By Prateek Joshi
Graduate Student in International Relations from South Asian University, New Delhi
South Asian politics, whose dominant narrative is Indo-Pak relations, witnessed a unique idea of possibility of cooperation among the SAARC States. It was a retired senior Pakistani Army officer speaking in New Delhi on the crucial role governments and even militaries could play to address the challenges presented by Climate Change.
On 8th of March, 2016, The South Asian University (a SAARC nations’ project), New Delhi, organized a lecture “Climate Change and Security Implications: A Global Perspective" by Lieutenant General Tariq Waseem Ghazi, the former defence secretary to the Government of Pakistan.
Dr. Medha Bisht (Assistant Professor in the International Relations department at the University), who is also an expert on Water issues and Climate Change chaired the lecture. She commenced the program by introducing Gen. Ghazi and began by highlighting the need for understanding Climate Change as a link between the geophysical and geopolitical developments. She emphasized on the potential of Climate Change being a force which would reframe the core issues driving the international diplomacy. Further, Dr. Bisht stated that the threats emerging out of Climate Change would gradually blur the boundaries between the high and low politics. With these words, she invited Gen. Ghazi to present his views before the faculty and students.
Climate Change and Sceurity
The main focus of Gen. Ghazi’s discussion was implications on security arising from Climate Change. He recalled a significant climatic event in the year 2009, when the Gulf Stream current of Atlantic Ocean suddenly turned powerful and hotter than the previous years. Following its natural course, when it mixed with the Arctic, it resulted in higher precipitation. The Polar vortex picked up this precipitation, digressed from its natural course and fell on areas of Himalayas which caused disastrous floods in Pakistan in 2010. Droughts in Sub-Saharan and Northern Africa were a direct consequence of this climatic anomaly which resulted in non-availability of food in this region. These developments added to the political crisis, which was hitherto in a nascent stage. Precisely at this juncture, an event took place in Tunisia, that is, the self-immolation of a street vendor, which started a series of protests across the Middle East and North African region, to which the world refers to as the Arab Spring. The events it triggered are still being witnessed in the form of political turmoil, proxy wars and widespread migrations. Contributing to this crisis, Gen. Ghazi referred to Climate Change as a ‘threat multiplier’ or ‘an accelerant of instability’, which have added to the existing global turmoil.
After this brief introduction, he discussed the international initiatives on Climate Change along with the statistical details of the alarming levels the global pollution and carbon emissions had reached. The temperature increases in last one and a half century were shown. Gen. Ghazi also pointed out that the years 2014 and 2015 were recorded as the warmest years in the United States of America. Moreover, the mean sea level rose 4 cm in last 10 years. He stated that this was not only an environmental crisis, but also a security crisis in making. The crisis had not even spared the South Asian waters as the mean sea level in the Arabian Sea also registered a notable rise. The growing emissions also reduced the Global carbon budget, which means that if the emissions continue unabated, it will have disastrous consequences on humankind.
Also, he recalled the 2001 World Disasters Report by the Red Cross, which estimated 25 million environmental refugees. In light of these facts, he was of a view that Climate change doesn’t have borders and it was high time that states in South Asia work out a coordinated approach towards tackling the menace of Climate Change. Marking the establishment of Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change and the UNFCCC as a positive trend in the global fight against Climate Change, he highlighted the constructive role played by the numerous Climate Change negotiations(most importantly the Kyoto Protocol), lauding the deliberations of the recent Paris Climate Summit of the UNFCCC.
Implications for South Asia
Coming to South Asia, it was identified as vulnerable and listed amongst most crisis ridden region characterized by rampant poverty, weak state institutions and military conflicts. Gen. Ghazi stated that more than 750 million people were affected by at least one type of disaster in South Asia, with India having large share of the affected. In Pakistan’s hilly areas, snowline receded one kilometre over the last 25 years. Bursting of glaciers, landslides and avalanches are on the rise and about 2500 glacial lakes have been created due to the impact of Global Warming. The conflict zone of Siachen glacier has lost two Kilometres of its length and since conflict began, 17% of its ice mass has reduced.
Global Military Advisory Council on Climate Change (GMACCC)
In response to the growing threats to global security and peace posed by Climate Change, the Global Military Advisory Council on Climate Change was created in 2009, of which Gen. Ghazi is a member. The GMACCC is global network of serving and retired military officers from India, Pakistan, Bangladesh, USA and a other countries dedicated to the cause of mitigating the effects of Climate Change. The group reaches out to governments and military institutions worldwide to inculcate an awareness regarding Climate Change. The GMACCC has opened a new arena by linking the implications of Climate Change for defence institutions as the military forces too are directly affected by Climate Change. For instance, the rise in mean sea levels will directly threaten the naval bases. Also, he explained how the military too was involved in emissions as military trucks, fighter jets and helicopter sorties result in massive fuel consumption and emissions.
Climate Change and Shifting Borders:
Gen. Ghazi took the discussion to the issue of South Asian borders, one of the most sensitive issues dominating the South Asian politics. Stating the example of the Sir Creek border issue between India and Pakistan, he told that how, shifting of river courses due to Climate Change would make the border demarcations based on rivers irrelevant. He suggested some strategies which the governments across the world would require while charting out their action plans to deal with this issue, like flexible response in terms of planning to meet security needs, planning for displacement, anticipating climate risk, adjustments in security analysis and scenarios in case of lack of resources.
The Need for Regional Approach
In South Asia, India looks at Climate Change not from a regional framework but from an international framework and therefore prefers to deal with this issue through the United Nations platform. Concluding his discussion, Gen. Ghazi called for a regional approach among the South Asian states, if the issue Climate Change had to be tackled with seriousness. It was high time that a regional framework was developed by the South Asian states on disaster preparedness.
Ending the discussion, the Chair Dr. Bisht added a few more crucial points on how these actions would be streamlined, the role of epistemic communities and the military as key stakeholders in working towards making the world a better place to live in. Lastly and most importantly, she mentioned how these initiatives could give space to re-imagine South Asia.
The gloomy future which Climate Change has for the humankind is no secret anymore. With carbon emissions and mean sea levels rising at an unabated and accelerating pace, not only the international community but the military institutions worldwide need to unite for this noble cause. Climate Change is an existential issue and the survival of the entire humanity rests on how closely these institutions cooperate with each other. The initiative by GMACCC comes at the right time and can herald a new approach towards bringing the civilian and military institutions worldwide together to work in harmony with a unified strategy as the survival of our future generations rests on the effectiveness of the efforts made today. Naturally, this means that the day will come when even arch-rivals like India and Pakistan have to join hands in their efforts to tackle this existential crisis.
About The Author:
Prateek Joshi, (TR RID: D-6383-2016), Pursuing post graduate studies in International Relations from South Asian University, New Delhi. His research areas include India's Foreign Policy, Pakistani politics, Himalayan Geopolitics and Central Asian affairs.
This article was originally published at Swaraj Magazine on March 11, 2016. It has been republished on IndraStra.com with author's permission.