Climate change is no longer a distant possibility, but a reality. Earth has undergone significant climate change due to various human activities, resulting in global warming, extreme weather events, sea level rise, forest fires, glacial retreats in the Arctic, extinction of wildlife, warming of sea levels, etc. The increasing intensity and frequency of these events poses a threat to the survival of the planet.
South Asia’s geophysical location and socio-economic demographic underdevelopment make the region highly vulnerable to the consequences of climate change. South Asia has experienced climate change in the form of changing precipitation patterns, frequent and deadly heat waves and humid heat stress, warming the Indian Ocean faster than the global average, melting Himalayan glaciers causing flooding, ruptured lakes and landslides and experiencing tropical cyclones. more intense.
The combined impact of extreme rainfall, sea level rise, river flooding and storm surge can increase the likelihood of flooding in major cities such as Dhaka, Kolkata and Mumbai. Furthermore, this climate change could increase pressure on agricultural yields, ecological balance, and freshwater resources and increase damage to infrastructure, thereby posing existential threats to the region’s food, water, public health, energy and biodiversity security.
Furthermore, South Asia is one of the most populous regions in the world, with 1.81 billion (2018) inhabitants. In addition, of the world’s total poor population of 736 million (2018), around 216 million poor people live in South Asia, making them one of the most prominent segments of the victims of climate change impacts. Seven hundred and fifty million South Asians have witnessed one or more climate change disasters in the last two decades, and an estimated 800 million South Asians live in future climate change hotspots.
In addition, a large proportion of South Asians depend on climate sensitive sectors such as traditional fisheries, agriculture and forestry for their livelihoods and daily lives, making them highly vulnerable to the impacts of climate change. This therefore leads to a projected average economic loss of $160 billion by 2030, which is 30 percent of global financial losses due to climate change and 7 percent higher than the global average. Moreover, by 2100, Bhutan is expected to lose 18 percent, Nepal 13 percent, Pakistan 10 percent and India 10 percent. This is expected to result in 40 million climate migrants, mainly from coastal areas of South Asian countries, who will soon become uninhabitable due to rising sea levels.
South Asia, a fast-growing region, expects 1.5 million people to enter the job market every year over the next two decades. And South Asian cities expect an urban population growth of 200 million by 2030. Although South Asia accounts for only 8.6 percent of global greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions, the region shows a 58.5 percent jump in emission levels mainly due to urbanization. and middle-class multiplication over the previous decades.
This growth requires South Asian countries to focus on systemic, equitable and green transitions, with particular priority on climate change for a secure future. And this should immediately become part of the mitigation and adaptation action plans to avoid future impacts of climate change as the IPCC report has stated that postponing climate change mitigation actions can increase the overall cost of mitigation by up to 50 percent.
As such, South Asia is a region with high potential to fight climate change by rebuilding its economy with cleaner energy, retraining its people for high-productivity jobs and green job training and investing in resilient infrastructure. A study by the International Finance Corporation (IFC) has identified South Asia as a potential $3.4 trillion climate smart investment opportunity with a potential of more than $950 billion in electric vehicles and green transportation infrastructure for the period 2018 to 2030 and a potential investment of more than $1, 5 trillion in energy efficient green buildings.
Economic decarbonization is key to reducing South Asia’s contribution to global emission levels and becoming more environmentally conscious. Therefore, South Asia needs to avoid investing in high emissions.
Bangladesh was ranked the 7th most affected country from 2000 to 2019 with an estimated average annual loss from disasters of around $3 billion, or about one to two percent of GDP, and is the most affected country by climate change in the world. . region. Repeated and worsening coastal and river erosion, floods and hurricanes affect one million Bangladeshis every year. Bangladesh’s 14 coastal districts are predicted to be hardest hit. This climate change is expected to affect the lives of 41 million Bangladeshis, making 12 million of them internal migrants by 2050.
Bangladesh has experienced rapid economic and social progress in recent decades, reaching lower-middle income status in 2015. But the vulnerabilities caused by the climate emergency coupled with socio-economic barriers could increase the risk of many people falling back into poverty. By 2050, climate change is likely to cost Bangladesh a further two percent of GDP on top of its basic loss to climate hazards. This figure has the potential to increase to nine percent of GDP by the end of the century if global mitigation actions are not stepped up.
The similar coastlines of the Bay of Bengal and the low to medium elevation plains of India and Bangladesh make both countries vulnerable to similar climate change vulnerabilities, mainly due to the presence of vulnerable populations and frequent strong typhoons, rising sea levels and flash flooding.
Enhanced Indo-Bangladesh bilateral ties and collaboration with a clear climate action roadmap could result in mutual and equitable benefits for two geographically adjoining neighbors in tackling the climate emergency.
In addition, cities, food, transportation systems and energy account for more than 90 percent of regional GHG emissions. Critical steps are needed in these areas to shift to high productivity, high value, high growth and reducing insecurity trajectories involving energy, food and nutrition, employment and housing. Thus, regional collaboration that strengthens the climate resilience of the targeted system combined with a strong financial system that can fund climate-smart transitions can deliver a smooth and effective climate change transition.
Big, climate-smart investments in every sector are critical for both countries to build resilience, drive economic growth and reduce emissions. Regional cooperation in climate and hydro-meteorological services and watershed management will enable South Asian countries to reform and harmonize climate policies, share data on collective risk and regional power market development and build trust through shared technical knowledge and infrastructure. The acute asymmetric regional power balance as India accounts for more than 75 per cent of the region’s GDP and is the fifth largest solar photovoltaic (PV) market in the world with nearly 50 GW of total installed capacity has the potential to significantly help its relatively less developed neighbor, Bangladesh, to focus on climate action-centred development through its emphasis on carbon neutrality, food, energy, cities and transport.
(The author is Associate Professor, School of International Studies & Social Sciences, Pondicherry Central University.)