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Akhila Naidu asked: What is the impact of climate change on India-Pakistan relations?

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  • Ashok Kumar Behuria replies: India and Pakistan do not have any bilateral mechanism to deal with climate change issues, although both have pledged to be part of the evolving global consensus on the need to address the issues associated with climate change. Both are signatories to the Paris Agreement of 2015, born out of the United Nations Climate Change Conference held in Paris between November-December 2015, which focussed on environmental changes and signified the commitments of the participating countries to find solutions for them.

    Both India and Pakistan, as primarily agrarian economies, do have a lot of stake in global efforts aimed at addressing climate change issues like increase in the level of greenhouse gases, erratic monsoon, extreme weather events like heat and cold waves, large storms, etc., including retreating glaciers in the Himalayas that supply meltwater to the river systems in both countries. In view of the long-term adverse impacts of such ecological changes on their economy and society, there is an argument that both countries should discuss these issues. In fact, the per capita water availability in India has come down drastically from about 5200 cubic metres in 1951 and is estimated to go down further to about 1465 cubic metres in 2025. The figures for Pakistan are much worse: it is less than 1000 cubic metres per person today as Pakistan is moving from water-stressed to water-scarce category.

    However, no bilateral conversation on these issues has fructified primarily because of Pakistan’s emphasis on Kashmir as the core issue, and its disinclination to discuss any other issue save this, in clear disregard of the pre-existing consensus to discuss all issues together in a composite dialogue format. On the contrary, paranoid arguments are being advanced through the media in Pakistan putting the blame on India unfairly.

    The only conversation the two countries are having today that has a bearing on and is related to climate change issues is the one on Indus Waters, as mandated in the Indus Waters Treaty on an annual basis. However, rather than utilising it as a corrective medium, which can act as a confidence booster or a confidence-building measure (CBM), this forum is reduced to an unwelcome platform due to the persisting atmosphere of distrust and hostility.  

    The emerging contours of the Sino-Pakistan nexus in the Subcontinent, as also China’s move to harness water flow in some of the rivers flowing into India and Pakistan is further complicating the water discourse in the region. The Indus Waters Treaty, nevertheless, provides for future cooperation (Article VII) based on mutual recognition of the fact that it is in the interest of both to work towards optimum development of the rivers, which means both should cooperate in areas related to the joint and sustainable management of river basins and ensure optimal use of scarce/limited water resources available to them. Other issues like disaster management, sharing of remote sensing data on climate conditions, study of glacial changes, etc. can also be undertaken by the two countries irrespective of differences on issues that divide them.

    Posted on December 24, 2020

    Views expressed are of the expert and do not necessarily reflect the views of the Manohar Parrikar IDSA or the Government of India