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Climate Change: Politics of Global Discourse & South Asian Response

Dr Suman Sharma & D.M.Gautam


Our mother earth is facing a multi-faceted crisis of unprecedented proportions. This crisis is not only an existential threat to humankind but also to all life forms and environment of the planet. The technological march of ‘progress and development’ as it is generally understood,  has excluded a very large mass of human population from the gains of such progress and development. At the same time the ‘progress and development’ by its inexorable logic consumes the resources of the earth at a very fierce pace to sustain its growth momentum. The fast pace of consumption of resources, particularly of the non-renewable kind, and exclusion of large mass of human population from the ambit of ‘progress and development’ has created inequity and disequilibrium in nature and among human society. This inequity and disequilibrium in turn  has created the crises being faced by the mother earth and its inhabitants.

The principles of equity and ‘common but differentiated responsibilities’ for global discourse on climate change were evolved by a painstaking effort under the aegis of United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change(UNFCCC). The international community in a feeble attempt to respond to the crises facing humankind and mother earth adopted a Millennium  Declaration under the auspices of the United Nations in the year 2000 and set for itself very ambitious Millennium Development Goals(MDGs) to be achieved by 2015. The MDGs are a declaration of intent on  the reduction of extreme income poverty and hunger, achieving universal primary education, promoting gender equality and empowering women, reducing child mortality, improving maternal health, combating HIV/AIDS and other major diseases, ensuring environmental sustainability and developing a global partnership for development. The South Asian community under the aegis of regional cooperation grouping, SAARC, four years after the Millennium Declaration, recommitted themselves to the goals of MDGs by declaring their own South Asian Development Goals (SDGs). The SDGs echoing the goals of MDGs were organized into four broad categories of Livelihood, Health, Education and Environment.

United Nations Millennium Development Goal 7 pronounced its objective to integrate the principles of sustainable development into country policies and programmes and reverse the loss of environmental resources.  The Environment SDG specifies its goals to achieve acceptable levels of forest cover, water and soil quality, air quality, conservation of bio-diversity, wet land conservation and ban on dumping of hazardous waste including radioactive waste.

This paper attempts to examine and analyze various initiatives taken by SAARC on the threat of  Climate Change to a sustainable environment in the context of global negotiations on this subject and emerging new concept of human security distinct from traditional concept of security in military sense. The new paradigm of human security perceives the security as freedom from danger, fear, want and deprivation.  Further, the ideas of recent trend in Deep Ecology which go beyond mere human security to encompass all life and nature has been noted with particular reference to its indebtedness to Gandhian philosophy.

It is maintained that the environment of mother earth being indivisible, any regional effort to find a solution to the problems of Climate Change has to dovetail with the larger global efforts/solution. The global efforts symbolized by the discourse under the aegis of United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change(UNFCCC)have unfortunately been very prolonged and virtually put under suspended animation by the decisions or rather indecisions at Conference of Parties in Durban(2011) and Doha(2012). The nations which enjoy the power and prosperity and pollute mother earth the most, evade their commitment to the basic principle of ‘common but differentiated responsibilities’ and ‘principle of equity’ set forth in global discourse. The inexorable logic of growth and progress pursued through neo-liberal economic ideology to sustain their life style and consumption patterns compel them not to come to terms with the real threats of Climate Change. Ironically, the rumblings of continental shift of power and prosperity( noted as an inevitable historical process  by Indian political activist and thinker Dr Rammanohar Lohia in one of his lectures in 1952[1]) in recent times from the West to the East are accompanied with the pursuit of same neo-liberal economic ideology which would only perpetuate inequity within and among nations as also cause irreversible damage to the nature and environment.

  The efficacy of South Asian Association for Regional Cooperation (SAARC) as a regional organization to deal with the issues posed by Climate Change has been examined in this larger global context.  Further, various problems facing SAARC  while pursuing these issues have also been highlighted. The virtual failure of global and regional efforts due to prolonged, action-less deliberations, lack of political will to accept the inevitable and change course for the survival of humankind has been underlined.

In conclusion, it has been emphasized that search for an alternative source of renewable energy (alternative to fossil fuels) and to the development model of neo-liberalism is the only hope for  the future. A state of harmony and equilibrium – ‘Samanvya’ as an Indian would call it – among and within nations and communities, between nature and man and within nature itself  only will ensure peace, equity and survival of mother earth.

Key Words – Climate Change, Global Discourse, Environmental Sustainability, South Asian Vulnerability, Deep Ecology, Neo-Liberal ideology.


South Asia with one fifth of world population is an extreme disaster prone region. Recently in May 2011, the Secretary General  of SAARC presented a draft SAARC Agreement on Rapid Response to Natural Disasters to the Inter-governmental meeting  in Colombo. He pointed out quoting global statistics that over past forty years, South Asia faced as many as 1333 disasters that killed 980,000 people, affected 2.4 billion lives and damaged assets worth $105 billion. Further, that this loss is by far the highest among the recorded disasters in various geographical regions.[2] The United Nations Environment Programme(UNEP) in pursuance of its mandate to review the global environment collaborated with South Asian Association for Regional Cooperation(SAARC) to present South Asian Environment Outlook,2009(SAEO,2009) after a wider consultation process involving governments and other partners from the nations of South Asia, sub-regional intergovernmental agencies and experts. The Report reveals the state and trends of the environment – land, air, water and bio-diversity and covers five key issues on Climate Change, Food Security, Water Security, Energy Security and managing Urbanisation. The Report notes:

South Asia occupies about 5 per cent of the world’s land mass, but is home to about 20 per cent of the world’s population. This is expected to rise to about 25 per cent by 2025. Three-quarters of South Asia’s population lives in rural areas, with one-third living in extreme poverty (on less than a dollar a day). Their well-being is further compromised by indoor air pollution, which is a severe health hazard. The report highlights that South Asia is very vulnerable to climate change. Impacts of climate change have been observed in the form of glacier retreat in the Himalayan region. … These glaciers form a unique reservoir, which supports perennial rivers such as the Indus, Ganges and Brahmaputra, which, in turn, are the lifeline of millions of people in South Asian countries (Bangladesh, Bhutan, India, Nepal, and Pakistan). This will exacerbate the challenges of poverty reduction and improving access to safe drinking water, two of the Millennium Development Goals.[3]

It is indeed a sad historical irony of monumental proportions that South Asia which was the ancient cradle of the principles of ecological harmony in its quest for spiritual and physical symbiosis, today faces such a bleak environmental outlook. The fundamental filial connect between humankind and Mother Earth was declared thousands of years ago in the ancient Indian sacred scripture Vedas in the Hymn to the Earth:

'Mata Bhumih Putroham Prithivyah: Earth is my mother, I am her son.[4]

His Holiness The Dalai Lama in The Buddhist Declaration on Nature articulating the ethical and ecological vision of Buddhism made following observations which are extremely relevant for our  time:

'Destruction of the environment and the life depending upon it is a result of ignorance, greed and disregard for the richness of all living things. This disregard is gaining great influence. If peace does not become a reality in the world, and if the destruction of the environment continues as it does today, there is no doubt that future generations will inherit a dead world.

'Various crises face the international community. The mass starvation of human beings and the extinction of species may not have overshadowed the great achievements in science and technology, but they have assumed equal proportions. Side by side with the exploration of outer space, there is the continuing pollution of lakes, rivers and vast parts of the oceans, out of human ignorance and misunderstanding. There is a great danger that future generations will not know the natural habitat of animals; they may not know the forests and the animals which we of this generation know to be in danger of extinction.

'We are the generation with the awareness of a great danger. We are the ones with the responsibility and the ability to take steps of concrete action, before it is too late.’[5]

            It is this critical awareness of the existential threat to humankind that has impelled right thinking people and analysts to rethink the old traditional concepts of security and realise the  threats posed by the adverse impact of Climate Change as threat to human security defined as freedom from danger, fear, want and deprivation. The Climate Change is thus perceived as a threat to security in the non-military sense.  This requires an entirely new conceptual framework to understand the magnitude and extent of this threat and therefore, to formulate an entirely different strategy to counter and secure peace and security for humankind. This humanist view which links environment and security focuses on the welfare of humankind in a world which has globalised and  wherein technology has weakened the geographical and cultural barriers.[6]

 Environment and Human Security

The Third Annual South Asian NGO Summit on Environmental, Political and Economic Dimensions of Security held in February 1995 presented such an alternative notion of human security for the third world. This Summit maintained that war, economic decline, civil strife and government oppression were threats to human security in the third world. Further, the human security was also threatened by the so called ‘development process’ which was considered by some as enhancing security since the projects involved in this so called ‘development process’ quite often lead to displacement of poor people, depletion of resources, degradation of environment, urban congestion leading to deterioration in the quality of life and climate changes which cause frequent natural disasters. The concept of political security which traditionally focuses on the military dimension is, therefore, incomplete without environmental/human-security issues. In this perspective the very idea of development which is based on expropriation of the rights of rural communities and institutionalization of injustice through an aggressive use of state power is the leading contributor to insecurity. The indigenous mode of existence which is more in harmony with the rhythms of nature is discarded in favour of the so called modern and organized way of life. An overwhelming corporate power joins forces with state power in this game plan  to achieve their ‘development goals’ to the obliteration of indigenous community life and posing a threat to ecological equilibrium. Several recent examples of this phenomenon and  sharp conflict between the Corporate-State combine on the one hand and indigenous people on the other, could be seen in Narmada Valley(Big Dam project over river Narmada), Madhya Pradesh, Singur(proposed site for Chemical-hub), West Bengal , Posco steel project in Orissa and Kudankulam and Jaitapur(nuclear project sites) in Tamilnadu and Maharashtra in India. The ‘mutiny’ against the ‘development process’ in several parts of India in rural and tribal hinterland is a testimony to this conflict between two contending forces of Corporate-State combine with its so called modern notions of ‘sustainable development’ and indigenous communities with their simple, rudimentary way of life in harmony with nature. The closing remarks of the Third South Asian NGOs Summit epitomizes this world view:

  1. Threats are posed to an environment’s security by state, donor and international institution actions.
  2. Environmental security cannot be isolated from poverty alleviation, governance and regional conflict resolutions.
  3. Local communities were better able to manage natural resources in their own areas; development initiatives that bypass these locals are bound to mismanage and disrupt local societies.
  4. Environment security and women’s empowerment are two sides of the same coin.
  5. A practical and sustainable response would empower communities and create appropriate institutions.[7]

 Human Insecurity in South Asia

Late venerable Dr Mahbub ul Haq whose Human Development Centre  in Pakistan  provides us  insightful reports on the state of human development in South Asia, gave a comprehensive definition of human security as security of income, employment, food, health, education and environment. Further, in its ambit are insecurity arising from violence within the household, by the community and the state against women, children and the minorities.[8] He expounds this concept as under:

Human security, in the last analysis, is a child who did not die, a disease that did not spread, an ethnic tension that did not explode in violence, a woman who was not raped, a poor person who did not starve, a dissident who was not silenced, a human spirit that was not crushed. Human security is not a concern with weapons. It is a concern with human dignity.[9]

South Asia has been acknowledged to be a region in crisis.  The sense of crisis deepened in 1980s, when South Asia was perceived to be falling behind in the development process as compared to East and Southeast Asian countries which were on a fast track of growth and economic transformation.  South Asian countries were caught in a vicious circle of low growth and poverty, unable to overcome their economic and social problems.  Whatever economic growth was achieved, the same was uneven, resulting in sharp disparities between different regions and communities.  The severe problems of endemic poverty, slow and uneven economic growth were further compounded by  the extreme population pressure.  The modest economic achievements of the sub-continent were diluted by explosive population growth.  High rates of population growth rendered South Asia as the most densely populated region in the world.  (260 people per sq. km. against the global average of 44 people per sq. km.). South Asia has suffered extensive erosion of its natural resources in recent past.  The most critical dimension of this erosion was deforestation of tropical forests. The deforestation has resulted in virtual breakdown of Himalayan eco-system with consequent silting of river beds and annual flooding   of  vast  areas  in the region.  With  rising  population  pressure,  this  situation  can  deteriorate  to  ecological  disaster.

            Natural disasters are afflicting South Asia with increased frequency and ferocity – recent cyclones, particularly, the super cyclone that hit India’s east coast( Tsunami of 2004), earthquake of 2005 and super flood during July-August 2010 in Pakistan, have been causing extensive damage to life and property. To add to the negative economic, demographic and ecological profile of South Asia, is the high defence expenditure in the countries of the region. It is indeed ironic that while the economic indicators of growth and development are suppressed due to growth in population, the trend in per capita defence expenditure shows an upswing.  High defence expenditure not only adds to the fragility of the economies of South Asian countries but also points towards a deteriorating security environment in the region.

 The  socio-political  scene  in South Asia is marred by conflict and strife.  The societies in South Asian countries are plural, composite in nature, comprising various cultural, ethnic, linguistic and religious groups.  The State structures and socio-political institutions seem inadequate or unsuitable to accommodate the rich diversity in the region.  We have serious democratic deficit with borrowed institutions of Western democracies which are not rooted in the indigenous history and culture.  Violence, terrorism and ethnic conflicts in several countries of the region have assumed serious proportions – prolonged insurgency in Indian North-East, conflict in Kashmir,  history of ethnic divergence between Sri Lankan Tamils and majority Sinhala population, violence against Mohajirs in Karachi, tension in Sind and Baluchistan, instability and uncertainties in Nepal in the aftermath of war by Nepal Communist Party-Maoist (NCP-M) against the constitutional monarchical democratic system, fierce antagonism between warring political groups in Bangladesh.  Further, narco-terrorism and religious fundamentalism have cast their pernicious, dark shadow on the sub-continent. The presence of US-NATO forces in the eighth member State of SAARC(Afghanistan) and the  complex nature of the war in that country involving Pakistan and fundamentalist forces therein has aggravated the adverse politico-security situation in the region. 

The Human Development in South Asia Report 2005 made following seven important findings after analyzing issues of human insecurity in South Asia:

  1. There is a disconnect between economic growth and human development and hence the economic policies in the region have made people more vulnerable to shocks and insecure in life.
  2. The conflicts in the region between states and within are due to some deep-seated feelings of injustice and disempowerment.
  3. The economic insecurity is the cause of many conflicts and disruption of life.
  4.  If health infrastructure not improved South Africa will go Sub-Saharan Africa way in this regard.
  5.  Environment degradation has reached such levels that huge  disaster is imminent if no prompt action taken to avert this disaster.
  6.  Children and Women are extremely vulnerable in South Asia.
  7.  The institutions of governance  must protect and serve people rather than the rich and powerful.[10]

Security of all Life and Nature: Deep Ecology

There is a deeper strain of environmentalism which considers that the concept of natural diversity as a valuable resource for human kind (which needs to be protected)  is merely shallow ecology. This school of ecological philosophy (claiming to be deep ecologists) maintains that natural diversity has its own intrinsic value and to equate it to be value for humans would tantamount to racial prejudice. Hence all life forms are valuable and humans have no right to reduce the richness and diversity of environment except where it is necessary to satisfy vital needs.[11] The philosophy of deep ecology is very familiar to Gandhian South Asia. The ideas of Mohandas Karamchand Gandhi rooted in conservative Indian tradition, had influenced the philosophy of deep ecologists. He discussed the environmental problems in his famous journal Hind Swaraj way back in 1909 to suggest measures to root out the problem rather than search a solution to control it. He maintained that the extravagant utilization of non-renewable resources, i.e., coal, oil and metal at global scale would play havoc with nature. He considered the unsatiable and unending pursuit of material pleasure and prosperity to be the Achilles’ heel of modern civilization. He thus practised and  propagated the ancient Indian ideal of Aparigraha, i.e., non-possession. He approached nature with utmost reverence and emphasized that the man should not cause violence to other living forms. He believed in essential unity of man and of all that lives. His concept of Ahinsa, popularly interpreted as non-violence, meant non-injury not only to human life but to all living things. For him this was the way to Truth which he saw as Absolute, as God or an impersonal all-pervading reality.[12] This Gandhian perspective compels us to seek answers to some basic questions:

Why such a human activity which has caused the crisis of Climate Change?

Is this crisis inherent in the model of development/economic ideology chosen by the human kind – particularly in the rich/industrialized world?

Is the focus of this model of development on ensuring the security of the State, of the status quo of inequity, rich-poor divide, socio-economic deprivation of large numbers, of vulgar prosperity and abysmal poverty as distinct from security of all living forms and nature?

Mitigation, Adaptation, Preparedness to make the world Climate Change resilient – is it only an elite façade to preserve the status quo of inequity and socio-economic deprivation?

Do South Asia continue to ape the economic development model of energy and capital intensive economic growth based on extravagant utilization of oil-coal-metal and supplemented by dangerous nuclear energy sources or seek an alternative economic development model?

Is an alternative development model feasible/possible in an interdependent globalised world order today?

Is the human race and particularly vulnerable regions like South Asia doomed to the disaster of Climate Change because there is no alternative to the model of progress and economic growth provided by the ideology of Capitalism?

Is it a false debate? Is the march of technology driven development and growth ideology neutral?

Is there any answer to the ‘crises’ posed by the technological march of the modern civilization? Can South Asia with its claim of ‘original environmentalism’ provide a solution to the threats of Climate Change?

While it may not be feasible or within the scope of this paper to seek answers to all the questions above, it would be relevant to delineate the global and South Asian regional response to the threats of Climate Change in the perspective of issues raised therein.

Global Discourse: Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change(IPCC)

The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change(IPCC) which came into existence in 1988 in pursuance of first World Climate Conference organized under the aegis of UN Environment Programme(UNEP) and World Meteorology Organisation(WMO) defines Climate Change as the change in the state of the climate that can be identified by changes in the mean and/or variability of its properties persisting for an extended period. Further, this change could be due to natural variability or a result of human activity.[13] There is now acknowledged plethora of scientific evidence that climate change is occurring primarily due to human activity. The emission of Green House Gases(GHGs) and its effect on global warming leading to devastating consequences for the climate are now well known for quite sometime. The debate on Climate Change has acquired urgency of late due to the existential threat that its adverse impact poses for humanity and also since it raises serious political issues on the nature and ideology of the model of economic growth and progress based on fierce consumption of depleting fossil fuels.

The IPCC report provides strong evidence of the change in climate. It has noted  CO2 atmospheric concentration up from 280 ppm (pre-industrial) to 379 ppm (2005) and GHG emissions up by 70% between 1970-2004. This has resulted in rise in global mean temperature by  0.74°C between 1906-2005.  The eleven years period between 1995-2006 has been recorded among the 12 warmest years since 1850. Further, global  sea level rose 1.8mm/yr during 1961-2003 and at a faster pace during 1993-2003 at the rate of 3.1 mm per year. The average warming in future is predicted to be 0.2°C per decade.[14] The adverse impact of these changes would increase the risks of natural disasters like floods, cyclones, drought, coastal erosion, landslides, water famine, food scarcity, adverse impact on human health, damage to fresh water ecosystems etc. The socio-economic impact of such adverse changes could be devastating for a densely populated region like South Asia.

         The modern twentieth century world formally woke up to the challenge of Climate Change much after the holocaust of Second War  when in 1972 UN Conference on Environment was organized in Stockholm. While Climate Change became a dominant subject of international discourse, the deliberations of the international community have been marked by political deadlocks, scientific uncertainties, lack of trust, inadequate leadership, political regrouping, influence of business lobbies and geo-political considerations.[15] Ironically, the State apparatus in collaboration with Corporate lobbies in developing countries which have been suppressing indigenous and deprived communities to impose their own model of ‘development’ within, have been using the idiom and phraseology of the deprived during negotiations with the developed/ industrialised countries. The poor and deprived and their advocacy of an ecologically harmonious and genuinely sustainable development process thus became a potent pawn in the hands of hypocritical regimes in the developing world on the geo-political chess board.

The First World Climate Conference was organized by United Nations Environment Programme(UNEP) and World Meteorological Organisation(WMO) to look into climate data, identify its impact and to promote research on climate variability in 1979. This Conference recommended creation of an Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change(IPCC) which later came into existence in 1988. This very year a group of 400 scientists and policy makers met in Toronto in a Public Scientific Conference ( sponsored by UNEP and WMO) and suggested 20% reduction in GHG against 1998 levels by 2005. In subsequent year 1989, UN General Assembly passed a resolution 44/228 to recognize the importance of the protection and enhancement of environment for all countries and further decided to convene a UN Conference on Environment and Development.

The First Assessment Report(AR) of IPCC in 1990 put forth a proposition of 60-80 per cent cuts in CO2 emissions to stabilize the concentration of GHG which was noted to be 25 per cent higher in the pre-industrialisation age.  The Second World Climate Conference held in Geneva the same year laid down basic principles like ‘ common concern of humankind’, common but differentiated responsibilities’, principle of equity’, ‘precautionary principle’ and further urged developed states which were responsible for 75 per cent of world’s GHG emissions to establish targets and/or feasible national programmes or strategies which will have a significant effect on limiting emissions or GHG. This Conference also recognized that emissions from developing countries must still grow to accommodate their development needs. UNGA passed a resolution in 1990 to formally launch negotiations on a framework convention on Climate Change. The very next year in 1991, the Intergovernmental Negotiating Committee(INC) met for the first time.

A consensus on UN Framework Convention on Climate Change(UNFCCC) could be reached in 1992 where in the landmark Earth Summit in Rio de Janerio, Brazil this Convention was opened for signatures of the member states. The Convention finally came into force in 1994. The Rio action plan-Agenda21- launched in the Earth Summit echoed the humanist approach to development and Climate Change when its preamble declared: 

Humanity stands at a defining moment in history. We are confronted with a perpetuation of disparities between and within nations, a worsening of poverty, hunger, ill health and illiteracy, and the continuing deterioration of the ecosystems on which we depend for our well being. However, integration of environment and development concerns and greater attention to them will lead to the fulfillment of basic needs, improved living standards for all, better protected and managed ecosystems and a safer, more prosperous future. No nation can achieve this on its own; but together we can – in a global partnership for sustainable development.[16]

The UN General Assembly adopting  Rio Declaration on Environment and Development in August 1992  echoed these sentiments when it proclaimed  in its very first principle that:

Human beings are at the centre of concerns for sustainable development. They are entitled to a healthy and productive life in harmony with nature.[17] 
               The UNFCCC signed by 153 states declared its objective in Article 2 ‘ to achieve stabilization of greenhouse gas
concentrations in the atmosphere at a level that would prevent dangerous anthropogenic interference with the climate
system. Such a level should be achieved within a time frame sufficient to allow ecosystems to adapt naturally to climate
change, to ensure that food production is not threatened and to enable economic development to proceed in a
sustainable manner.’ The framework convention thus acknowledged Climate Change as an existential threat for
 humankind and fossil fuels as a major source of problem.
         The second Assessment report of IPCC in 1995 confirmed the rise in global   temperature as being influenced by
 human beings. This report provided inputs for negotiations which culminated in landmark Kyoto Protocol.

            The Kyoto Protocol pronounced in 1997 within the parameters of UNFCCC, divided the nations into two main groups ,i.e., Annex1 parties and Non-Annex1 parties. Some non-annex1 parties listed in Annex-2 and hence Annex-2 parties. Developing countries 145 in number were Non-Annex-1 parties. The Protocol lays down three mechanisms as under following the principle of ‘common but differentiated responsibilities’:

  1. Joint Implementation: Annex-1 countries can get credits for funding projects to reduce GHG emissions in other Annex-1 countries(mainly former Soviet bloc countries termed as economies in transition)
  2. Clean Development Mechanism(CDM): Annex-1 countries can get credit for funding projects in Non-Annex-1 countries which projects reduce GHGs.
  3. International Emission Trading(IET): Annex-1 countries can buy and sell carbon credits where one country has exceeded its target and can sell its reductions by the tonne to another country.[18]


Ever since 1995, the parties to UNFCCC have been holding Conference of Parties(COP) in order to assess progress in dealing with Climate Change. The chequered history of international negotiations bereft of political will to accept common but differential responsibilities continued through annual COPs when in 2000, COP-6 reached an impasse in Hague. COP-6, however, resumed in Bonn in 2001 after US President George Bush declared official decision to abandon Kyoto Protocol and focused on financial support to developing countries. It committed to create a $410million fund by 2005. In 2001 again, COP-7 meeting in Marrakesh decided to set up a Climate Change Fund for mitigation and adaptation to climate change as well as Least Developed Country Fund for the poorest countries. The third IPCC Assessment Report in the same year provided new and strong evidence of global warming over the last fifty years. It cautioned against the wider security implications of the climate change due to melting of glaciers and rise in sea level.

COP-8 met in Delhi in 2002 and calling for sustainable development agreed that adaptation to climate change was as important as mitigation measures.

The ratification of Kyoto Protocol by Russia in November 2004 and its coming into force on February 2005, resurrected the Protocol to some extent after US declared its dissociation from the treaty and merely maintained an observer status.

COP-11 which was also the first meeting of parties to Kyoto Protocol after 1997 agreed on an action plan in Montreal(Montreal Action Plan) and agreed to extend the life of the Protocol beyond 2012 when it would have been due to expire. It also agreed to negotiate  ‘deeper cuts’ in GHG emissions.

The real politic came to the fore in 2005 when a group of five nations(G5)- Brazil, India, South Africa, Mexico and China- met G8 countries during their summit meeting in Gleneagles to debate Climate Change. G-5 countries stressed on transfer of technology and financial support for a ‘flexible, fair and effectual global framework’ in this regard.

G-8 countries in their subsequent 2007 summit meeting pledged financial support for adaptation measures along with use of cleaner and renewable energy. Thus technology cooperation and financing became the latest buzz-words of global negotiations on Climate Change.

COP-13 meeting in Bali in 2007 laid down a Bali Road map after taking note of fourth report(AR-4) of IPCC. It made a strong scientific case for political action on the climate issues facing humankind.

G-8 countries in a significant move held a special climate summit of major industrialized and developing countries under the aegis of the Major Economies Forum on Energy and Climate at L’Aquilla in 2009. This conclave  endorsed the important benchmark of a maximum permissible global temperature rise of 2*C above the pre-industrial levels and G-8 countries agreed to cut their carbon emissions by 80 per cent by 2050 with a pre-condition that developing countries would agree to a global 50 per cent cut in emissions by 2050. G-8 countries hoped that developing countries might endorse a target which was not accepted by them in the past. However, the developing countries only agreed to ‘peak’ their emissions before cutting down in absolute terms.

The international community, particularly rich club of industrialized nations and emerging economies of G-5 countries refused to accept mandatory obligations on GHG emissions. While there was no compliance of short-to-mid term (2020) reduction plans envisaged in Kyoto Protocol, long term declarations only seemed unconvincing and intended to buy time for promoting geo-political selfish interests. While US despite being largest per-capita emitter of CO2 refused to accept binding cuts , developing countries like  India and China insisted on seeking ‘allowances’ due to their need for economic growth. They maintained that any mandatory cut in CO2 emissions would compromise their efforts to tackle poverty.

COP-16 at Copenhagen in 2009 was held against this background but ended in a failure since no country signed the accord proposed for limiting carbon emissions to below 2°C with efforts to ‘peak’ them early. Thus in complete violation of the principles evolved after decades of painstaking efforts, no legally binding emission cuts were accepted. While the COP accord was not approved, it was proposed as under:

  1. Developed countries would jointly mobilize US $100 billion a year by 2020 to address the needs of developing countries.
  2. A Copenhagen Green Climate Fund would thus be established to support projects, programmes, policies and other activities of developing countries.
  3. A Technology Mission would be established to accelerate technology development and transfer to developing countries.
  4. An assessment of Copenhagen Accord will be completed by 2015.

The Copenhagen Accord and response of different group of countries underlined fragmentation of the past efforts and abandoning of basic principles evolved earlier.

COP-16 at Cancun in December 2010 while made an effort to restore the sanctity of multi-lateral negotiations under the UNFCCC failed to make any headway on securing ‘common but differential responsibilities’ and ‘deeper cuts’.  On the contrary, the difference between developed and developing countries was obliterated- while developed countries would no more commit legally to cut emissions, the developing countries will have to take binding commitments. There were no firm commitments either to provide technological and financial help by rich countries who merely made promises. The Cancun thus made an about turn with following Long Term Cooperation Action(LCA) plan:

Developing countries agree to-

  1. writing off historical debt of developed countries;
  2. have their own domestic emission  targets and actions;
  3. allow third party verifications of targets, making it binding;
  4. emission targets of developed countries that are not sufficient to limit global temperature increase below 2°C.

Developed countries agree to-

  1. generate US $100 billion in long term, $30 billion in 2010-12;
  2. facilitate technology transfer through innovation centres;
  3. funding  reducing emission from deforestation and forest degradation (REDD) and address own actions leading to deforestation;
  4. linking adaptation to Hyogo Framework for Action – a global treaty on disaster risk reduction;
  5. funding research on understanding vulnerability, impacts, development of plans and creating institutional responses.[19]

The critics of Cancun LCA maintain that this proposed cooperation has virtually negated  Kyoto Protocol since second commitment period under the Protocol has not been decided and deferred till next Durban Summit, the base reference period for emission reduction is not indicated (whether it should be 1990, 2000 or 2025) and  emissions reduction targets have not been set for  countries individually or as a whole. All countries participating in Cancun summit accepted US position with the sole exception of Bolivia.

While the international community was getting ready for next round of climate negotiations at Durban, South Africa in 2011, there was consensus among experts that challenges the current perspectives on future emissions and nature of international cooperation. The International Council for Science and the International Social Science Council reached a consensus that the social and bio-physical sub-systems are intertwined in a manner that the conditions and responses of the system to external forcing are based on the synergy of the two sub-systems. Hence the problem of climate change can be addressed by studying the full global system rather than its components.[20]

COP 17 at Durban reached an agreement to negotiate a new and more inclusive treaty and establishment of a Green Climate Fund. The EU and several countries agreed to continue Kyoto Protocol beyond 2012 if other governments, including major emitters from developed and developing countries, agreed to negotiate a new legally binding treaty with deeper emission reduction by 2015 to come into force afterwards. While the UN Under Secretary & UNEP Executive Director welcomed Durban proceedings as a boost for global climate action, the critics termed it as succumbing to Climate Apartheid, a crime against humanity by delaying real action till 2020 and permitting an increase in global temperature of  4 degree Celsius as a death sentence for Africa, Small Island States and the poor and vulnerable worldwide. Further, that postponement of decision on Second Commitment Period of Kyoto Protocol till next COP with no commitments for emission reduction by rich countries, implied that Kyoto Protocol is on life support until replaced by a new agreement which would be weaker. The critics also maintained that the Green Climate Fund should be managed by participatory governance and not by World Bank which they consider a villain of the failed neo-liberal economy.

Rio+20 Conference held in June 2012 marked revival of the spirit of The United Nations Conference on Environment and Development of 1992. Rio+20 reaffirmed commitment to UN MDG7 on Environment Sustainability. The Outcome Document of Rio+20 laid down the vision of a Green Economy in the context of sustainable development and poverty eradication. It reaffirmed that Climate Change is one of the greatest challenges of our time and expressed profound alarm that emissions of green house gases continue to rise globally.

COP 18 at Doha in 2012 was termed a mere intermediate COP which enabled start of a new negotiating process aimed at delivering a new global climate agreement. The rich and powerful had their way which actually commenced at COP 2005 at Montreal and formalized at Bali COP 2007 which had set the basis for developing countries to also get involved in mitigation action. Now we have a state of confusion and uncertainty with Second Commitment Period of the Kyoto Protocol(2013-2020) with legal binding targets for a smaller number of countries than the First Commitment Period(2008-12), voluntary commitments reached in 2010 under the Cancun Agreements by countries like the US and China and which run to 2020 and the negotiation of a new climate change agreement that will be completed by 2015 and will enter into force in 2020. The uncertainty and ad-hocism is now symbolized by an Ad-Hoc Working Group under the Durban Platform(ADP). The moderate voices maintained that no breakthroughs were expected or achieved but the UNFCCC process was kept on track.

South Asian Response 

The colourless kaleidoscope of a multi-faceted crisis in South Asia inevitably demands a regional response to the threats posed by Climate Change. In fact, the complex nature of this crisis makes it a threat to the very existence of sub-continent population seeking a secure and dignified human life. The climate of mother earth being indivisible and intertwining of bio-physical and social sub-systems as mentioned earlier, would necessarily dictate that the regional response dovetails to the global efforts to find answers to the issues raised by the crisis of Climate Change.

            South Asia with its ancient lineage of environmentalism and current dismal state of  environment outlook entered the phase of regional cooperation rather late as compared to other regional groupings in the world.

The Heads of the State/Government of seven South Asian countries -Bangladesh, Bhutan, India, Maldives, Nepal, Pakistan and Sri Lanka - formally established the South Asian Association for Regional Cooperation (SAARC) in their first summit meeting held in Dhaka on 7-8 December, 1985. They adopted a Charter for SAARC in this summit meeting. The basic objectives set forth in the Charter were, inter-alia, to promote the welfare  of the peoples of South Asia and to improve their quality of life; to accelerate economic growth, social progress and cultural development in the region; and to promote and strengthen collective self-reliance among countries of  South Asia.

           The most significant feature of the SAARC Charter is the provision that the Heads of State/Government would meet once a year, or more often, if necessary.

           The inaugural Dhaka Summit set the precedent for procedures and modalities to be followed in future. Thus each Summit was to be preceded by a meeting of the Standing Committee and of the Council of Ministers. After the conclusion of each Summit, a declaration expounding the Summit’s philosophy and thinking was issued along with a Joint Communique which contained in summary form the substantive decisions of the Summit.

SAARC Study on Environment Preservation and Natural Disasters

The Third SAARC Summit which was convened  in Kathmandu, Nepal on 2-4 November, 1987decided, inter-alia, to commission a study on the ‘Protection and Preservation of the Environment and the Causes and Consequences of Natural Disasters’ in a well-planned comprehensive framework. In fact, while deciding to commission this study,  the  Summit  leaders  expressed  their  deep  concern at the fast and continuing degradation of the environment including extensive destruction of forest, in the South Asian region. They also noted that South Asia was afflicted with such natural disasters as floods, droughts, landslides, cyclones, tidal waves which have had a particularly severe impact causing immense human suffering.[21]

This study which was finalized in December 1991 was formulated after a very comprehensive national studies by individual Member States to bring out the conditions prevalent in the countries of the region on environment and natural disasters. The individual country reports also mentioned the preventive and remedial measures taken with regard to adverse climate conditions and natural disasters. The individual country studies were amalgamated with the help of consultant experts. The study report noted that:

The region is one of the poorest in the world and has a high rate of population growth and population density – the SAARC Member states comprise 20 per cent of the world’s population living on 3.5 per cent of the total land area and generate only 2 per cent of the world’s GNP. The pressures that these socio-economic conditions create on the natural environment are enormous. In addition, development programmes in the area of industry, agriculture and energy, which are necessary to improve the standards of living of the people, create environmental problems through the generation of wastes and heavy demands they put on natural resource base. SAARC region because of its high level of poverty…. Degradation of the environment has a particularly adverse effect on the poor, and results in increased natural disasters, especially in the high slopes of the mountain regions, dry and desertified  areas, and in the flood plains. The natural resource base of South Asia Has to be managed extremely carefully and with great ingenuity to ensure increased productivity on a sustainable basis so that present and future generations can meet their needs and aspirations and live in harmony with their environment.[22]

The Report made recommendations on measures to protect and manage environment and suggested measures and programmes for strengthening disaster management capabilities. Specific issues covered by recommendations on protecting and managing environment included strengthening the environment management infrastructure, environmentally sound land and water planning, research and action programme on mountain development in the Himalayan Region, coastal zone management programme, integrated development of river basins, SAARC forestry and watershed programme, programme on energy and environment, pollution control and hazardous wastes programme, network on traditional water harvesting techniques, SAARC cooperative programme for biodiversity management, people’s participation in resource management, information exchange on low-cost and environmentally sound habitat related technologies, SAARC network of environmental NGOs, participation of women in environment, SAARC Fund for environment, SAARC report on the state of environment and cooperation among SAARC Members on environmental issues in international forums.

Further, the Report incorporated measures and programmes for strengthening disaster management capabilities and covered topics on networking of institutions on natural disaster planning and management, establishment of a SAARC relief and assistance mechanism for disasters, cooperation on the development of modern disaster warning systems, programme for research related to drought prone areas and information exchange system on management of human activities in disaster prone areas.

Finally, the Report suggested an appropriate institutional mechanism for coordinating and monitoring implementation of its recommendations in the form of a SAARC Committee on Environment.[23]

SAARC Study on Greenhouse Effect

Coinciding with Public Scientific Conference held in Toronto SAARC heads of States and Governments in their Fourth Summit held in December 1988 decided to undertake a study on the Greenhouse effect and its impact on the region. The unprecedented floods, cyclones and earthquakes during the  year attracted their attention and they observed as under:

The Heads of State or Government expressed their deep sense of sorrow and profound sympathy at the loss of valuable lives and extensive damage to property suffered during the year by Bangladesh, India, Nepal and Pakistan as a result of unprecedented floods, cyclones and earthquakes. In this connection, they recalled their earlier decision at Kathmandu in November, 1987 to intensify regional cooperation with a view to strengthening their disaster management capabilities and took note of the recommendations of the meeting of the SAARC Group of Experts on the Study on the Causes and Consequences of Natural Disasters and the Protection and Preservation of the Environment, that met in Kathmandu in July 1988. They expressed the conviction that identification of measures and programmes as envisaged by the Group of Experts would supplement national, bilateral, regional and global efforts to deal with the increasingly serious problems being faced by the region as a result of the recurrence of natural disasters and the continuing degradation of the environment. They urged that the study should be completed in the shortest period of time so that it could provide a basis for the member countries to draw up an action plan for meaningful cooperation amongst the Member States. They decided that a joint study be undertaken on the "Greenhouse Effect" and its impact on the region.[24]

This study recommended regional measures in sharing experiences, scientific capabilities and information on climate change, sea level rise and technology transfer. The regional discourse among SAARC countries was keeping pace with the global debate and proceedings in different forums.

The studies on natural disasters/environment and Greenhouse Effect culminated in adoption of SAARC Plan of Action on Environment in 1997. Subsequently, there was a series of meetings of SAARC Environment Ministers and flurry of regional activity in the wake of this discourse acquiring critical global dimension.

SAARC Common Position in UN Conference of Parties(COP4)

SAARC Member states also evolved a common position on climate change. On the eve of the Fourth Session of the Conference of the Parties to the UN Framework Convention on Climate Change( COP-4) which was held in Buenos Aires, SAARC Environment Ministers met in Colombo on October 30-November1, 1998 and agreed to urge Annex-1 countries to expedite signing of Kyoto protocol for its ratification and coming into force and further to take urgent and effective steps domestically to implement commitments undertaken by them to reduce their emission of greenhouse gases. Significantly, they also emphasized fundamental prerequisite for designing emission trading,as provided in the Kyoto Protocol, is the determination of equitable emission  entitlement of the Parties. It was maintained that the entitlements can not be derived from the past emissions which were inequitable.[25] Earlier, in tenth SAARC Summit held in July 1998, the leaders expressed their satisfaction on adoption of a common position prior to adoption of Kyoto protocol in following words:

The Heads of State or Government expressed their satisfaction over the adoption of a common position by Member States prior to the Third Session of the Conference of the Parties to the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change, held in Kyoto, Japan and welcomed the adoption of the Kyoto Protocol to the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change in December 1997, and underscored the importance of the Protocol for the protection of the climate system. They urged all industrial countries to ratify the Protocol and to undertake urgent and effective steps to implement the commitments undertaken by them to reduce their emissions of green-house gases.[26]

SAARC Year of Green South Asia: 2007

SAARC declared year 2007 as the Year of Green South Asia. SAARC leaders meeting for Fourteenth Summit in April this year  reiterated that collaboration in addressing the problem of arsenic contamination of groundwater, desertification and melting of glaciers and assistance to affected peoples should be deepened. They expressed deep concern over global climate change and the consequent rise in sea level and its impact on the lives and livelihoods in the region. They emphasised the need for assessing and managing its risks and impacts. They called for adaptation of initiatives and programmes; cooperation in early forecasting, warning and monitoring; and sharing of knowledge on consequences of climate change for pursuing a climate resilient development in South Asia. They agreed to commission a team of regional experts to identify collective actions in this regard.[27]

In  December 2007 SAARC Council of Ministers discussed the issue of climate change in the context of increasing vulnerability of the region due to environmental degradation. The Ministers felt that given the vulnerabilities, inadequate means and limited capacities, there was need for rapid social and economic development in the region to make SAARC climate change resilient.

SAARC Environment Ministers Meeting 2008: Action Plan on Climate Change

SAARC Environment Ministers meeting in Dhaka in 2008 adopted SAARC Action Plan on Climate Change. The objectives of the Action Plan were to identify and create opportunities for activities achievable through regional cooperation and south-south support in terms of technology and knowledge transfer, to provide impetus for regional level action plan on climate change through national level activities and to support the global negotiation process of UNFCCC such as Bali Action Plan, through a common understanding or elaboration of the various negotiating issues to effectively reflect the concerns of SAARC Member States.[28] The thematic areas of the Action plan included adaptation to climate change, actions for climate change mitigation, technology transfer, finance and investment, education and awareness programme, management of impacts and risks associated with climate change and capacity building for international negotiations. The Action plan epitomized the predicament and frustration of the developing countries on the slow progress and virtual negation of the concerns of Non-Annex-1 countries defined in Kyoto Protocol. The efforts at collective self-reliance as indicated in the objectives of the Action Plan was reminiscent of older era when North-South stalemate debate was at its peak.

Sixteenth SAARC Summit: Green and Happy South Asia

Sixteenth SAARC Summit held at Thimpu, Bhutan in April 2010 was dedicated to the theme of Climate Change. The Summit declaration which was silver jubilee of the beginning of SAARC was termed ‘Towards a Green and Happy South Asia’. The Thimpu Statement on Climate Change adopted at the Summit meeting  called for a review of the implementation of the Dhaka Declaration and SAARC Action Plan on Climate Change and ensure its timely implementation. There was an agreement  to establish an Inter-governmental Expert Group on Climate Change to develop clear policy direction and guidance for regional cooperation as envisaged in the SAARC Plan of Action on Climate Change. It was resolved that the  Inter-governmental Expert Group on Climate Change shall meet at least twice a year to periodically monitor and review the implementation of this Statement and make recommendations to facilitate its implementation and submit its report through the Senior Officials of SAARC to the SAARC Environment Ministers.

The Thimpu Statement as if anticipating probable failure of Cancun conclave resolved to attempt and carry on with comprehensive regional self-reliance efforts and adopted following:

Direct the Secretary General to commission a study for presentation to the Seventeenth SAARC Summit on ‘Climate Risks in the Region: ways to comprehensively address the related social, economic and environmental challenges’;

(ii) Undertake advocacy and awareness programs on climate change, among others, to promote the use of green technology and best practices to promote low-carbon sustainable and inclusive development of the region;

(iii) Commission a study to explore the feasibility of establishing a SAARC mechanism which would provide capital for projects that promote low-carbon technology and renewable energy; and a Low-carbon Research and Development Institute in South Asian University;

(iv) Incorporate science-based materials in educational curricula to promote better understanding of the science and adverse effects of climate change;

(v) Plant ten million trees over the next five years (2010-2015) as part of a regional aforestation and reforestation campaign, in accordance with national priorities and programmes of Member States;

(vi) Evolve national plans, and where appropriate regional projects, on protecting and safeguarding the archeological and historical infrastructure of South Asia from the adverse effects of Climate Change;

(vii) Establish institutional linkages among national institutions in the region to, among others, facilitate sharing of knowledge, information and capacity building programmes in climate change related areas;

(viii) Commission a SAARC Inter-governmental Marine Initiative to strengthen the understanding of shared oceans and water bodies in the region and the critical roles they play in sustainable living to be supported by the SAARC Coastal Zone Management Center;

(ix) Stress the imperative of conservation of bio-diversity and natural resources and monitoring of mountain ecology covering the mountains in the region;

(x) Commission a SAARC Inter-governmental Mountain Initiative on mountain ecosystems, particularly glaciers and their contribution to sustainable development and livelihoods to be supported by SAARC Forestry Center;

(xi) Commission a SAARC Inter-governmental Monsoon Initiative on the evolving pattern of monsoons to assess vulnerability due to climate change to be supported by SAARC Meteorological Research Center;

(xii) Commission a SAARC Inter-governmental Climate-related Disasters Initiative on the integration of Climate Change Adaptation (CCA) with Disaster Risk Reduction (DRR) to be supported by SAARC Disaster Management Center;

(xiii) Complete the ratification process for the SAARC Convention on Cooperation on Environment at an early date to enable its entry into force.[29]

SEVENTEENTH SAARC SUMMIT 2011:  Agreement  on Rapid    Response to Natural  Disasters

An inter-governmental meeting on draft SAARC Agreement on Rapid Response to Natural Disasters held in Colombo, Sri Lanka in May 2011 reached a broad consensus on the Agreement. This agreement has now been adopted in the Seventeenth SAARC Summit held in Maldives in November 2011. The  agreement based on the principle of respect for the sovereignty, territorial integrity and national unity of all member states aims to put in place an effective mechanism for rapid response to disasters to achieve substantial reduction in loss of lives and loss of social, economic and environmental assets in times of a disaster.

            The Summit also  resolved to ensure timely implementation of Thimpu Statement on Climate Change.

South Asian Response: Critical Appraisal

SAARC regional efforts in responding to the threat of Climate Change matching global exercise  are neither short on rhetoric nor on inaction. There is a basic lack of political will both at global and regional level. While the dangers posed by this threat to the humankind as a whole and more so to the poor and vulnerable regions like South Asia are well acknowledged, the selfish abandon with which the rich and powerful globally and within poor regions love their life styles and consumption patterns, do not inspire confidence in their ability to change course. The prolonged deliberations and denial of negotiated and accepted basic principles symbolized by virtual repudiation of Kyoto protocol, makes the future of dealing with the threats of Climate Change rather bleak.

            SAARC’s boastful rhetoric on regional cooperation was recently exposed during July-August 2010 super floods which hit Pakistan. These floods not only destroyed infrastructure in several parts of Pakistan but affected a huge population of approximately 20 million people. Except for a pledge of a meagre US$32 million by SAARC countries, there was virtually no action to help a member state suffering unprecedented damage due to this calamity. It was only in April 2010, i.e., only a few months before the super floods hit Pakistan that Silver Jubilee Climate theme SAARC Summit was celebrated  at Thimpu, Bhutan.

            In fact, SAARC is a captive and victim of bilateral contentious politics in the region. The end of cold war seemed to have provided greater leeway to India to promote her perception of South Asian regionalism through SAARC. However, the bilateral disputes between India and other SAARC countries, particularly between India and Pakistan, are deep rooted and defy the general global trend towards lessening of tensions in the post-cold war period. The core issue between India and Pakistan does not seem to be Kashmir (as claimed by Pakistan) but  a more fundamental difference on the nature of the ‘States’ of India and Pakistan - the contradiction between the State of Pakistan created artificially on the basis of religion and the secular ideology of Indian State.

            The bilateral disputes between India and other members of SAARC, particularly between India and Pakistan will continue to impede and torment SAARC process. India’s neighbours expect her to play down the big-brotherly attitude and keep a low-key but positive profile in SAARC. India, on the other hand, distrusts her neighbours particularly Pakistan which is seen as attempting to undermine the secular basis of  the Indian State and harbouring and sustaining cross border terrorism and proxy war against India.

Being the ‘core’ state of the region India has to be a prime-mover in convincing her neighbours of her credentials in promoting the agenda of regionalism. India’s neighbours continue to be torn by the doubts on Indian policy objectives – Pakistani ruling establishment, in particular, seems to be convinced that India harbours hegemonic ambitions in the region. Except for a brief interlude of ‘Gujral Doctrine’ to resolve contentious bilateral disputes on the basis of non-reciprocity, India has not shown any significant shift in her approach for resolving bilateral disputes with her neighbours. A seemingly bold move by the new Indian government under National Democratic Alliance (NDA) in 1999 (bus journey by Indian Prime Minister Vajpayee to Lahore) to break the deadlock with Pakistan ended in the fiasco of Kargil border-war with Pakistan.

SAARC has traversed two and a half decades of tumultuous events. While the infrastructure and institutional framework for forging a strong, integrated South Asia is in place but there are no significant achievements in progress towards its goals and objectives. The  relevance of SAARC in respect of reducing bilateral tensions, enhancing regional security and promoting economic well-being of people is almost negligible. Its structure as an inter-government body is seen as limiting its role and merely embodying the relationship of forces between member countries and their inter-state tensions. SAARC has generated considerable dynamism though at  the social, NGO/Civil Society levels.

The common position adopted by SAARC during global negotiations on Climate Change is no consolation for the poor record on responding to disasters and joint efforts at modifying policy and action to adapt to and mitigate the threat of Climate Change. India, in any case, has joined other groupings like BASIC countries while indulging in bargaining on behalf of  developing countries. The deliberations of Cancun conclave in 2010 have further eroded any significance of common regional positions at Climate negotiations. The common SAARC posture in global Climate sweepstakes , therefore, is more of an ornamental value aimed at deceiving regional population that SAARC is together in responding to the threats of climate change.

Alternative to Neo-Liberalism

If the neo-liberal economics with its unending quest for consumption and expansion has caused disequilibrium in nature and among/within  nations and societies, we need to find an alternative to this ideology. Mahatma Gandhi in 1909 expressed his strong reservations against India welcoming western civilization under the guise of modernity. He maintained that the western civilization which equates consumerist lifestyle and abundance with development was akin to a mythical Indian demon called ‘Bhasmasur”, i.e., destructive monster.[30]   The reckless and limitless industrialization by all nations is not sustainable and hence we are at the threshold of an existential choice of whether to pursue the mirage of a high consumption life style at global level or to moderate our idea of development and progress. This would involve a search for an alternative ‘in opposition to a process of capitalist globalization commanded by large multinational corporations and by the governments and international institutions at the service of those corporate interests. The alternative will respect universal human rights, and those of all citizens – men, and women – of all nations and the environment and will rest on democratic international systems and institutions at the service of social justice, equality and the sovereignty of peoples. … This is a vision against the neo-liberal economic agenda of the world and national elite which is breaking down the very fabric of the lives of ordinary people all over the world and marginalizing the majority of the world people, keeping profits as the main criteria of development rather than society and destroying the freedoms and rights of all women, men and children to live in peace, security and dignity.[31]


The global and South Asian political response to the environmental crisis are mere rhetoric and lack serious commitment both on the part advanced industrial countries and developing  economies of South Asia which are trying to catch up with the rich world by imitating the economic growth ideology of neo-liberalism. The existential threat of Climate Change can not be wished away by drowning in studies and endless negotiations influenced by selfish national and geo-political considerations. The battle for supremacy due to continental shift of power and prosperity imbued with the spirit of neo-liberalism would be fought bitterly by the West, particularly the United States. The declaration by the US Secretary of Defence Leon E. Panetta in Singapore Shangri-La Dialogue 2012  to redeploy its naval forces in the ratio of 60:40 between  Pacific and Atlantic regions, is seen as beginning of second Cold War vis-à-vis China.

What then does the future portend? Will the famed and much touted miracle of Western technology provide an answer in finding a viable renewable energy alternative to fossil fuels and render the search for energy resources for its expansionist, economic growth as irrelevant? Or will the South Asian Region with its claim of ancient wisdom and  Hindus being the original environmentalists provide an  alternative to neo-liberalism and non-renewable energy this time? There is no dearth of resources in South Asia to embark on the search for the alternative source of renewable energy. India which boasts of the third largest technical and scientific manpower in the world can take up this challenge. The financial resources are also aplenty – a fraction of the huge wealth which is siphoned off by graft and corruption of the ruling elite in South Asia would suffice for this purpose. An alternative life style and consumption pattern which does not gobble up earth’s resources like a glutton is probably the ultimate protection from the existential threat posed by Climate Change to the life and nature on mother earth. The ultimate goal should be Samanvya,i.e., a state of harmony and equilibrium whence there is perfect harmony among and within nations and communities, between nature and man and within nature itself. That is to say that the mother earth evolves into a real Shangri-La ,i.e., a permanently happy planet and not a strategic conflict prone world post Shangri-La Dialogues 2012.


[1] For details see  chapter Continental Shifts in Rammanohar Lohia, Wheel of History, A Sindhu Publication, Bombay, India,1985.

[2] The Hindu, New Delhi, May 30,2011.

[3] South Asian Economic Outlook-2009, SAARC Secretariat, Kathmandu,2009, p.15.

[4] Prithvi Sukta in Atharva Veda quoted in Laxmi Mal Sighvi, Environmental Wisdom in Ancient India, Also see Guha Ramchandra, Environmentalism: A Global History, Oxford University Press, 2000, pp10-25.

[5] Ibid.

[6]  For details see Richard A. Mathew, Introduction: Rethinking Security,  Global Environmental Change and Human Security: Conceptual and Theoretical Issues Report prepared by: Richard A. Matthew Leah Fraser  Global Environmental Change and Human Security Program Office University of California Irvine, November 2002

[7] Banuri Tariq, Human Security in Rethinking Security, Rethinking Development: An Anthology of Papers from Third Annual South Asian NGOs Summit, Sustainable Development Policy Institute, Islamabad, 1996.

[8] Human Development in South Asia 2005: Human security in South Asia, Mahbub ul Haq Human Development Centre, Oxford University Press, 2006, p.1.

[9] Ibid p.7

[10] Ibid, pp1-2.

[11] Weber Thomas, Gandhi and Deep Ecology in Journal of Peace Research, Vol 36, No.3, May 1999.

[12] Ibid.

[13] Climate Change 2007:  IPCC Fourth Assessment Report, IPCC, Geneva, Switzerland, p30.

[14] Ibid, p.32.

[15] Sinha, Uttam Kumar, Climate Change: Process and Politics, Strategic Analysis, Vol.34, No.6, November 2010,  IDSA, Routledge, New Delhi, p.858.

[16] Agenda 21, UN Economic and Social Development, Division for Sustainable Development, http://www.un.org/esa/dsd/agenda21.

[17] Report of The United Nations Conference on Environment and Development (Rio de Janeiro, 3-14June1992),http://www.un.org/documents/ga/confl5126-1 annex1.htm

[18] Kyoto Protocol to United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change, United Nations, 1998, http://www.un.org

[19] Down To Earth, January 1-15,2011, p.28.

[20] Economic Times, New Delhi: New Answers to Climate Problems, July 11, 2011

[21] Kathmandu Declaration of the Heads of State or Government of the Member Countries of SAARC issued on November 4, 1987 Declaration of SAARC Summits (1985-1998), SAARC Secretariat, Kathmandu, Nepal, August 2001,p.30.

[22] Regional Study on the causes and consequences of natural disasters and the Protection and Preservation of the Environment, SAARC Disaster Management Centre, New Delhi, 2008, pp382-83.

[23] Ibid.

[24] Summit Declaration, Fourth SAARC Summit, SAARC Secretariat, Kathmandu, Nepal, August 2001.

[25] SAARC Workshop Climate Change and Disasters: Emerging Trends and Future Strategies 21-22 August 2008 Kathmandu, Nepal.

[26] Declaration of Tenth SAARC Summit, Colombo, July,1998, Declaration of SAARC Summits (1985-1998), SAARC Secretariat, Kathmandu, Nepal, August 2001

[27] Decration of Fourteenth SAARC Summit, New Delhi, April 2007. http://www.saarc.sec.org, p.1

[28] SAARC Workshop: Climate Change and Disasters – Emerging Trends and Future Strategies, 21-22 August 2008, Kathmandu, Nepal, SAARC Disaster Management Centre, New Delhi.

[29] Sixteenth SAARC Summit Thimpu, 28-29 April 2010, Thimpu Statement on Climate Change, http://www.saarc.sec.org

[30] Seth Pravin, The Eco-Gandhi and Ecological Movements.

[31] Policy Guidelines and Charter of Principles, World Social Forum. Downloaded from http//: wsfindia.org


Dr Suman Sharma

Asociate Professor,

Department of Political Science

Motilal Nehre College(University of Delhi),India

sumandmg@hotmail.com; suman110011@gmail.com



NIOR Civil Servant

(At present  a financial adviser with Indian Railways,Government of India)

dmgautam@hotmail.com; dmgsakshi@gmail.com

February 2013



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