Cooperation for ecological protectionThe Shanghai Cooperation Organisation nations will feed almost half of the world’s population if they are food secure.
A group of nations—China, Russia, Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, Tajikistan, and Uzbekistan—established the Shanghai Cooperation Organisation (SCO) in 2001. India and Pakistan were added in 2017, and Iran in 2022. There are currently three observer states: Afghanistan, Belarus, and Mongolia. Three of the nine dialogue partners are Nepal, Bangladesh and Sri Lanka. With the later expansions, the SCO has grown stronger, but it has also lost some of its original strategic ambitions. That is, out of the eight South Asian Association for Regional Cooperation (SAARC) members, six are involved with SCO: two as members, one as observer, and three as dialogue partners. This means that South Asia has great expectations from the SCO—especially from China—the strongest economy among the SCO members.
From the Arctic Ocean to the Indian Ocean, SCO covers the climate-vulnerable geography of Central and South Asia. This area is home to nearly half of the world's population. Aware of rapid industrialisation and deterioration of the ecological environment caused by climate changes, SCO proposed its environmental protection development model in 2021. In principle, this model guarantees ecological protection and allows countries to develop economically.
The SCO Green Belt Outline Plan aims to make a practical contribution to the realisation of harmonious coexistence between man and nature. The 20th meeting of the Council of Prime Ministers of the SCO member states held in 2021 approved the Action Plan for the implementation of the concept of SCO cooperation in the field of environmental protection for the period of 2022-2024.
The fields of cooperation include environmental protection, ecological security, minimisation of climate change hazards, protection and utilisation of biological diversity and timely exchange of experience and information. SCO members consider the lack of safe drinking water sources and insufficient basic sanitation services as serious problems. They emphasise active dialogue with international institutions on issues related to attracting investment and financing, implementing environmental protection cooperation plans, introducing new green technologies and increasing the proportion of the green economy. However, they are adamant that the climate agenda should not be used to restrict trade and investment cooperation. Such policies are understandable given that the levels of economic development of the SCO countries are below those of Europe and the United States.
The Nepal-China Tibet border is one of the areas most affected by climate change. Glacial lake outburst floods (GLOF) in rivers in the Tibet region directly impact Nepal. On July 5, 2016, the Gongbatongshacuo Glacier Lake in Tibet erupted, and a large amount of glacial water flowed down to the Bhotekoshi river. The flood swept across the border into Nepal, washing away the Bhotekoshi hydroelectric power station and flooding the China-Nepal highway. Neither Chinese nor Nepalese authorities promptly informed border residents of the impending danger. Thankfully, there were no casualties; however, there was damage of around $70 million. The International Centre for Integrated Mountain Development (ICIMOD) is currently working with partners in China and Nepal to clarify technical details about where the greatest risks of transboundary glacial lake outbursts exist in the Koshi River Basin and how to address these issues through an early warning system.
Considering that Nepal's hydropower production has already met domestic needs, China's support must focus on replacing petroleum use in industry, transportation and agriculture with electricity. In addition, batteries used in electric vehicles and other equipment are imported, causing a trade deficit for Nepal. It is hoped that China will provide Nepal with technology and facilities for battery production and environment-friendly disposal.
Globally, mankind is facing air, water and food insecurity. Pakistan, India, Nepal, Bangladesh and China are facing disasters such as earthquakes, droughts, floods and landslides. More than 30 million people in Pakistan have been affected by floods during this year's rainy season alone, and nearly 1,400 people have died. Tibet is a major source of water for South Asia. China's cooperation is a must for Nepal's water security. Russia, China and India, which belong to the SCO, are big producers of food. These four countries have a great responsibility for food security. The SCO nations will feed almost half of the world’s population if they are food secure. It is hoped that these major agricultural countries will cooperate closely with other SCO countries and adopt a policy of mutual openness.
With regard to climate change, because the economic development started relatively late, the SCO countries also started to take climate measures relatively late. In addition, due to the differences in development level and resource allocation among SCO countries, they should place different requirements on different countries. There is no disagreement among the SCO countries on environmental protection, sustainable development, and rational use of resources. But for weak countries facing economic hardships, environmental protection measures should not limit their economic construction. Nepal and Pakistan, which are largely non-industrialised, played fewer roles in ecological deterioration, but they are the countries most affected by ecological destruction. From long-term and humanitarian perspectives, the SCO should shoulder the difficulties of weak economies.
Respecting and protecting traditional occupations, production modes, and nature's way of life are the fundamental conditions for sustainable development. Material civilisation, modern life, and economic construction should be built on the background of cultural traditions. If a more advanced and powerful country uses its advanced technology and economic strength to seek a market in a weak country and compete to replace the local people's source of life, it will damage the local economy and ecological environment.
What is needed in today's world full of conflicting interests is mutual support, non-interference and peaceful coexistence. Political boundaries should respect natural boundaries and not interfere with the free movement of animals, water, material, and humans. These will help in regional sustainable development. Here, SCO can play a leading role in promoting mutual trust among member states and strengthening eco-friendly economic development.
Much has been talked about green development and shared ecological responsibility; what we need now is sincere implementation. As long as all countries in the world—especially developed countries—realise the commonality of the earth, fulfil their responsibility for environmental protection, and demonstrate their enthusiasm for sustainable development with actions, ecological protection and a community with a shared future for mankind can be achieved.