Climate Change and Security in South Asia
VOL. 04, NO. 14, Jan 07 2011 (Poush 23, 2067)
Dev Raj Dahal, Head, FES Nepal Office
The science of climate change is well covered by scientists in their publications. Climate change research focuses more on the physical effects such as protecting the Earth’s atmosphere from a hazardous rise in temperature. Climate change has become one of the causes of droughts, floods, rise of sea level causing coastal tragedies, melting of ice, fresh water shortage, shifting climate zone, ozone depletion, loss of rain forests, biodiversity, etc. The post-Cartesian paradigm rooted in life science reveals the security implications of climate change. Industrial civilization is melting the Earth’s third largest pool of glaciers of Himalayas and Tibetan plateau that nourished South Asian civilization. The drying of headwater due to changed land use combined with climate change is also eroding the land’s capacity to support life and livelihood and risks inducing migration of people with the potential to flash local and trans-border conflicts. Warming temperature and atmospheric pollution by carbon dioxide build up, are making the monsoon rains unpredictable and affecting agriculture and health. Climate change imposes economic effects on human security and social peace.
South Asians are living in a society of increasing population and decreasing natural resources. Continuous efforts by people to satisfy their development needs are damaging pastures, forests and source of water on which they depend for their sustainable livelihoods. Vulnerable regions require high level of resource investment in adaptation measures. Excessive consumption of fossil energy, deforestation and desertification are alarming us giving us consciousness of our relations with the vital forces of nature and different orders of life—plants, insects, birds and animals linked to each other within the life’s cosmic web. It is defining an option for our common future. The recent Climate Change Summit at Cancun has left the negotiation for balancing development needs with meeting the target of emission control unresolved. How can a symbiosis of politics, economy and ecology contribute the security of our freedom, food and habitat? Can the environmental cost of production such as pollution, carbon emission and depletion of ecosystem be included in our development policy so that a quest for human security does not undermine the natural basis of our existence? Does comprehensive security become a response for South Asia?
Beyond State-Centric Security
Environmental security has become a main proposition at international conferences mobilizing resistance for ethically informed policies. The mountain regions of the Himalayas, whose environmental system and resources are very important for the densely populated Gangetic plain, are vulnerable in ecological terms. The region’s average temperature has increased by 1.2 degree Celsius and could get warmer with 2 degree Celsius by 2030. The overall monsoon rainfall indicates a decrease and low aggregation of snow in the Himalayas. This environmental change has brought four critical challenges to conventionally defined state-centric security: First, the effects of climate change transcend domestic and foreign policy boundaries of nation-states. Now security studies require planetary awareness and its linkages with various life-world and non-life sub-systems. Second, realpolitik approach to national security planning is insufficient. Our survival requires a judicious balance between the awareness of human freedom and nature’s level of tolerance to it.
This means mutual cooperation and surveillance among the affected nation-states and people can stem its negative spill-over effects unleashed by the corruption of free human will. Third, risk of mutual vulnerability to climate change requires mutual security through collective action. Finally, governance of climate change—both policy formulation and implementation—entails regional and international framework beefed up by the states, non-state and transnational actors and their mutual accountability. Since environmental challenges do not care human made borders what requires for its solution is ‘comprehensive security.’ This needs the establishment of related institutions to provide early warning and monitor the international climate regime governed by environmental treaties and impose graduated sanctions for violating its standards mutually agreed upon by leaders. Future conflicts go beyond state-centric security limits if we refuse to acknowledge our systemic ties with the society, environment and future generations.
Development based on ‘rational choice’ discounts both the social costs for society and the ecological costs for our common Earth. Garrett Hardin argues, “Freedom in a common brings ruin to all.” In such a context, weaker sections of society have to bear more risks because they possess limited means. A development which does not recognize the limits to natural resource exploitation and is not amply ‘system-sensitive’ brings insecurity to all. Environmental degradation and poverty are closely tied to an intricate system of cause and effect. Without certain amount of democratic equity to all people, poverty fuels the source of insecurity and imposes challenges to the political order, stability and peace. Neither environmental challenges can be addressed by military means nor can it be resolved in isolation from the rest of development policies—local, national and international unless a balance is struck between carrying capacity of the Earth and farsighted self-control of human beings.
Human beings themselves are mostly responsible for this climate change. Burning of too much fossil fuel—coal, oil and gas—and destroying forest cover are among main the causes. Maldives is already constructing a seawall in its most populous island to protect it from coastal tragedy. Probably, India, Pakistan, Sri Lanka and Bangladesh have to follow suit for the protection of coastal zones. Deforestation of Nepalese mountains, for example, causes flood havoc each year in Tarai, India and Bangladesh. Earlier this year, floods in Pakistan, Tarai and Gangetic plains killed many, wounded others and devastated fertile lands. The sovereignty of state did not offer security to people engaged in agriculture, industry and trade. When environmental security is transnational in nature national separateness cannot alone become a rational solution. Coordination of national, regional and international policies is essential to respond to climate change.
The security in a wider sense requires reviewing a wide range of consequences of climate change for human livelihoods, insecurity of monsoon predictions affecting agricultural, hydropower, disease pattern and subjective insecurity in facing the future with confidence. The implications of climate change have also direct and indirect effects on violent armed conflict of different kinds such as human displacements, migration, interstate war, civil war, non-state group conflict and political instability. Nepal already experiences the effects of climate change in areas like loss of Himalayan glaciers, shortage of water supply, danger of glacial lake burst of the sort of Chho Rolpa, extreme weather events, fragile ecosystem, urban pollution, deforestation, over digging of mountains and rocks for sand and stones in Churia hills causing soil erosion, etc. They are eroding natural shield affecting production and food supply. The emission of greenhouse gases from Nepal is small. It also has considerable opportunities to attract foreign investment in Clean Development Mechanism project including hydropower development to meet domestic needs of energy and irrigation and demand of power in northern India. A cooperative approach to development assures mutual security. An entirely rational approach to South Asian security is somewhat outdated as global climate change requires global policy response.
Urgency to Act
Sustainable development path is one way to shift from the consumption of fossil fuels (coal, old and gas) to alternative source of energy (solar, water, wind and biomass). South Asian leaders have to upgrade the policy making and institutional capacity to address climate change by marking a transition to a low-carbon economy and to scale up interregional cooperation in hydropower, river management, flood data monitoring, etc and strive to do no harm to nature.
Our knowledge of our planet has now been expanded but we have yet to appreciate the cosmological wisdom of our ancestors who venerated water, earth, air and fire whose proper management is important for human survival and the survival of all living species. Our common interest in survival offers impetus for collective goals of protecting the nature. A paradigm shift is needed for resource-intensive production to knowledge-intensive production and use of natural resources—materials, renewable energy, water and land for a just and sustainable development. Communication about the effects of climate change to the public and policy makers and their reciprocal feedback can contribute to prevent unwanted effects and formulate preventive, adaptive and pro-active security measures. The architecture of human community is not artificial creation; it is built on the ethical foundation of social life intrinsically linked to nature.
Reactionaries Working Against Changes
By BARSHAMAN PUN ANANTA
It is a very crucial time in the history of Nepal. The country may see the peace process crumble and a new round of conflict begin. This conflict will be more chaotic than the past one. We need to avoid such a situation because it will benefit no major political force but give an ample room to regressive, reactionary and external forces to manipulate it in their favor. The mandate of People’s Movement II is also to write the new inclusive constitution by accommodating aspirations of all the people of Nepal. UCPN-Maoist is committed to it.
As the situation is gradually worsening, regressive and feudalistic forces are trying to come back by discrediting the on-going political process. From the very beginning, reactionaries and feudalistic elements, with backing from foreign powers, have been taking steps to destroy the changes. Now, they are getting upper hands and waiting for the right time to fish in the troubled waters. UCPN-Maoist has been making every effort to avoid a new confrontation. Given the conspiracy of external foreign powers and feudalistic and reactionary forces, one cannot rule out any kind of situation. So far as UCPN-Maoist is concerned, it is committed to peace process and new constitution.
Despite UCPN-Maoist’s insistence to extend the tenure of UNMIN till the completion of the peace process, the caretaker government, led by prime minister Madhav Kumar Nepal, sent a letter to UN Security Council to terminate its tenure. This government has no mandate to take such an important decision. Our party has already submitted its views to UN Security Council, seeking to continue UN presence in Nepal, to monitor arms and ammunitions. The modality proposed by the government for monitoring by the Joint Committee is not acceptable to us. Even if UNMIN leaves, there must be some sort of UN presence to monitor the arms.
I don’t think anyone can fill the vacuum left by UNMIN. UCPN-Maoist is committed to peace process and our party wants to see the new constitution for a federal, democratic Nepal through existing Constituent Assembly by April 2011. If UNMIN pulls out from the country without viable alternative to monitor the arms, it will create a more complicated situation. This is the reason our party has already sent a letter to UN seeking some sorts of presence of UN in case the extension of UNMIN is impossible. Our party hopes that UN Security Council will consider our request.
One of the important aspects of the Comprehensive Peace Agreement is the integration of Maoist People’s Army and Democratization of Nepal Army. We are yet to achieve them. This is the reason our party proposed for the continuation of UNMIN in Nepal. Another important aspect is writing the new constitution for Federal, Democratic and Republic Nepal. The tenure of Constituent Assembly is short but we can write the constitution if an all-party government is formed under our leadership. As the largest party, it is natural for us to claim the leadership in the new government. However, internal and external forces are hatching conspiracies against the formation of our government. Such forces have played a role not to extend the tenure of UNMIN.
As there is a growing difference among major political forces, regressive and reactionary forces have become active to destroy the peace process and achievements made by us in the last four years. It is very unfortunate that the external force is trying to sabotage the peace process. The caretaker government led by Madhav Kumar Nepal is working to destroy the peace process. Prime minister Nepal’s activities are directed towards it. One can see growing numbers of articles against the very foundation of peace process including federalism, republicanism and secularism in Nepal. Even some forces are openly challenging them. This is because of disputes among the forces of change.
UCPN-Maoist is very flexible to find a political solution. We have proposed several models but Nepali Congress and CPN-UML have not given any positive indications. As the largest party, we want to stress once again that UCPN-Maoist should be given prime ministership to lead the next all party government. Once the issue of the next government is settled, the constitution writing process will also take motion. I am confident that the new constitution will be drafted by May 2011 once political parties agree on the formation of the government. It is a wishful thinking to see the new government without our participation. No one can write the new constitution sidelining us since we are the largest party in the parliament. Even the civil society members, academicians and intellectuals have been suggesting that UCPN-Maoist should be given to lead the government.
People’s Army is not a threat to democratic process. Thanks to their presence, we have been able to exercise Loktnatra. Their sacrifice and contribution to abolish monarchy and writing the new constitution must be acknowledged. People’s Army should be integrated giving them respect not through humiliation. They have shown caution and passion for more than three years living in cantonment under UNMIN’s supervision. Once the writing of the new constitution is completed, the integration process will complete too.
(As Told to New Spotlight)