Environment ministers from South Asian Association for Regional Cooperation or SAARC have adopted a three-year action plan for regional co-operation to combat climate change. Their meeting in Dhaka comes amid growing concerns about the potential threats of climate change in the region. It also comes at a time when India has released a climate action plan and announced to focus more on renewable energy.
Recent studies suggest Himalayan glaciers are melting because of global warming
"Developing energy efficient India" is the new slogan of the Indian government. Unveiling the National Action Plan on Climate Change earlier this week, Prime Minister Manmohan Singh reiterated that tackling global warming was one of India’s top priorities. Under the plan, the government has set eight missions, including emphasis on solar energy and energy efficiency. The aim is to gradually shift the focus from fossil fuels to renewable energy. Mario D’Souza, a climate change researcher at the Centre for Science and Environment in New Delhi, welcomes the plan:”Both internationally and even with in country having a national plan on climate change is important. It’s a step in the right direction.”
The international environmental group Greenpeace has welcomed the announcement only cautiously, saying it is a good “vision statement” but short on details. Vinuta Gopal is from Greenpeace in New Delhi: “The big highlight for us is the solar potential that India is recognising and it is being very ambitious on this as well", she says -- but criticizes: "We are completely silent on our energy saving targets. And fixing targets would be critical for India to actually go down a low carbon pathway.”
Fourth largest emitter
India currently accounts for around four percent of global greenhouse emissions. Though its annual per capita emissions are far lower compared with developed countries, its overall emissions make it the world's fourth largest contributor of greenhouse gases. Like China and other developing countries, India is reluctant to set targets on reducing green house gas emissions. It argues that capping emissions would affect its economic growth. Mario D’Souza from the Centre for Science and Environment finds the argument valid: “The primary concern for the country is sustainable development and reducing poverty, and in that process, we definitely need energy. Within the UN, it has been spelt out that countries like India need to grow.”
Industrialized countries have been arguing that countries such as China and India should contribute more to prevent climate change, and are expected to put more pressure on them when the topic is discussed at the G8 summit next week. But Greenpeace’s Gopal says: “India and China are both placing on record their intentions to develop along a sustainable and low carbon pathway. So I think now it’s really the developed countries that have to set targets. I don’t think India and China can continue to be the excuse for them for not making a commitment.”
South Asian joint action plan
Meanwhile South Asian countries have sped up their efforts to tackle the problem at the regional level as well. The environment ministers of the South Asian Association for Regional Cooperation or SAARC have agreed upon a three-year action plan to counter the challenge jointly. This includes sharing information and expertise to mitigate carbon emissions as well as sharing clean technology.
Experts warn the region and especially its low-lying areas are among the most vulnerable to the effects of global warming and could be at risk of melting glaciers, extreme droughts, frequent cyclones and floods.