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Wednesday 6 June 2018

Saving South Asia: How the Negative Effects of Climate Change in South Asia Will Create Some of the Greatest Security Challenges of the Twenty-First Century

Mwahaki King
Spring 2015
B.A. Diplomacy and World Affairs || Occidental College
M.A. Law and Diplomacy ||  The Fletcher School, Tufts University 

Saving South Asia: How the Negative Effects of Climate Change in South Asia Will Create Some of the Greatest Security Challenges of the Twenty-First Century


This paper proceeds from the assumption that addressing the effects of climate change in South Asia will be one of the greatest but also one of the most important challenges of the twenty first century. According to Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC), temperatures are predicted to rise worldwide by 0.6 to 4 degrees Celsius by the end of the 21st Century. Specifically for South Asia, the temperature is expected to rise on average by 3.3 degrees (Celsius) but could reach a maximum of 4.7 degrees (Celsius).Temperature rises on the Tibetan Plateau have already started glacial retreats in the Himalayas. Furthermore, these increased temperatures will have a profound effect on sea levels. Sea levels are expected to rise between 0.18 and 0.59 meters, and that is without taking into account the possible rapid changes from ice flows. The IPCC predicts that the cities of Thatta and Badin in Sindh, Pakistan will be entirely submerged by 2025. Today, sea level rises have already submerged low-lying islands in the UNESCO World Heritage Site, The Sundarbans in Bengal. The Sundarbans is one of the largest mangrove forests in the world, covering approximately 10,000 square kilometers and thousands of people have already been displaced due to increased sea levels. This information provides the statistical foundation for the progression of this paper. 
Security Implications
Focusing primarily on India and Bangladesh, it is evident that climate change will have a powerful impact on national and international security and the overall future of South Asia. The major security threats will be the high levels of forced migration due to increased temperatures and rising sea levels; and elevated levels of wide-scale poverty due to the loss of agricultural livelihoods. A large influx of climate refugees will place a huge burden on economic resources and increase social tension. Moreover, the massive unemployment will lead to a disillusioned, disenfranchised population. Such populations are historically more susceptible to violent activity. 
 According to the IPCC if global temperatures rise by even 2 degrees Celsius, 7 million people will be displaced due to the submersion of parts of Mumbai and Chennai. Furthermore, according to The Indira Gandhi Institute of Development Research, if the IPCC predictions are actualized, India’s GDP would fall by 9 percent due to climate related reasons. This is due in large part to unpredictable seasons for major crops particularly rice, whose production is predicted to fall by 40 percent. Climate change in India will have a disproportionate impact on the more than 400 million people living in poverty in there, as most of them depend on natural resources for their food, shelter and income. More than 56 percent of people in India work in agriculture, while many others earn their living in coastal areas.
Adding to the economic and societal strains placed on India, will be the effects climate change will have on neighboring Bangladesh. India's North Eastern state of Meghalaya will be severely impacted by an influx of refugees coming into the state as increased sea levels swallow the low lying areas of Bangladesh. Due to the high levels of rainfall, Meghalaya once was home to the two wettest places in the world, Cherrapunji and Mawsynram. However, in recent years climate change has led to a sparse and sporadic rainfall pattern and severe dry seasons, damaging the livelihoods of villagers in the area that cultivate maize. As such, the state can ill-afford refugees from Bangladesh.
Bangladesh however, has been one of the first countries to feel the full brunt of climate change. The Asian Disaster Preparedness Center recently reported that Bangladesh “is already under pressure from increasing demands for food and the parallel problems of depletion of agricultural land and water resources from overuse and contamination. Climate variability and projected global climate change makes the issue particularly urgent.” [1]
Bangladesh only contributes 0.1 percent of the world’s emissions related to pollution with 2.4 percent of the world’s population. In contrast, the United States makes up approximately 5 percent of the world's population, yet produces approximately 25 percent of the pollution that causes global warming.[2] Roughly two-thirds of the Bangladeshi population is employed in the agriculture sector and similarly to India, rice is the most important crop. As climate change threats increase, Bangladesh will lose large amounts of land along its coast line, decimating the industry. Apart from the economic instability, this loss of land will also be highly destructive nationally and internationally due to the loss of livelihood and forced migration, respectively. 
Ultimately, climate change will lead to instability due to massive economic and social strains, thus creating considerable national and international security challenges. The Asian Disaster Preparedness Center has made two interesting suggestions to address the climate related threats to national and international security, namely:
  • A high-level climate workshop for vulnerable cities, through which they can learn resilience measures from one another.
  • A dialogue on migration
Historically, mankind has a precedent of ignoring the dangerous implications of climate on national and international stability to our detriment. As Geoffrey Parker asserts when discussing “The Little Ice Age” in seventeenth century Europe: 
The failure of most historians to exploit the data available…for the seventeenth century is particularly regrettable, because an intense episode of global cooling coincided with an unparalleled spate of revolutions and state breakdowns around the world… Europe saw only three years of complete peace during the entire seventeenth century, while the Ottoman empire enjoyed only ten. The Chinese and Mughal empires fought wars almost continuously. Throughout the northern hemisphere, war became the norm for resolving both domestic and international problems. [3]
It is clear that climate change can lead to political, economic and social upheaval. Hopefully, our current generation has learned from these mistakes and will realize that cooperation is vital to mitigating the negative effects of climate change worldwide. Thus, if the high level climate workshop was expanded beyond the partners currently being discussed (New York, Dhaka and Mumbai) to include other vulnerable cities in Europe such as London and Amsterdam and Small Island Developing States in the Caribbean, the dialogue would be much more effective and the states would be far more equipped, due to cooperation and comparative analysis. Similarly, the dialogue on migration could be a potent force if it focuses on positive immigration reform, rather than the stricter deportation laws currently being discussed. More stringent deportation laws will only increase suffering and resentment, whereas proactive integration measures could harness the skills of refugee population and increase national economic stability. 

1. Climate Change, Migration and Conflict in South Asia: Rising Tensions and Policy Options Across the Subcontinent: 

2. Bangladesh." MERIC. 18 Oct 2008. 18 Oct. 2008. cty5380.stm 

3.Parker, Geoffrey. Global crisis: war, climate change and catastrophe in the seventeenth century. Yale University Press, 2013. Prologue xvii