How to Strengthen Climate Services and Climate Diplomacy in South Asia

Punakha Suspension Bridge, Bhutan.

South Asia faces multiple climate security challenges, from more heatwaves to higher flooding risks. Some of these changes are already influencing the existing socio-economic, political and security dynamics at both national and regional levels. In such a scenario, there is a need for both downscaling and upscaling of climate information. This, however, is a challenging task in a region where climate services are still weak due to the lack of resources, institutional capacities, coordination and even demand.

Regional actors have made some efforts to build regional climate services, such as the South Asian Climate Outlook Forum. Still, much more needs to be done, not only to make these existing services more effective, but also to identify insecurities and instabilities that are linked to climate change through evidence-based knowledge production. In general, climate diplomacy has not really gained traction in the region despite the existence of several shared resources (rivers, oceans, etc.) and pre-established institutional linkages built through regional and bilateral platforms. The time has come for the region’s security structures and climate policy frameworks to collaborate with each other in order to ensure a climate-smart and security-sensitive strategy. Better climate information could play a key role in bringing countries together.

Climate Fragility Risks in South Asia

One source of such information, a risk brief from the Climate Security Expert Network, identifies four main climate change-security pathways in South Asia:

  • Regional tensions due to competition over scarce resources, in particular shared rivers, could escalate.
  • Deteriorating livelihoods and threats to health, food and energy security risk aggravating  existing  anti-state  grievances  and  could  spur  violent  protests  as well as conflict between resource users.
  • Growing and increasingly irregular migration, caused by gradual and/or rapid onset disasters, enhances fragility, particularly in rapidly growing urban areas.
  • Increases in poverty, inequality and grievances play into the hands of criminal organisations and armed opposition groups.

Some of these issues are common to all South Asian countries, particularly concerning sectors such as health, agriculture, disaster reduction and water – all of which are adversely affected by climate change. While adaptation and socio-economic resilience are gathering momentum at the policy level, there are still concerns regarding mainstreaming of climate information, not just in development planning but also in security planning.

Another important provider of such information is the Global Framework for Climate Services (adopted by the World Meteorological Organisation), which has been successful in bringing together different stakeholders from South Asian countries to prepare a “consensus climate outlook” for seasons and share it with user agencies such as agricultural departments. The aim is to enhance “resilience in social, economic and environmental systems to climate variability and change.” Such mechanisms can be critical to designing and implementing preventative mechanisms to address climate fragility risks in the region.

How Climate Information Could Aid the Region’s Security Agencies

The need to take a regional approach to climate service and integrate social sciences into the climate sector was underscored at the recent International Conference on Climate Services. With the emergence of approaches such as impact-based forecasting to save lives and property—and instruments such as forecast-based financing to put in motion anticipatory actions and early humanitarian funding in the region—the foundation for further mainstreaming of climate information is already in place. These moves gain further significance in light of their contribution to safeguarding human and livelihood security in particular.

Organisations such as the International Centre for Integrated Mountain Development (ICIMOD) are helping implement climate services in the Hindu Kush-Himalayan region through transboundary cooperation. ICIMOD aims to provide a regional platform “to facilitate knowledge sharing and cooperation on science and data; and provide opportunities for collating, curating, and sharing data for improved climate services.” Focussing on a range of activities, including real-time flood outlook, community-based flood warning, drought monitoring and so on, ICIMOD’s work emphasises the importance of developing resilient systems to address concerns regarding rapid urbanisation, water scarcity, migration and food insecurity, and the associated security challenges

Climate Information as the Bedrock of Regional Climate Diplomacy

Credible, systematic, actionable information is the bedrock of regional climate diplomacy, whether through city networks, community-based initiatives, regional hazard impact/vulnerability assessment, or military-to-military cooperation on disaster management.

But it is not just climate organisations that need to step up; the region’s security agencies can also play an important role. They should tailor climate information for activities such as climate-proofing transboundary river water sharing agreements, especially since the existing agreements currently do not take climate change into account. Security actors should also integrate climate information into their planning and strategy.

By cooperating and pooling resources, the countries of South Asia can nip the fragility risks in the bud. In the process, they will build trust and prepare themselves for the security challenges of the future.

Dr. Dhanasree Jayaram is Co-Coordinator at the Centre for Climate Studies and Assistant Professor at the Department of Geopolitics and International Relations, Manipal Academy of Higher Education (MAHE), Karnataka, India.
 

[The views expressed in this article are personal.]