Misplaced attentionThe 4th Bay of Bengal Initiative for Multi-Sectoral Technical and Economic Cooperation (BIMSTEC) summit concluded last week with member states approving an 18-point Kathmandu Declaration.
The 4th Bay of Bengal Initiative for Multi-Sectoral Technical and Economic Cooperation (BIMSTEC) summit concluded last week with member states approving an 18-point Kathmandu Declaration. In the two-day summit, the seven heads of state and government reaffirmed their strong commitment to making BIMSTEC a “dynamic, effective and result-oriented regional organisation for promoting a peaceful, prosperous and sustainable Bay of Bengal Region” through “meaningful cooperation and deeper integration.” The bulk of the focus was on enhancing connectivity, improving trade, and upscaling efforts to counter terrorism.
Climate change, an especially pressing concern for all member nations, received only scant attention. While concern was expressed, it seemed more the member states were simply paying lip-service and had yet to realise the gravity of the situation.
Be it rising global temperatures, changing precipitation patterns, climbing sea levels, increased incidence of natural disasters, refugee flows, or simply the ability to respond to climate change—none of the member countries are immune to the impacts of climate change. And yet, excessive focus on traditional security threats marginalised this grave issue. The heads of state and the government need to realise that nontraditional security threats like climate change will ultimately be as intimidating as traditional security threats, like terrorism and war and conflict.
This is not to say that contemporary security challenges such as terrorism and transnational crime do not plague member states. They do, and they rightly need to be addressed, but the disproportionate attention given to them at the expense of other issues, which should perhaps be dealt with as urgently, seems imprudent. The recent floods in Nepal, India, several parts of Sri Lanka, Bangladesh, Thailand, cyclones in Myanmar, and the increased severity and frequency of windstorms in Bhutan, along with the loss of crops due to unusual outbreaks of pests and diseases—all have the propensity of becoming an increasing common reality for member states. Should institutions and governments be unable to manage the stress or absorb the shocks of a changing climate, the risks to the stability of states and societies will intensify. Climate change thus is the ultimate ‘threat multiplier’, in that it will aggravate already fragile situations and potentially contribute to further social tensions and upheaval.
The BIMSTEC summit was a splendid opportunity for the member states to address environment security concerns in the region. United by a common risk, the summit could have deliberated on approaches to build resilience, improve resource management, develop social capital and early warning mechanisms, ways to provide training and improve responses to disaster management and ecosystem restoration. By charting out new territories for partnership, the regional grouping could have presented itself as an organisation that is championing climate security. A peaceful, prosperous and sustainable Bay of Bengal as the organisation envisages, will be difficult to realise without taking into account the realities of a changing climate.