South Asia’s future in the balance due to climate change

South Asia’s future in the balance due to climate change

Activists mark the start of Climate Week in New York during a demonstration in New York City. (REUTERS)
Activists mark the start of Climate Week in New York during a demonstration in New York City. (REUTERS)
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Amid the multitude of challenges facing our world today, few are as urgent and formidable as the threat of climate change. And nowhere is this more evident than in South Asia — a region that, while teeming with diversity, culture and life, is one of the most vulnerable to the ravages of global warming. From the snow-capped peaks of the Himalayas to the sun-kissed shores of its coastal stretches, South Asia is grappling with a “new climate normal” that imperils not just its environment but the very fabric of its societies and economies.
The impacts of climate change in South Asia are distressingly varied, from downpours that unleash floods of an unprecedented magnitude to droughts that parch the earth and ruin livelihoods and soaring temperatures that scorch landscapes and strain resources. This region, comprising Afghanistan, Bangladesh, Bhutan, India, the Maldives, Nepal, Pakistan and Sri Lanka, has faced a cauldron of climate-related disasters, with more than 750 million people experiencing their devastating effects over the past two decades alone.
Amid this upheaval, it is the marginalized and impoverished who bear the brunt, with their already fragile existence further imperiled by nature. As temperatures climb and extreme weather events become more frequent, up to 800 million people in South Asia face the grim prospect of diminished living conditions, exacerbating the plight of those already ensnared in poverty’s grip. The social, economic and environmental toll of this crisis looms large, casting a shadow over the region’s future prosperity and stability.
A particularly dire consequence of climate change in South Asia is the rapid loss of snow cover in the Himalayas and the ensuing rise in sea levels, which poses an existential threat to the livelihoods of more than 200 million people in Bangladesh, Bhutan, the Maldives, Nepal and Sri Lanka.
This ecological imbalance not only jeopardizes the delicate ecosystems of these nations but also underscores the urgent need for concerted global action to avert catastrophe. In fact, the stakes could not be higher.
Without decisive measures to curb greenhouse gas emissions, South Asia faces a dystopian future marked by escalating temperatures and shrinking economies. Under a business-as-usual scenario, where global temperatures rise by a staggering 4.6 degrees Celsius, the collective gross domestic product of Bangladesh, Bhutan, India, the Maldives, Nepal and Sri Lanka could contract by as much as 8.8 percent by the turn of the century, perpetuating a cycle of poverty and deprivation.
Nevertheless, amid this grim prognosis lies a glimmer of hope — an opportunity and chance for redemption through proactive policy interventions and sustainable practices. First of all, strengthening disaster preparedness and response mechanisms is essential for mitigating the impact of extreme weather events in South Asia. Countries such as Bangladesh and India can benefit from early warning systems, resilient infrastructure, land-use planning and community-based adaptation measures to reduce vulnerability to floods, cyclones and heat waves.

It is the marginalized and impoverished who bear the brunt, with their already fragile existence further imperiled by nature.

Dr. Majid Rafizadeh

More importantly, engaging local communities, Indigenous peoples and marginalized groups in climate action planning and implementation processes is critical for ensuring that interventions are inclusive, equitable and sustainable. Bottom-up approaches to climate adaptation and mitigation in South Asia can enhance local resilience, build social cohesion and foster ownership of climate solutions at the grassroots level.
South Asia holds vast potential for renewable energy, including solar, wind and hydroelectric power. By investing in these sources, countries like India, Bangladesh and Nepal can reduce their dependence on fossil fuels, cut greenhouse gas emissions and enhance energy security, while creating jobs and boosting economic growth. By embracing clean technologies and renewable energy sources, South Asian nations can chart a course toward a greener, more resilient future. Investments in renewable energy infrastructure, coupled with stringent emissions regulations, can also mitigate the region’s carbon footprint.
Moreover, the imperative for adaptation cannot be overstated. As temperatures continue to rise, South Asia must invest in robust climate resilience measures to safeguard its communities and ecosystems. From enhancing early warning systems to promoting climate-smart agriculture and sustainable water management practices, there are a plethora of adaptation strategies that can bolster the region’s resilience to climate shocks.
In addition, improving energy efficiency across various sectors in South Asian countries, such as industries, buildings, transportation and appliances, can lead to significant reductions in energy consumption and the associated emissions. Implementing energy-efficient technologies, promoting conservation practices and enforcing stringent standards can help mitigate the impacts of climate change.
However, the road ahead is fraught with challenges, chief among them being the need for global solidarity and cooperation. Climate change knows no borders and its impact transcends geopolitical boundaries. Only through collective action and shared responsibility can we hope to avert the worst consequences of this existential threat. This is why South Asian nations must forge alliances with international partners, leveraging their collective strength to advocate for ambitious emissions reduction targets and to mobilize climate change financing to support adaptation efforts.
In conclusion, the fate of South Asia hangs in the balance, with it being caught between the twin specters of climate change and inaction. The time for complacency is long past; we stand at a crossroads, with the choices made today set to reverberate for generations to come. Let us seize this moment to stand as stewards of our planet, protect the rich tapestry of life that defines South Asia and ensure a sustainable future for all who call it home. The time to act is now and, by working together, we can secure a brighter tomorrow for generations to come in South Asia and beyond.

Dr. Majid Rafizadeh is a Harvard-educated Iranian American political scientist. X: @Dr_Rafizadeh



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