19 October 2021

Climate security in South Asia: Why it matters for India

Climate-related security risks pose grave challenges to peace and stability in South Asia. The intensified effects of climate change have serious human and regional security implications for India. It is therefore imperative for India to rethink its existing perspectives on climate security that are unhelpfully hinged on the United Nations Security Council (UNSC) debates. India has been persistently critical of discussing security implications of climate change in the UNSC. Instead, it needs to integrate these security concerns into its foreign policy and diplomacy towards the region’s countries, both bilaterally and through regional organizations. Multilaterally, India could use its growing stature in the international climate order to incorporate its longstanding views on climate action, particularly concerning climate justice, within the climate security agenda. 

This policy brief emphasises the need for the Indian foreign policy establishment to recognize the transnational nature of climate security and build capacities to deal with the issue (regionally and multilaterally). Though New Delhi has taken enormous strides in clean-energy based climate action, they have often tiptoed around the subject of addressing climate security concerns. Bearing this in mind, the policy brief arrived at many recommendations advancing India’s stance on climate security multilaterally and in charting-out action paths to address climate-related security risks.

To begin with, India must reconsider its position on the climate security discourse and climate-security pathways within the UNSC and the wider UN architecture, especially with climate-related security risks becoming increasingly visible in South Asia. Moreover, being an immense contributor to the UN, India could use UN peacekeeping missions as an entry point for the integration of climate security in its foreign policy.  Peacekeeping forces could provide support to highly climate-vulnerable communities to help them cope in fragile areas wherein climate-related impacts such as climate-induced migration, food insecurity, extreme weathers events and health hazards are on the rise.  

To address climate-related security risks in climate-vulnerable communities, New Delhi must focus on grassroots climate action movements and local measures that could potentially build peace between communities across political boundaries.

India must also focus on strengthening regional cooperation through existing or potentially new mechanisms, including sub-regional ones to address climate change impacts. For example, cooperation initiatives such as South Asia Disaster Knowledge Network (SADKN), Humanitarian Assistance and Disaster Relief (HADR) – through SAARC, BIMSTEC and Indian Ocean Naval Symposium (IONS) could be regional avenues to address climate-related security risks. Regional organizations and bilateral/plurilateral arrangements should invest in joint knowledge production to promote a systemic understanding of climate-related security risks. Furthermore, India must deepen its climate engagement with neighbouring countries by providing developmental assistance in accordance with climate change requirements. These infrastructural projects must be climate-proofed and meet local sensitivities. Within this action-step, India could build platforms to assist preventive diplomacy to avoid conflicts over resource sharing or other environmental concerns with its neighbouring countries.

In terms of more opportunities for cooperation with neighbouring countries, transboundary river water sharing cooperation could foster sustainable joint river basin management that takes into account the effects of climate change. Sub-regional arrangements such as BBIN Initiative (Bangladesh, Bhutan, India, and Nepal) can devise and implement initiatives in this direction. Globally, India’s burgeoning climate diplomacy engagement with the most vulnerable countries, not only in the South Asian region, but also in other regions such as Africa, South Pacific, etc. can be scaled up further to bolster India’s commitment to global climate governance as a means of achieving international peace and security.

Read full policy brief here

Photo credit: UNMISS/Flickr