

    Moazzam Ali Khan, Institute of Environmental Studies, University of Karachi
    Arvind Gupta, IDSA
    Ahmed Shafeeq Moosa, Envoy for Science and Technology, Maldives
    Isabel Hilton, China Dialogue