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Security Implications of Climate Change for India

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  • April 16, 2008
    Only by Invitation
    1030 to 1300 hrs


    Climate change and its consequences are being increasingly viewed as the foremost problem of the 21st century. Climate change challenges at the national, regional and global level are hugely demanding and interconnected and have obvious implications in terms of human security. Significantly and depending on the nature of the changes and other relevant factors, climate change could also lead to interstate and/or intrastate conflicts. In order to assess the role of climate related factors, particularly in the context of our region, and to provide greater clarity about the potential sources of instability/conflict in the future, IDSA organised a national workshop on climate change in September 2008. As a preparatory exercise, a run up workshop was organised on April 16, 2008.

    Climate change has multidisciplinary dimensions and as noted by the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) in its Report of 2007, it can accentuate conditions of resource scarcity and environmental degradation. In turn these could create fissures in the international system. The resultant challenges are shortages of water, food grains, and loss of biodiversity, collapse of ecosystems and frequent disasters and migration. The climate change debate and negotiations have been marked by north-south divide. The industrialised developed countries tend to securitise climate change so as to apply pressure on developing countries to cap greenhouse gas emissions. The developing countries, on the other hand, want the issue to be addressed principally from an economic and social perspective under the UN General Assembly and not the Security Council. What should be India’s approach? Does climate change create security problems for India? Will it become a critical driver in our relations with the neighbouring countries? Will there be implications of climate change for internal security? The scope of the workshop was to understand the geopolitical dimensions of climate change and implications for India and was framed to deliberate on how to intensify research work in order to influence debates in international fora and thus to protect our own legitimate interests.

    The Speakers

    The Director General IDSA Shri N.S. Sisodia in his opening remarks alluded to the risks associated with climate change which was attributed to man-made greenhouse gases. Evidence such as the 2003 European heat wave and other extreme weather events combined with scientific projections point to a future where competition for scarce resources is likely to increase and could impact inter-state relations.

    Dr. Nitin Desai in a special address considered the workshop by IDSA as timely and appropriate. He regarded the climate change issues more serious than the oil crisis of 1973 and 1979 as physical impacts are more profound than oil shocks. Dealing with climate change may lead to reshaping of global politics and international relations. Forward proactive planning by all stakeholders was stressed upon by him. An important point that Dr Desai mentioned was that the developing countries need to strive for climate justice in a culture of compromise.

    The 1st session was chaired by Dr Nitin Desai. Shri Sujit Dutta, Senior Fellow IDSA structured his talk by first locating climate change issues as a security concern and then situating it in the larger body of security studies. He stressed that climate change challenges immediately raise national security concerns. He then traced the evolution of environmental security from the security studies perspective where resources, environmental stresses and state interests collide and shape the dynamics of international relations. He underlined the fact that long-term climate change studies assume significance both from the perspective of states relationship as well as the role of domestic pressure groups in shaping climate change policies. Wg. Cdr. Ajey Lele, Research Fellow IDSA spoke on climate projections, tactical and strategic ecological intelligence and the need to identify climatic hot spots. Professor Ashish Bose spoke on migrants and its growing impact on internal and external security. He highlighted the complexities and intricacies of data analysis and the need for focused and systematic studies. The selective ‘sons of soil’ slogan by some state (Maharashtra) was an emerging challenge as also immigration from Nepal and Bangladesh. The last presentation by Dr. P. Dasgupta on Economics and Climate Change focused on the imperatives for adapting climate change concerns vis-à-vis food, water and energy. She emphasised the inherent struggle between the developed and developing countries and the need to factor changes in production and consumption patterns. The three most important factors affecting relations with India’s neighbours and the rest of the world would be trade and trade related barriers, migration and the “common concerns” of sharing available food, water and energy resources.

    The second session on the specifics was chaired by Shri BG Verghese. Professor Abhijit Sen spoke about food security and emphasised the need to have appropriate food and water stocks. Dr. Uttam Sinha, Research Fellow IDSA, situated the issues of water in the security framework and showed how cooperation overrides confrontation. He stressed the value of securitizing an issue in terms of proportioning adequate attention and preventive response but also the need to desecuritise the issue before it enters the ‘threat-defence’ logic. Ms. Shebonti Ray Dadwal , Research Fellow IDSA in her presentation on energy and climate change exposed the over hype of reports of World Energy Outlook 2007 by International Energy Agency, which put the blame on India and China for growing carbon emissions, ignoring historic emissions. She argued for equal per capita emission as the norm. Dr. Monalisa Joshi, Research Assistant IDSA, in her presentation on health and human security showed how disease(s) will spread due to climate change. The Chair then summed up the session pointing to the urgent need to have greater efficiency in water use and innovative thinking applying scientific approaches. Cooperation, understanding of geography, technology and thinking and acting holistically, according to the Chair, were the keys to overcome the challenges of climate change.

    The last session on implications and next step was chaired by Dr. Arvind Gupta, Lal Bahadur Shastri Chair at IDSA. Prof. Murari Lal gave a presentation on Monsoons and the decline in winter rains and 5 to 10 per cent increase in summer monsoons with uneven and more intense spreads. He also cautioned that one should not be carried away by hype perpetuated by vested interests of scientific community such as tipping point events in monsoons. Much work needs to be done on modelling in our context. Dr. A.P. Dhimri in his presentation on climate variability over western Himalayas in the winter alluded to the increase in extreme weather events in shorter time frames than in the past. He explained the complexities in study of snow, linkages of temperature and precipitation and land surface data. Commander Sunil Chauhan in his presentation on climate change and disasters emphasised that IPCC reports are insufficient and what is needed is regional models in an integrated risk management framework.

    There were purposeful discussions in all the Sessions. No clear consensus emerged on what issues needed to be securitized or whether securitizing the issue was the right approach. It was realised that one needs to understand the process and not blindly link issues to only climate change. For instance, flooding is a primary process and climate change is a secondary one impacting on floods. However there was consensus that the following tasks were necessary: Studies to refine negotiation strategies need to consolidate studies on climate change (national action plan as being attempted by Government of India is one that is awaited), migrants, water resources related studies and most importantly resources and environmental stresses related issues. It was also felt that the human security dimensions of climate change should also be examined.

    Next Steps

    Dr Arvind Gupta while summing up the workshop said that there was a need to clearly establish the link between climate change and national security. Climate change has the effect of accentuating existing conflicts, as witnessed in Darfur. South Asian countries were linked with each other through glaciers, rivers, monsoons, land and in numerous other ways. The disappearance of the Himalayan glaciers will have huge impact on South Asia. Climate change and its impact could also become an issue in India’s bilateral relations with the neighbouring countries. Therefore, it was necessary to understand how our neighbours viewed climate change and its impact. Securitisation of climate change was happening whether one liked it or not. He also emphasised the need to review regional studies and make models with the existing knowledge for the use of policy makers. As regards the negotiation stands, IDSA needed to interact closely with the policy-making circles and offer its assistance in studying key issues of climate change and its impact on international relations.


    Dr Nitin Desai
    Prof Ashish Bose, Institute of Economic Growth
    Shri BG Verghese, Centre for Policy Research
    Prof Abhijit Sen, Member Planning Commission
    Dr. Purnamita Dasgupta, Institute of Economic Growth
    Dr Murari Lal, Advisor at Reliance Energy Ltd
    Dr. Alok Dhimri, JNU
    Cdr. Sunil Chauhan, USI

    IDSA Team

    Shri Narendra Sisodia
    Dr Arvind Gupta
    Shri Sujit Dutta
    Col. PK Gautam
    Wg. Cdr. Ajey Lele
    Ms Shebonti Ray Dadwal
    Dr Uttam Sinha
    Dr Monalisa Joshi
    Priyadarshini Singh

    Besides, representatives from the following organisations attended the workshop:

    The Energy Research Institute (TERI)
    Army HQ Ecological Cell
    Directorate of Perspective Planning, Ministry of Defence
    HQ IDS Net Assessment
    India Meteorology Department
    National Security Council Secretariat (NSCS)