April 9, 2007Foreign AffairsSecurity

Climate changes foreign policy

Some new items have entered the agenda

This is an archived blog post from The Acorn.

As the media coverage surrounding the IPCCs second summary report suggests, the effects of climate change will be global, but not all countries will be equally affected. India will face water shortages, increased outbreaks of infectious diseases, loss of agricultural lands and health risks from heat waves. Like every other country, India will have to develop comprehensive policies both prevent and prepare for the hotter future. [See this article]

There are, in addition, implications for foreign policy. Over the next few decades, according to the scientific consensus articulated in the IPCC reports, global warming will cause the Himalayan glaciers to melt and sea-levels around the Indian Ocean to rise. The first will cause a flooding of the Himalayan rivers—the Indus, the Ganges and the Brahmaputra among them—as the glaciers melt, followed by their drying up and becoming seasonal rivers (once the glaciers disappear). The second might wipe out the Maldives from the map, and submerge large parts of Bangladesh under water.

For the last several years, there has been a degree of apprehension over China’s behaviour with respect to a bursting lake on the Pareechu. There are likely to be more such issues in future. China being the upper riparian is likely to have a lesser incentive to communicate and coordinate the river system management with India. How much states will co-operate on addressing climate change will depend to a large extent on its preventability. But the existence of a decades-old border dispute, the political question of Tibet and the generally secretive nature of the Chinese government will make cooperation much more complicated. And Pakistan—being the lower riparian in the Indus river system—could begin to cite climate change as an additional factor in its routine objections to hydro-electric/irrigation projects in Jammu & Kashmir.

The last time millions of Bangladeshi refugees began pouring into the country, India went to war. Even modest projections put the number of Bangladeshis displaced due to rising sea levels in the range of 17-20 million. A large number of them are likely to head for the higher ground in India. The impact of the migration will be dire not just in the North East, but in several Indian cities, throwing them into turmoil. It’s an alarming scenario, but unfortunately, among the most likely. It is also one that calls for India to lead an international effort to literally change the landscape in Bangladesh.

There are no signs to indicate that the planning horizon of India’s foreign policy establishment stretches to more than a few years ahead. The good work of R K Pachauri and his committee should galvanise them into action.



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