Climate change in South Asia is rapidly deteriorating. It is already having significant impacts on the lives and livelihoods of people, which are expected to intensify further as global temperatures rise. Due to extreme weather events in the world’s most populous (a billion and a half people) and one of the poorest subregions, we have become susceptible to food insecurity, displacement, and diseases. Climate-change-induced downpours, droughts, and soaring temperatures have become increasingly common across the eight countries of South Asia, making it one of the world’s most vulnerable regions to the impacts of global warming.
It has been researched and found that the ice from glaciers in the Himalayas is melting “at least 10 times higher than the average rate over past centuries”. It is a result of human-induced climate change.
The Himalayas cover countries such as Pakistan, Nepal, and India who are at exponential risks as the Himalayas have lost 40 percent of their ice over the last 400 to 700 years. By 2100, it is predicted that the Himalayan glaciers will lose up to 75% of their ice. This situation will intensify water scarcity, resulting in low crop yields and adding to the continuing hunger crisis in the region, climate experts remark.
At the same time, the increased intensity of heatwaves in South Asia is causing severe dehydration and has been linked to illnesses, including cardiovascular, respiratory diseases and urinary tract infection. Unfortunately, South Asia lacks quality healthcare facilities and with the rising extreme weather event, human health will be drastically affected, especially in the rural regions where most people live.
Experts opine that in countries like Bangladesh and India, there are two realities existing simultaneously - in certain cities, there are well-established healthcare facilities while in the rural, underdeveloped areas, these facilities are severely lacking. There is a stark gap in these areas in terms of qualified healthcare professionals as well as in doctor to patient ratio. According to WHO, the current doctor-patient ratio in Bangladesh is only 5.26 to 10,000, which places the country in the second position from the bottom, among the South Asian countries. Humans in South Asia are therefore at the verge of existential crisis if this trend continues.
Climate change is also alarmingly driving displacement in this region. A report published by ActionAid in 2020 estimated the region could see up to 63 million climate-induced migrants by 2050 because of extreme weather events. Such displacement put the entire population at risk, adding to more inequalities in the society with regards to access to rights and services. Women and children are particularly at higher risks as they vulnerable to food insecurity, gender-based violence, lack of access to education, etc.
To build a resilient South Asia we need urgent collective actions - actions that are durable and comprehensive to meet the regional needs – led by the regional leaders.
The 2023 Regional Climate Summit therefore needs to shed light on the growing crisis and create a space for discussion to minimise climate change risk and vulnerabilities, boost climate resilience, and encourage regionally driven climate action.
We must remember sustainable development is threatened by climate change. There is no safe place on earth anymore. Every region is at-risk and facing multiple climate-induced disasters. The stakes are particularly higher for developing nations at the global south, such as Bangladesh, where we are already struggling to bear the economic and social loss of climate-induced disasters.
We need to identify root causes of the climate crisis and take actionable measures to prevent them to expand and continue any further. Latest report from ActionAid shows fossil fuel is contributing to over 75% of global greenhouse gas emissions and is the key driver of world's climate change, followed by industrial agriculture. The United Nations estimates that fossil fuel is responsible for nearly 90% of global carbon dioxide emissions.
Yet giant global banks and financial institutions are fuelling the crisis by continuing to invest in fossil fuel and industrial agriculture projects around the globe. Our report shows, fossil fuel and industrial agriculture industries in the Global South are receiving an annual average of 20 times more financing from banks than governments are receiving for climate solutions. Since the adoption of Paris Agreement on Climate Change in 2016, banks have put $3.2 trillion towards the expansion of fossil fuels, first major cause of climate change and $370 billion in industrial agriculture, second major cause of climate change.
In South Asia, the governments are increasingly prioritising investments in renewable energy, but without corrective measures from the global north our actions would be futile. To protect the planet, and to save ourselves, we need to stop fossil fuel investments and support transition to renewables from all ends. We need to move away from industrial agriculture and invest in climate-resilient sustainable agriculture. It’s not an option, it’s now a do or die situation.
I believe this summit by bringing together leaders of South Asian countries will create an effective platform for strategizing specific recommendations for future energy policy and regional collaboration. This effort can ensure access to affordable, reliable, and safe energy services for the people of South Asia.
I also look forward to fostering regional collaboration with support from policymakers, influencers, and civil society organizations in addressing the UN Binding Treaty on Business and Human Rights, with a specific focus on addressing the rights of migrant workers. Their rights are often ignored, despite their instrumental roles in the economy. This cannot continue, we need to act together and invest in their wellbeing and safeguarding their rights.
Let's heal the planet by working together to make this world a better place for all living beings and for the future generations.