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Could Bangladesh and Pakistan Make Waves by Cooperating on Climate Change?

  • Kashoon Leeza
  • Nov, 2020
  • 227
  • South Asia Cooperation

Cooperation around climate change could also pave way for normalization of relations between both countries

In a rare instance of backchannel diplomacy between the two countries, Bangladesh and Pakistan have indicated a desire to advance cultural and economic ties. Previously, the two countries have been at odds with each other following the 1971 war. With the recent interaction initiating prospective reconciliation, fight against climate change could lend itself as a ground for building mutual trust and an impetus to resolve difficulties in the relationship.

However novel the idea may seem, history lauds the precedents that exist. While France and Germany shared a history of bitter ties, what brought the two adversaries on the same side of table was the threat of a common enemy, the Soviet Union. Similarly, in the case of Bangladesh and Pakistan the common enemy is climate change, given both are among top 10 vulnerable countries to climate change according to Global Climate Risk Index 2020. Even more relatable is the Sino-Japanese environmental cooperation that helped China and Japan reconcile their historic animosity.

Leaders on both sides have prioritized climate change response, evident from commitment to the cause even in 2018 election manifestos of the ruling parties in both countries. Redressal of the Pakistan-Bangladesh relationship promises two-way benefits, environmental and strategic. Mindful of the gravity of climate-change induced threats, a collaborative framework could not only help mitigate environmental threats but also address securitized regional issues.

In South Asia, a host of researches on the heels of climate-prone events rationalize that the issue of climate change has moved past from being an environmental concern to being a non-traditional national security threat. Climate change induced impacts, shared by Pakistan and Bangladesh, are coming to the forefront as underlying socioeconomic vulnerabilities.

Among the various repercussion of climate change, both countries are most frequently exposed to flooding and subsequent displacement. While heavy monsoon caused floods in most areas of Pakistan this year, Karachi was worst hit by record-breaking monsoon floods, turning streets into rivers, and displacing millions of people. Against the backdrop of Cyclone Amphan wreaking havoc across Bangladesh in May 2020, the government of Bangladesh had to evacuate more than 2.4 million people to shelters in otherwise safer districts.

As a threat-multiplier, climate change triggers a chain of events: floods lead to migration, migration leads to unemployment which, in turn, leads to poverty, radicalization and internal social conflicts. For example, studies suggest that economically devastated displaced citizens are being recruited by the militant organizations in Bangladesh.

Equally impactful is the water insecurity, and concomitant economic destabilisation. Christopher Mitchell’s “scarcity model” contends that unequal distribution of scarce resources inspires conflicts. Similar is the case of water-stressed South Asia where decreasing water-availability would exacerbate tensions between Pakistan, India, Bangladesh, and China. Moreover, while agricultural sector makes major contributions to gross domestic product of Bangladesh and Pakistan, not only did floods destroy standing crops this year but agricultural production is expected to reduce in the coming years. Warning increased frequency of the floods in coming years, World Water Development Report 2020 predicted that floods would cost South Asian countries $215 billion each year by 2030. As the climate emergency looms, joint working framework on climate change between Bangladesh and Pakistan would mitigate the threat and work as a confidence building measure to heal the contentious past relationship.

The shared goal of climate resilience makes data sharing and exchange of climate-conscious policies pertinent between government of Bangladesh and Pakistan. Candid knowledge sharing on water levels, storage capacity, early warning mechanism remains sine qua non for climate cooperation. Also, national policies aimed at countering climate change could be exchanged. For example, Islamabad could follow something similar to Bangladesh’s national climate change trust funds for proper management and dispersal of climate financing.

That said, while both Bangladesh and Pakistan suffer from financial constraints to tackle climate change, they can best address the structural inequalities vis-à-vis climate change through joint action. A recent study reiterated that the poorest ten percent in the world have contributed less than five percent of global environment damage. In similar vein, Prime Minister Imran Khan, while addressing the 75th United Nations General Assembly, stated that de...

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