Climate change: a “threat multiplier” in South Asia

Environmental degradation is likely to threaten the stability of South Asia by triggering new conflicts over massive migration and resources scarcity. The Paris Agreement could be the first step to prevent this from happening.

climate change south asiaFrom the 30th of November to the 12th of December 2015, France hosted the 21st Conference of the State Parties to the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCC), better known as “COP21”, whose goal was to adopt a legally binding international treaty on climate change. After days (and nights) of tight negotiations, and 16 hours later than the expected deadline, the 195 delegates gathered in Paris announced an agreement over a final document has been reached 

The outcome of COP21 is crucial for a innumerable set of relevant reasons, not least the fact that the consequences of climate change are likely to threaten the geo-political stability of several regions of the world. South Asia is definitely among them, and certainly one of those that will be hit the hardest by climate change. Higher temperatures, rising sea levels and floods, will lead to food insecurity, water scarcity and livelihood constrains in a region already troubled by political rivalry and religious hatred. In this sense, climate change can be reasonably defined as a “threat multiplier”, as it can potentially trigger or exacerbate already existing conflicts. Two majors issues in particular could shift into concrete security concerns: the battle for water and the instability brought by immigration caused by environmental degradation.

Already for quite some time, the pursuit of water security overlapped the dispute over Kashmir between India and Pakistan. The presence of Indian dams over rivers originating in Kashmir and crossing the border into Pakistan, allows India to dispose of a great power over water flows into its neighbour, stroked by extreme weather events certainly linked to climate change, as the lethal wave of heat that last summer killed over 1250 people. Although the Pakistani water crisis is imputable to a combination of melting glaciers, local mismanagement of water supplies and poor rainfalls rather than an alleged Indian “water terrorism”, still in the Pakistani popular conception is rooted the idea that New Delhi is responsible for “constraining” Pakistan’s water resources. Therefore this misleading belief could eventually escalate into a “disastrous confrontation” with India over Kashmir’s water resources. The stability of South Asia is crucially bonded also to another sensitive issue: the massive migration of Bangladesh people into India due to sea-level rise, that are due to make Bangladesh inhabitable by 2100. In the meantime, environmental degradation already increased the flux of migrants into the Indian region of Assam, where resources shortage gave raise to tensions that could be easily exploited by Islamic extremists’.

In light of these circumstances, the effectiveness of Paris agreements is even more compelling. Environmentalists and scientists argued that it is risky to let the agreement be effective from 2020 and it is disappointing that no schedule for the complete replacement of fossil energy sources has been set. Yet, the document envisages the long term goal of keeping global temperature “well below” 2°C by 2100, along with the commitment of the industrialized countries to financially support the developing world in its fight against climate change. The main question is if all these efforts will be enough to properly address regional security concerns related to climate change in a foreseeable future.

GIovanna Maletta 

Pubblicato il 16 dicembre 2015

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