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The Urgent Need For Political Action On Climate Change In South Asia

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The universal consensus on climate change is the need of the hour. The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change has confirmed that climate change is real in its Fourth Assessment Report. Climate change denialism will make the planet more vulnerable to anthropogenic activities. It will further polarise the world on a burning issue that needs international attention. The benefits from adaptation and mitigation methods are far more than not taking action on climate change. 

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South Asia has a unique geographical location blessed with various rivers and a diverse ecosystem. The region’s diverse flora and fauna make it one of the richest regions abundant with natural resources. However, the tentacles of climate change have made the region susceptible to threats. The effects of climate change would be more adverse in this region because the majority of the population is dependent on the agrarian sector. Moreover, colonisation and internal conflicts in South Asian countries have crippled the economy and pushed large sections of the population into poverty. The bulging population in developing countries makes the threat to natural resources more serious. 

Most of the countries opened up their economy through liberalisation, privatisation and globalisation but it only widened the gap between the rich and the poor. One of the most adverse effects of globalisation on South Asia was that it infused a consumerist and aspirational attitude in young minds at the expanse of the environment. Globalisation has often pushed development by putting the environment on stake. The worst thing about crony capitalism is that it is only motivated by profits. The core countries have often encouraged the South Asian countries to adopt policies at the cost of the environment. For example, the state government of Himachal Pradesh declared Badi as a tax free region. As a result of this, many international and national industries were set up. When the government realised that the benefit from industries was meagre compared to the harm they were causing to the environment. The industries, therefore, thought of shifting their production houses somewhere else. (Skylab, 2009) The hypocrisy of globalisation and capitalism will result in destruction of the environment which will lead to a gloomy future for our future generations. This article will try to analyse the importance to address the problem of climate change in South Asia and how a green economy can benefit the population in the long run.

The Climate Change Threats And Consequences That South Asian Countries Are Facing 

Flash floods: Flash floods in South Asia is a result of climate change. It increases the water to an alarming level. The American Meteorological Society (AMS) describes flash floods as, “A flood that rises and falls quite rapidly with little or no advance warning, usually the result of intense rainfall over a relatively small area.” It has led to loss of property and lives in South Asia. Hyderabad recently experienced flash floods. The city recorded 191 mm of rain within the span of a few hours. It has been the heaviest ever recorded in 97 years. Almost 70 people lost their lives. (Indian Express, 2020) 

Melting of Himalayas: Himalayan glaciers are melting at a very fast rate posing grave danger to South Asian countries like India, Pakistan and Bangladesh. Scientists have revealed that the melting of glaciers has doubled with the beginning of the century. The most prominent reason for melting of the Himalayan glaciers at such a fast rate is anthropogenic activities of the human race. This will lead to severe floods in the South Asian countries. The glacier lake outburst flood (GLOF) can lead to mass destruction. According to a 2011 study, 42 lakes in Nepal were at high risk of flood. (National Geographic, 2019) 

Rise in water level: Low-lying areas are at risk due to the rise of water level in South Asian countries. A large chunk of land from countries like Maldives and Bangladesh will get submerged due to climate change. Most of the areas of Bangladesh are already sinking. Moreover, the saline water makes the land poisonous due to which crops die. The coral reefs of maldives are getting threatened due to rising sea level. They are one of the major sources of the growth of nature based tourism in Maldives which has contributed 70% of the country’s GDP. (The World Bank, 2010) 

Rise in temperature: Many of the regions of South Asia have experienced extreme high temperature over the years. Western Afghanistan and Southwestern Pakistan have experienced extreme hot climates. In many of the regions the monsoon precipitation rate has decreased. Central and Western India has experienced extreme dry periods and wet periods.However, the temperature will increase least in the coastal areas of South Asia because oceans help to moderate the temperature.(Bandyopadhyay et al., 2018) When temperature rises, photosynthesis and respiration become unbalanced. Pollination of a plant is most susceptible due to rise in temperature. 

Political Action On Climate Change In South Asia 

Climate change will further cripple the South Asian countries if immediate action is not taken together. The domestic policies of the governments are not enough to reduce the implications of climate change. One region might be more responsible for the increase in anthropogenic activities but the impact will be felt by all the regions of South Asia. Similarly, it will not be enough for only one country to take action to mitigate climate change in South Asia. The immediate collective and political action is required to address the implications of climate change. Both mitigation and adaptation is required to minimise the threat of climate change. The mistrust and regional conflict between India and Pakistan and other countries needs to be set aside for cooperation and immediate action for regional interest. SAARC needs to revamp and fulfill its long standing commitments on various agreements and collective policies like SAARC Food Security Reserve for natural calamities, SAARC Seed Bank, SAARC Disaster Management Centre, etc. 

However, we cannot deny the efforts and initiative of our leaders to create awareness and take up various mitigation and adaptation projects to tackle climate change. India along with Bhutan, Sri Lanka, Bangladesh and Nepal, shares hydrological and meteorological data to prepare for flash floods forecast. Climate Adaptation and Resilience for South Asia (CARE) project has been launched by the World Bank to develop climate resilient technology and policies in South Asia. The World Bank worked with the Government of the Maldives on the Maldives Environment Management Project, $13.5 million IDA credit, to effectively manage environmental risks fragile to the coral reefs and other marine habitats. (World Bank, 2010) Most important of all, the cities of South Asia like Mumbai, Dhaka, Delhi, etc are the hotspots of climate change. The immediate adaptation methods need to be taken to minimise the implications of extreme weather in the cities of South Asia. The countries of the region need to discuss various projects and most important of all they need to discuss funds for adaptation projects. 

Economic Benefits Of Environment Friendly Policies

Most of the population of South Asia is dependent on the agrarian sector. There is a direct relationship between living standard and climate change. This can be understood with the two models i.e. structural models and reduced form models. Structural model analyses the input and output i.e. climate change and consumption expenditure. However, the drawback of structural models is that it doesn’t take into consideration the psychological factor. On the other hand, the reduced form model has greater predictive capability. (Bandyopadhyay et al., 2018) 

In an agrarian based economy, crop failure due to extreme high or fluctuating temperature can lead to reduction in consumption level. On the other hand, wet conditions due to flash floods and extreme climate changes can lead to various diseases. As a result, expenditure on healthcare increases. The people from poorer regions often migrate to urban and developed areas for better opportunities and lack of resources and money to shift to adaptation methods. The condition of the migrated families due to climate change is tragic and they are often susceptible to violence and abuse. They are often not accepted in the regions they migrate. Professor Myers’ estimated 200 million climate migrants by 2050. 

The Stern Review on the Economics of Climate Change suggests that action on climate change requires 1% of Global GDP. The economic benefits of action on climate change is immense. The Review also suggests that economic damage from not working on climate change is 5% of Global GDP. If wider risks are considered then the economic loss can be estimated upto 20%. ( Stern Review, 2006) According to Simon Dietz and Nicholas Stern (2013), “Thus, what theReview recommends constitutes nothing less than a strong and sustained reduction in the volume of GHGs emitted by global economic activity. Yet, an examination of the ways in which this can be achieved shows that it is both technically and economically feasible and at a cost which, while significant, is small in comparison with the range of benefits of doing so, at least up to the 450–550 ppm CO2e range (i.e., this conclusion is unlikely to apply to even lower stabilization targets, essentially because we have already passed them.” 

Conclusion

It’s high time for South Asia to realise that climate change is real and it will cause destruction to the entire region if serious political action is not taken into account. The countries need to come together putting aside their differences to formulate policies that will benefit the environment, economy and population of South Asia. Moreover, working for a common cause might also help in improving the diplomatic relations between the countries of South Asia. A green economy will have a positive impact on the health of the people and it will also mean a sustainable future. It’s time to realise that our resources are finite to fulfill our infinite desires. 

Shruti Shila Saikia is pursuing Political Science from the University of Delhi. As a second-year student, she is still exploring the sub-disciplines of Political Science. Political philosophy and International Relation fascinate her and she likes writing about it. She has a penchant for observing and analysing things that happen around her. She has been an active member of The Inquisitive Circle, a student led academic circle.

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Global Environmental Governance and Biden’s Administration

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Being the largest emitter of greenhouse gas in the world, it is the responsibility of U.S to contribute expeditiously to manage the environmental issues at domestic and international level but the previous government, under the leadership of Trump, took back seat and reversed all the decisions of Ex-president Barack Obama to combat the climate change. Unlike this, New Elected President, Joe Biden, who is very enthusiastic and firm to fulfill all the promises regarding climate change which were done during the general election’s campaign. Moreover, he views climate change a thwart to national security. One of the biggest achievements associated with Biden’ administration regarding environmental issues is to bring U.S back into Paris Climate Accord and brought executive order’’ Protecting Public Health and the Environment and Restoring science to tackle the climate crisis’’ on the surface.

A flurry of changes to U.S environment policy is going to play a constructive role in global environmental governance under Biden administration. Even before elections, climate change was one of the top priorities and aimed to put the U.S on a path which leads towards ‘’ Zero Net’’ greenhouse gas emission. In the very early of His office days, He is very committed to deal with the climate change as they hosted ‘’ Climate Day’’ to introduce government climate centric approach to emphasize on the climate change.  Biden administration also ordered to revoke a permanent issued for Keystone XL oil pipeline which trump issued for extraction of oil and energy which is dangerous to national ecosystem. In addition to this, they are also very active to promote US role to tackle the climate change at domestic and abroad. At domestic level, Biden’s actions are speaking louder than the words as he has ascribed the climate crisis with a national emergency. At the time of his inauguration, Biden said: ‘’ A cry for survival comes from the planet itself, a cry that can’t be any more desperate or any clearer’’. He also directed his cabinet to work on the policy of ‘’ social carbon cost’’ to measure the cost of actions and how costs will impact the climate change. He endeavors to control the climate change by keeping a strict eye on the big project’s reviewing process before working under the National Environmental Policy Act which calculates the social costs of greenhouse gas emissions.

On international level, Biden has been striving to improve the spoil image shaped by the previous government regarding global environmental governance as he has declared to rejoin the Paris Climate accord which would help to reduce the greenhouse gas emission. In the result of this action, Biden was welcomed by the General Secretary of the United Nations and French Prime Minister Emmanuel Macron by saying ‘’ Welcome Back to the Paris Agreement’’. Moreover, Biden Administration is very determined to convene a global climate summit on the earth day to encourage leaders to align themselves with scientist to alleviate the impacts of climate change. On international forums, US need to cooperate and compel the economic trade partner to take actions to combat with climate crisis. One of the essential steps taken by the Biden administration is to manage the climate refugees which aim to make strategies to compensate the climate affected migrants.

The thin majority of democratic in the senate does not only limit the possibility for Biden to achieve climate change reforms along strong anti-climate lobbyist business group who are inimical to the reforms particularly relevant to vehicle, power plants and oil and gas drilling industries. Without new climate legislation from congress, it would be not an easy task to implement the climate agenda across the borders. The vocal resistance comes from the coal production sectors which result in burning of fossil fuels and caused of greenhouse gas emissions. Whereas, few sectors are opposing the agenda there are also companies specially electrical vehicles are exclusively offering assistance to Biden for the sustainable development. Undoubtedly, environmental organizations and scientists community applauded the Biden decisions but few business groups have also filed a lawsuit against Biden to not stop the new permit for oil and gas drilling. There are also concerned raised by the community that climate actions will delete many jobs and cause of upsurge in unemployment percentage across the federation.

It is very evident from the ambitions of Biden’s action regarding climate crisis that he is very interesting to mitigate and curb the climate change but it will require highly comprehensive strategy aims to manage the reforms in laws while taking congressmen in confidence because most of them are not in favor of climate actions due to clash of interests. On the other hand, there is need to work on renewable energy resources at domestic and international level and for this US should compensate the companies to compete with the old capitalized firms which do not want safe and peaceful planet. Moreover, there is need to bring reforms in existing environmental treaties and their compliance process which should be strictly followed by the harsh actions against the violators. The process of financing the agendas which are very environment friendly and transforming the resources to the periphery states should be done swiftly to improve the environment across the globe. The aims of achieving sustainable development should be promoted and supported by the US across the world.

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EU-Asian Partnerships are necessary to prevent the next pandemic

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forest

COVID-19 has demonstrated the vulnerability of global supply chains and revealed the ever-increasing ecological dangers of industrial expansion, which has amplified the risks of diseases migrating from animals to humans. This is demonstrated in a new report launched by UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres which argues that to prevent future pandemics the world must cooperate to addresses interlinked challenges presented by biodiversity, pollution and the climate crises. The UN chief encouraged everyone to use the report to “re-evaluate and reset our relationship with nature”. 

 This is precisely the time for countries in the European Union (EU) to re-evaluate their trade relations with producer nations in order to protect local environment and prevent deforestation.

The relationship between deforestation and public health and cannot be denied. Unfortunately, in recent years the EU’s economic model has not paid sufficient attention to sustainability, trade and global forest management. So far, the EU’s approach to trade has ended up alienating the most important areas of biodiversity in Asia, while emboldening some of the biggest despoilers of biodiversity and polluters in the Americas. 

The Konrad Adenauer Foundation, the leading think-tank of Germany’s ruling political party, has published its own  report  on how EU policies have unfairly targeted Asian commodities by fostering  protectionist market dynamics which harm the environment.

In one case in point, the EU initiated a ban on the import of palm oil from 2030, as a means to reduce  deforestation in Asia. However, scientific evidence actually indicates that sustainably cultivated palm oil is far better than other seed oil alternatives – rapeseed, coconut, soy and sunflower. Those commodities need up to ten times more land to produce the same amount of oil. Therefore, instead of halting deforestation, the ban simply transfers the effects of ecological degradation elsewhere – namely within the EU on the back of domestically produced commodities.

Meanwhile the EU continues to import beef and soy, the top two contributors to deforestation globally. In fact, beef production requires more than double the forest land than for the production of soy, palm oil, and wood products combined. Land clearing for beef and soy production in the Amazon has reached a 12 year high, leading scientists to warn of an irreversible ‘tipping point’  that could mean huge drought, forest death, and release of great amounts of stored carbon to the atmosphere.

As the Konrad report indicates, the move to ban palm oil while maintaining beef and soy imports is a double standard that has created a trust gap between the EU and ASEAN nations. This has inhibited collaborative efforts to combat deforestation as EU policies exclude ASEAN nations from important sustainability debates. Moreover, the EU ban does nothing to cease palm oil production. Producer nations will continue to produce without adhering to EU environmental standards and regulations. This will spell disaster, not only for the diverse wildlife found in Asia’s tropical forests, but for humanity’s public health – a correlation which cannot be divorced from the economy.

If the EU sought out a trade deal with ASEAN then it could integrate mandatory sustainable standards and enforce regulations to produce sustainable palm oil and limit deforestation.  The EU could also work with existing schemes like the Malaysian Sustainable Palm Oil (MSPO) standard, which purportedly meets the EU’s key sustainability criteria and is the standard against which almost 90% of Malaysian palm oil is now produced.

This is an example of how the EU has overlooked Asian success stories in creating adaptable blueprints through strict and proactive measures which have largely kept the virus at bay and allowed their economies to stay afloat. While Europe’s economy is only expected to grow by 3.7% in 2021, ASEAN nations are predicted to rebound over 6%.

That means we could have the best of both worlds; trade that opens up two powerhouse regions to a new era of economic vitality and cooperation – underpinned by ecological conservation through an unfailing commitment to protect pristine ecosystems, exotic wildlife and precious forests.

 The EU should use the lessons of the pandemic to capitalize on its environmental goals, working with producer nations to ensure they are participating in ethical markets and enforcing sustainable practices which maintain biodiversity.

If the EU can build a global coalition with Asia, which prioritises trade and sustainability, they can underpin a bold new era in the fight for thriving, Covid-free economies.

Such cooperation would empower the European Union to encourage environmental consciousness across Asian economies—by incentivising compliance with laudable environmental goals and dis-incentivising noncompliance. There would be significant economic benefits to EU consumers as well like access to efficient and affordable edible oils from rapidly growing emerging markets. While in turn the producer would have access to the EU’s uniquely large market.

These are clearly more than enough reasons to compel the EU to act. Let’s hope they start soon.

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Making Women Visible in Plastic Waste Management: Examples from Indonesia

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Plastic Waste: Long History, Massive Consumption

Plastic was invented by John Wesley Hyatt in 1869 and has an original sense of “pliable and easily formed.” It is known as a polymer material. However, Leo Baekeland introduced the revolutionary of plastic in 1907, with the intention of creating a material that could be used as an insulator, was versatile, heat resistant, and could be mass-produced in large quantities. The glory of plastic was exalted during World War II, when the plastic industry in the United States expanded rapidly. Since it could be used to replace natural resources that had become scarce due to the war, plastic use peaked during that time span. Since then, plastic has been touted as an “award-winning” commodity due to its plethora of uses. Unfortunately, the use of plastic distracted in the 1960s as people became more worried about environmental issues and discovered that many coastal lines in America were littered with plastic waste.

These days, plastic can be categorized as the most manufactured materials in the world and commonly used by society. From the latest data by IUCN, over 300 million tons of plastic are manufactured yearly and utilized as main materials for industry and households. About 8 million metric tons of plastic wastes end up in our coastal zones every year, posing a serious threat to our marine ecology and ocean sediments. By the end of 2040, it is estimated that the amount of plastic waste dumped along the coast will be tripled compare with today.

In most developing countries, plastic contamination has become a major problem that requires immediate concern and management. Indonesia is currently the world’s second-largest plastic polluter after China, and produces about 200,000 tons of waste every day, which is thrown into the coastal areas. Despite the fact that there are plenty studies on plastic waste, people still ignored the problem due to their lack of knowledge and awareness about how harmful the effect could become in the upcoming years. Plastics production and consumption will make greater impacts not only on human health because it contained chemicals, but also will change human behavior to environment, both men and women. In Indonesia, women take role as the main contributor to raise such awareness in segregating and sorting plastic waste. This fact is parallel with the research that has been conducted by Phelan et al (2020) in two small islands in Indonesia (Selayar and Wakatobi), which found that women are mostly identified as binners (those who manage waste disposal) while men are likely identified as litterers. It was noted that almost 60% of women are in charge of household waste management, while only 40% of men involve in this activity. Women are expressing an interest in learning more about waste management, especially to learn about the next steps or what happens to the waste after disposal. Men, on the other hand, are taking important roles in waste collection and disposal process.

Gender Sensitive Approach to Manage Plastic Waste

Women play an important role in the use and recycling of plastic, but their contribution is often overlooked by many stakeholders. Plastic waste management is viewed solely from a scientific standpoint, with little consideration given to the gender implications. For example, at the micro level (households), it is customary for women to have control over the purchase of food and home-products (which has influenced them to use plastic packaging), but they may also be recycling and processing the plastic for other uses at the same time. As a result, their involvement and inclusion are critical in every attempt to enhance waste management and reduce plastic pollution. When looking at recent developments in the field, the relevance of gender-sensitive approaches to handling plastics becomes even more apparent.

Plastic waste management is not something that can be done overnight because it necessitates continuous steps and massive behavioral changes on the part of all parties concerned. Since women play such an important role in the use and recycling of plastic waste, it is critical to involve them as a key player in changing household and community disposal habits. Furthermore, as the primary caregivers in the home, women should raise awareness among family members about the dangers of plastic waste. Similar actions can be taken in society; for example, women can organize a soft-campaign and disseminate waste management information to the community (through regular social gathering conducted by women that called ‘arisan’ or regular religious meeting in community that called ‘pengajian’).Women, at the other side, cannot act alone; they need a cost-effective and simple plastic waste management system, as well as waste management training (which has been initiated by local governments and NGOs). Hence, providing a plastic collection station will help many stakeholders embrace this action. Finally, strong commitment and collaboration from relevant parties can help to improve plastic waste management.

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