Challenges to climate action and resource use effi ciency in South Asia

Jul 2016 | No Comment

This study tries to understand the impacts of climate change and its effects on the available resources

Dr Rishiraj Dutta

Asian Disaster Preparedness Center, Bangkok, Thailand

The South Asian region is highly sensitive to the consequences of climate change1. It is known to be the most disaster prone region in the world supporting a huge population of more than 1.3 billion (UNEP 2003). This is critical as climate predictions for the future highlight increase in frequency and intensity of extreme weather events like droughts and floods (IPCC 2001); indicative of the huge population that is likely to be exposed and affected in the region. Tendencies of increase in intense rainfall with the potential for heavy rainfall events spread over few days are likely to impact water recharge rates and soil moisture conditions. Rapid depletion of water resource is also a cause for concern in many countries within the region. In South Asia alone, 2.5 billion people will be affected with water stress and scarcity by the year 2050 (Human Development Report, 2006). While estimating these numbers, however, changes in climatic conditions have not been considered. This paper presents the prevailing challenges to climate action in South Asia and its impact on the available resources. The study was based on an extensive review of available documents and reports as well as through collection of survey data from the individual countries.

Review of the Challenges Faced by Countries in South Asia with Regards to Climate Action


Afghanistan is a landlocked, mountainous, and dry country which has an arid and semi-dry continental climate with cold winters and hot summers. The climate substantially varies from one region to another due to varying topography. The country as a whole can be considered within the desert or desert steppe climate classification. It seems that the key to longterm economic development of the country may lie in natural resources and many other known mineral deposits (estimated more than USD 3 trillion) which are still untapped due to political and economic instability. Similarly, sustainable surface water (estimated 2775 cubic meters per capita), mineral resources, and well positioned geographical location for trade and business make an attractive opportunity and potential for economic development in the future. However, a number of political and economic issues poses serious challenges. Thus, country has not yet developed its own economic and social system in order to transfer traditional economy to a sustainable growing, environment-friendly and resource-efficient industrial economy.

2 Afghanistan presents a number of specific challenges in terms of climate change assessment. Climate projections for Afghanistan require significant refinement due to the lack of availability of reliable historic meteorological records. Complex topography in Afghanistan also means that local variations in response to global warming, particularly precipitation, are likely to be large and many areas may vary from the regional trends. In addition, sporadic and poor quality socio-economic data make econometric modelling or robust cost/benefit analysis of adaptation and mitigation policy nearly impossible. Poor national security also restricts the ability to undertake structured fieldwork to assess potential mitigation and adaptation options. Despite the absence of good long term climatic records, available data and trends from neighbouring countries indicate that mean annual temperature has increased by 0.6°C since 1960, at an average rate of around 0.13°C per decade. Increases have been most pronounced during the autumn with increases at an average rate of 0.29°C per decade and a significant increase in the number of exceptionally hot days and nights. The country also faces increased climatic hazards. Among them the most adverse impact is from drought associated with the dynamics of desertification and land degradation. The worsening climatic conditions in Afghanistan will continue to impact socio-economic development, creating stresses for vulnerable groups. Agriculture and water resources management are likely to be severely impacted by changes in climate. Apart from the security concerns which are highly prevalent in Afghanistan, the poor infrastructure, lack of skills and capital, the poor institutional system and the weak intention of involved parties made the situation even worse in terms of actions towards climate change as well as developing reliable natural and man-made disaster management system.


Bangladesh is in need of urgent climate action. In terms of climate vulnerability, the country ranks as number one in the world (World Bank, 2005). It is particularly susceptible to climate induced disasters. They not only cause immediate collateral damage but have potential to harm long term health and livelihood prospects for the world’s most densely populated country. Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) in 2007 forecasted that a mere 1 meter rise in sea level will inundate 20 percent of its landmass and thus much of the coastal regions and its agricultural systems will be lost. If business as usual continues, then by the year 2050, Bangladesh’s rice and wheat productivity will decline by 8 percent and 32 percent respectively.

Carbon dioxide (CO2) is the primary greenhouse gas that contributes to climate change. Bangladesh like other developing countries is becoming increasingly industrialized and modernized. Therefore, it is not a surprise that its CO2 emissions are on an upward trend. It is observed that CO2 emissions have more than doubled from 2000 to 2010 (Figure 2).

Bangladesh is also experiencing rise in another major greenhouse gas, nitrous oxide. According to the World Development Indicators of World Bank, total nitrous oxide emissions in 2000 was 19614.2 kilo tons. A decade later, emissions rose to 26159.6 kilo tons.

Climate change has an impact on culture, tradition and overall livelihood throughout the country. River bank erosion, floods, droughts, etc. are accountable for the suffering of farmers and fishermen and their migration. As an agricultural country, impact on farmers and their production has a great impact on the country’s economy. Food security under a changing climate has become a great challenge for Bangladesh. The food production is decreasing which maybe to some extent related to the changing climate.


Environment is an important issue in the development of the Bhutanese nation as it is one of the four pillars of Gross National Happiness (GNH) philosophy of development. The country has pursued a cautious policy in this direction and has deliberately made conscious decisions not to sacrifice its environment on the altar of revenue or GDP. The country has made a voluntary international commitment to remain carbon neutral for all times to come and the constitution mandates that the country should maintain 60 percent forest coverage for all time. The present forest coverage is more than what the constitution prescribes (70 percent) and the protected area is 51.32 percent.

4 Bhutan falls within the IPCC’s South Asia sub-continental region which stretches to latitude 50°N. Averaged temperature and precipitation changes were observed using datasets of 21 global models. For the A1B scenario3, the models show a median increase of 3.3°C by 2100, with increases in daily minimum and maximum temperatures. The largest warming will take place at higher altitudes, for example over the Himalayas, as surface albedo will decrease with the melting of snow and ice. A 5 percent decrease in precipitation is also projected in the dry season, and an 11 percent increase for the rest of the year. The current evidences of climate change in Bhutan are primarily extreme weather events, but impacts from incremental changes are likely to be evident in the coming decades. The impacts of climate change depend primarily on the people’s vulnerability, which is determined by factors including poverty, remoteness, governance, capacity and awareness, natural resources management and other factors that pose challenges to achieving national development targets5. Currently climate-related impacts are observed on the glaciers and attention is on the risk of glacial lake outburst floods (GLOF). Future climate change will have potential impacts on development and livelihoods in Bhutan. The impacts of climate change are likely to be mainly felt in the agriculture, hydropower, infrastructure (including roads and urban services), and health sectors.

In the eleventh Five Year Plan which started in July 2013, the main objective is based on “Self-reliance and Inclusive Green Socio-Economic Development” with a focus to mainstream gender, environment, climate change, disaster risk management and poverty both for the central level agencies and local governments. Hence there is a deliberate move to integrate these cross cutting issues in the overall planning and development.


Almost 80 percent of Maldives population are within 300m from the shore, living on an island that is hardly 1.5m above mean sea level making them extremely vulnerable to storm surges and flooding. Most of the basic facilities like houses, agricultural land, hospitals, power plants, schools and buildings are located very close to the shore as only 10 out of the 187 inhabited islands are bigger than 2.5km2.

National Policies are available to address climate related action, resource efficiency and raw materials. Several policies are not implemented effectively due to lack of expertise and resources. Some initiatives are already in place to protect the communities. Planting trees and protecting the trees along the shoreline of many Maldives islands has helped reduce erosion. It also protects the island from storm surges. Mining of sand from the beaches and lagoons surrounding the islands is prohibited as sand mining aggravates erosion. Government has designated sites for sand mining. Coral mining is banned throughout the country. Imported aggregates are used for construction. Mangroves also helps protect communities from climate change impacts. Mangroves acts as sumps absorbing flood waters during storm surges and heavy rain. It is also rich in biological diversity and provides suitable environments for both marine and terrestrial organisms to breed. Campaigns by both government and private sector have helped create some awareness among public to protect critical ecosystems. Some mangroves have been designated as protected areas.

Maldives has signed 14 conventions related to environment which shows Maldives concern to climate actions and as a stimulus of these, in June 2012, at the UN Conference on Sustainable Development, RIO+20 meeting in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil, the President of Maldives announced the intention to declare the whole of Maldives as a UNESCO Biosphere Reserve. This announcement was inspired by the success achieved in designating Baa Atoll as the first UNESCO Biosphere Reserve in Maldives. Environmental threats area in Maldives have been identified in the Biosphere reserve implementation Plan 2013-2017 released in January 2013. Maldives has pledge to become carbon neutral by 2020 and declared carbon neutral aspirations such as, ensure 50 percent of electricity generated from renewable sources by 2015, targeting to achieve 50 percent reduction in GHG emissions in the energy sector compared to 2000 levels, reaching a saving of 7.5 percent of final energy consumption over 10 years until 2020.


Nepal is known as one of the climatically vulnerable countries in the world due to its fragility, climate sensitive ecosystem and socioeconomic circumstances. IPCC (2007) report states that climate change is already having discernable impacts, particularly in least developed countries like Nepal which are more vulnerable from the impacts because of their inability to cope with these climatic shocks. It is expected to have serious environmental, economic, and social impacts in South Asia in particular, where rural farmers whose livelihoods depend on the use of natural resources are likely to bear the brunt of its adverse impacts (ICIMOD 2009). The region is also confronted with issues like poverty, environmental degradation, depletion in natural resources, shrinking of water resources and desertification. Climatic variability in this fragile ecosystem and nature based livelihood system of the rural communities has further threatened the livelihood of the local people. Climate change may shave off as much as 2.2 percent from Nepal’s gross domestic product (GDP) per year by 2050, with chances of losses widening to a whopping 9.9 percent by 2100, if concrete mitigation and adaption measures are not taken, a latest Asian Development Bank report titled “Assessing the Cost of Climate Change and Adaption in South Asia” (ADB 2014) has indicated. Nepal’s total emission of CO2 was four megatons, a negligible proportion of the global total of 29,837 megatons, and its per capita emissions were about 0.1 tonnes, almost negligible compared to the global average of 4.5 tonnes (UNDP, 2013) (Nepal Millennium Development Goals Progress Report 2013). Nepal is an agro-based country and its biggest pie in GDP comes from agricultural production. However, it imports huge quantity of rice, wheat, vegetables, and fruits mainly, from India.

Nepal’s natural resources do not have any competition with neighbouring countries. Therefore, it needs to reduce excess exploitation of these to maintain the balance of the ecosystem. Nepal, along with over 150 other countries, signed the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC) at the United Nations Conference on Environment and Development (UNCED) in Rio de Janeiro in June 1992. With aid from different donor agencies and bilateral organizations, Nepal has successfully prepared a Climate Change Policy, National Adaptation Programme of Actions (NAPA), Local Adaptation Plan of Action (LAPA), and REDD Readiness Preparedness Proposal (REDD RPP). Apart from policy documents prepared and promulgated by the Climate Change Division of the Ministry of Environment, various allied departments and ministries have drafted and implemented policies, Acts, and regulations associated with climate change issues both mitigation and adaptation. The main goal of climate change policy is to improve livelihoods by mitigating and adapting to the adverse impacts of climate change, adopting a low-carbon emissions socio-economic development path and supporting and collaborating in the spirits of country’s commitments to national and international agreements. The policies seem to be people centric, participatory, inclusive, bottom-up planning and implementation. It has provision to allocate 80 percent of the total budget in the local level adaptation program and activities to address the poor and vulnerable communities. But existing mechanisms, intuitional arrangement, and capacity of the service provider have been found to be poor and questionable to achieve goals and objectives of climate change policy.


Geographically, Pakistan has varied landscape and environment like mountains with glaciers, forests, rivers and deserts. This makes the country a perfect candidate for all type of natural disasters like avalanche, floods, droughts, etc. Pakistan has been placed among the high-risk countries on the bases of Global Climate Index. It ranks 16th on the Climate Change Vulnerability Index (CCVI) by Maple Croft, jumping up 13 positions in one year. German watch also places Pakistan as the “most affected” country for 2010 and in top 10 for 1990-2010 by climatic changes. Climate change is costing the economy $14 billion a year, which is almost 5 percent of the GDP. According to the Asian Development Bank, more than 10 million people have been displaced in Pakistan over the last 2 years due to these climate related disasters. Environmental degradation costs the country at least 6 percent of GDP resulting in illnesses and premature mortality caused by air pollution, inadequate and unsatisfactory water supply, and lost livelihoods due to reduced agricultural productivity and direct contact with fertilizers and pesticides. These burdens are compounded by problems such as hazardous solid waste, the loss of forest cover and desertification, soil erosion and loss in soil fertility. Pakistan is placed at 80th position out of 122 nations based on drinking water. Pakistan, which is an already resource stressed country, has been crippled by the process of global warming, as the blatant floods and droughts continue to wreck the country’s economy. More than 10 million people have been displaced over the years, the agricultural land lies barren and financial losses have been estimated at $2 billion.

Pakistan has a number of agencies working at the federal and provincial levels (e.g. Pakistan Meteorological Department, Pakistan Environmental Protection Agencies, among others) to work towards understanding the current environmental status, through installing station at Quetta to monitor Ozone layer, geomagnetic variation and global atmospheric watch, which however require to be extended to other locations across the country to improve data collection.

No early warning system and evacuation mechanism exist for floods in Pakistan that results in the loss of lives and livelihoods. The authority can provide reliable information about the floods 2 or 3 hours before, which is not enough for evacuation. Population encroachment to flood plains is routinely observed, which requires remote monitoring systems like the radar technologies that require the government attention and financial support.

The government is committed to mitigate disasters related to climate change, through establishing Climate Change Cell at the provincial level to conduct research, improve service delivery and raise awareness against the climate change for early preparedness and emergency management. Other initiatives includes signing of the Kyoto Protocol with UN and being a signatory of UNFCCC. The federal government has established National Disaster Management Authority (NDMA) and the associated authorities and units at the provincial and district level, respectively, to formulate policies and ensure pre- and post-disaster management mechanisms. Pakistan contributes a tiny to total global greenhouse gas emissions (largely due to use of natural gas as a source of energy); the relative GHG contribution of energy is 51 percent, agriculture sector contribution is 39 percent, industrial process is 6 percent, land use and forestry is 3 percent and waste being 1 percent. The government has launched projects titled Tsunami Trees, which highlights the government efforts to create green society in order to increase Ozone layer to reduce GHG emission.

Sri Lanka

Being a developing island nation subject to tropical climate patterns, Sri Lanka is highly vulnerable to climate change impacts. Extreme weather events such as high intensity rainfall followed by flash floods and landslides, and extended dry periods resulting in water scarcity are now becoming common occurrences in Sri Lanka. Any adverse changes in already volatile weather patterns are likely to impact adversely on the socio-economic activities in the country. Therefore urgent action is necessary to take adaptive measures to build resilience of the country to face the adverse impacts of climate change. While taking adaptive measures as the priority, Sri Lanka is also trying to minimize the greenhouse gas emissions within the framework of sustainable development and principles enshrined in the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC) and its Kyoto Protocol (KP). Sri Lanka has to address these challenges considering the need for increasing investment for environment friendly infrastructure development, increased volatility to energy markets, problems related to food security, trade, commerce and industrial development together with the climate change challenges.

The increased intensity and frequency of natural disasters and its cost in terms of human, physical, financial and environmental losses have a significant impact on growth in Sri Lanka. If appropriate mitigation and adaptive strategies are not implemented, natural disasters and climate change can have considerable implications on poverty and inequality. The impacts of climate change also depend on a host of varying factors such as, segments of society; income groups; livelihood categories; and geographical regions, etc. Further, the impacts are becoming more significant for vulnerable groups, with increased intensity and frequency of disaster events as well as changes in rainfall pattern. Therefore, adopting an inclusive strategy for managing disasters is critical.


The study has revealed that there has been considerable impacts from climate change in South Asia. Although countries have been taking initiatives to overcome the impacts of climate change, a lot of work still remains to be done. The study has shown that policies have been in place but the institutional mechanisms needs to be further strengthened to effectively implement the existing policies. Efforts to tackle environmental threats have to be made both at the national and international levels while the use of available resources have to be managed in a way that it is efficiently and effectively utilized. The review further showed the concerns of the countries and the measures and initiatives that they have undertaken to minimize such risks.


The author of this paper would like to thank the Collaborative Action towards Societal Challenges through Awareness, Development and Education (CASCADE) Team (Prof. Dilanthi Amaratunga, Prof. Richard Haigh and Dr. Kanchana Ginige from the University of Huddersfield UK and Dr. Champika Liyanage from the University of Central Lancashire, UK) for their continuous support to ADPC in implementing the project and achieving the outcomes as mandated by the project. My thanks and gratitude also goes to our CASCADE project leader from ADPC Mr. N.M.S.I. Arambepola for his continuous support in achieving the outcomes on time. I am also highly grateful for all the institutions involved in the project namely Nangarhar University (Afghanistan); Patuakhali Science & Technology University (Bangladesh); Royal Institute of Management (Bhutan); Eco Care (Maldives); Institute of Engineering & Volunteers for Development (Nepal); University of Engineering and Technology, Peshawar & Local Councils Association of the Punjab (Pakistan); University of Moratuwa & Federation of Sri Lankan Local Government Authorities (Sri Lanka). Last but not the least, my sincere thanks to the European Commission for their funding support in implementing the project activities in South Asia.


1 South Asian Regional Study on Climate Change Impacts and Adaptation: Implications for Human Development

2 Socio-Economic Impacts of Climate Change in Afghanistan (DFID)

3 regions/Afghanistan

4 Strategizing Climate Change for Bhutan. National Environment Commission Royal Government of Bhutan January 2009

5 Source: Climate Change Screening of Danish Development Assistance with Bhutan, May 2008

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