The Heads of State or Government of the Member States of SAARC, at successive Summits since 1987, have reiterated the need to strengthen and intensify regional cooperation to preserve, protect and manage the diverse and fragile eco-systems of the region including the need to address the challenges posed by climate change and natural disasters. The Leaders noted that the development process and prospects of the Member States were being severely undermined by these challenges.
The preservation and protection of the environment including disaster risk reduction and management remains a high priority on the agenda of cooperation being pursued by the Member States of SAARC. The numerous directives issued by successive SAARC Summits and meetings of the SAARC Environment Ministers provide continued impetus for strengthening and intensifying regional cooperation in the areas of environment, climate change and natural disasters.
The meetings of the SAARC Environment Ministers and the Technical Committee on Environment and Forestry also provide key mechanisms to guide and facilitate the agenda of cooperation.
Regional Centers have also been established and constitute an important framework of SAARC Institutions, which address diverse aspects of environment, climate change and natural disasters. These are: (i) SAARC Coastal Zone Management Center (SCZMC) established in 2004 to promote cooperation in planning, management and sustainable development of coastal zones, including research, training and awareness; (ii) SAARC Forestry Center (SFC)in 2007 for the protection, conservation and prudent use of forest resources by adopting sustainable forest management practices through research, education and coordination among Member States; (iii) SAARC Disaster Management Centre(SDMC) in October 2006 to provide policy advice and facilitate capacity building including strategic learning, research, training, system development, expertise promotion and exchange of information for effective disaster risk reduction and management – the mandate of the Centre was expanded to include the development of a Natural Disaster Rapid Response Mechanism ( Fifteenth SAARC Summit, Colombo, 2-3 August 2008); and (iv) SAARC Meteorological Research Centrein 1995 to carry out research on weather prediction and better understanding of monsoon.
Meetings of the SAARC Environment Ministers
SAARC Environment Ministers have met periodically to take stock of progress and to further enhance regional cooperation in the area of environment, climate change and natural disasters. Since 1992, SAARC Environment Ministers have met nine times.
In addition, a Special Session of the Environment Ministers in the aftermath of the Indian Ocean Tsunami was held in Malé in July 2005 and a SAARC Ministerial Meeting on Climate Change was held in Dhaka in July 2008.
Technical Committee Meetings
A Technical Committee on Environment was established in 1992 to examine the recommendations of the Regional Study, to identify measures for immediate action and to decide on modalities for implementation.
The Technical Committee on Environment was also mandated to monitor the progress made in the implementation of the recommendations of the two Regional Studies. The mandate of the Committee was expanded to include meteorology and forestry. However, under the restructured Regional Integrated Programme of Action (RIPA) approved by the Twenty-ninth Session of the Standing Committee (Islamabad, 31 December 2003 – 1 January 2004), Meteorology was merged with the Technical Committee on Science and Technology.
The sectoral mandate of the Technical Committee comprises of environment, climate change,forestry and natural disasters. In addition to the Terms of Reference outlined under Article VI of the SAARC Charter, the Technical Committee follows-up on the implementation of decisions taken by SAARC Charter Bodies (Summit, Council of Ministers, Standing Committee) and the SAARC Environment Ministers.
The Committee also coordinates and monitors the implementation of the 1997 SAARC Environment Action Plan; and SAARC Action Plan on Climate Change (July 2008).
Since 2004, the Technical Committee on Environment and Forestry has met five times.
The Third SAARC Summit (Kathmandu, 2-4 November 1987) commissioned a Regional Study on the “Consequences of Natural Disasters and the Protection and Preservation of the Environment”. The Study was completed in 1991.
The Fourth SAARC Summit (Islamabad, 29-31 December 1988) directed that a joint study on the “Greenhouse Effect and its Impact on the Region” be undertaken. This study was initiated to provide a basis for an action plan for meaningful cooperation among Member States. The study was completed in 1992.
The above two studies provided a comprehensive assessment of the state of the environment in the Member States of SAARC.
SAARC Environment Action Plan (1997)
The “SAARC Environment Action Plan” was adopted by the Third Meeting of the SAARC Environment Ministers (Male, 15-16 October 1997) and identified some of the key concerns of Member States and set out the parameters and modalities for regional cooperation.
Since its adoption in 1997, a number of measures outlined in the SAARC Environment Action Plan have been implemented by the Regional Centres.
Disaster Management in South Asia: A Comprehensive Regional Framework for Action 2006-2015
Pursuant to the Malé Declaration, a “Comprehensive Framework on Disaster Management 2006-2015” was adopted in 2006 to address the specific needs of disaster risk reduction and management in South Asia. The Framework is aligned with the Hyogo Framework of Action (2005-2015). Member States are in the process of preparing their respective National Plans of Action for implementation of the Regional Framework and thereafter, an Expert Group Meeting will harmonize the national reports and articulate a Regional Plan of Action.
Dhaka Declaration and SAARC Action Plan on Climate Change (2008)
The Fourteenth SAARC Summit (New Delhi, 3-4 April 2007) expressed "deep concern" over the global climate change and called for pursuing a climate resilient development in South Asia. During the Twenty-ninth session of the SAARC Council of Ministers (New Delhi, 7-8 December 2007), the Council felt that given the vulnerabilities, inadequate means and limited capacities, there was a need to ensure rapid social and economic development to make SAARC climate change resilient. Pursuant to this decision, a Ministerial Meeting on Climate Change was held in Dhaka on 3 July 2008 preceded by an Expert Group Meeting on Climate Change on 1-2 July 2008. The Ministerial Meeting adopted the “Dhaka Declaration and SAARC Action Plan on Climate Change”.
The Dhaka Declaration requires Member States to undertake activities to promote advocacy programs and mass awareness on climate change; cooperation in capacity building including the development of CDM projects and DNA and on incentives for removal of GHG by sinks, and exchange of information of best practices, sharing of the results of research and development for mitigating the effects of climate change and undertaking adaptation measures, and for enhancing south-south cooperation on technology development and transfer, as per established SAARC norms; and to initiate and implement programmes and measures as per SAARC practice for adaptation for dealing with the onslaught of climate change to protect the lives and livelihood of the people. It also calls upon the Annex-I countries to fulfill their commitments as per the UNFCCC for providing additional resources.
The SAARC Action Plan on Climate Change (2009-2011) identifies seven thematic areas of cooperation covering adaptation; mitigation; technology transfer; finance and investment; education and awareness; management of impacts and risks; and capacity building for international negotiations. The Action Plan lists the areas of capacity building for CDM projects; exchange of information on disaster preparedness and extreme events; exchange of meteorological data; capacity building and exchange of information on climate change impacts (e.g. sea level rise, glacial melting, biodiversity and forestry); and mutual consultation in international negotiation process as the Priority Action Plan.
Delhi Statement on Cooperation in Environment (2009)
The Eighth Meeting of the SAARC Environment Ministers (New Delhi, October 2009) adopted the “Delhi Statement on Cooperation in Environment” which identifies many critical areas that need to be addressed and reaffirms the commitment of Member States towards enhancing regional cooperation in the area of environment and climate change.
Thimphu Statement on Climate Change (2010)
Climate Change was the theme of the Sixteenth Summit (Thimphu, 28-29 April 2010) and, among others, adopted the “Thimphu Statement on Climate Change”, which outlines a number of important initiatives at the national and regional levels to strengthen and intensity regional cooperation to address the adverse effects of climate change in a focused manner. The Inter-governmental Expert Group on Climate Change (IGEG.CC), established by the Thimphu Statement, is required to monitor, review progress and make recommendations to facilitate the implementation of the Thimphu Statement. The IGEG.CC reports to the SAARC Environment Ministers.
SAARC Convention on Cooperation on Environment (2010)
The “SAARC Convention on Cooperation on Environment” was signed during the Sixteenth Summit. The Convention has been ratified by all Member States and entered into force with effect from 23 October 2013.The Convention identifies 19 areasfor cooperation in the field of environment and sustainable development through exchange of best practices and knowledge, capacity building and transfer of eco-friendly technology in a wide range of areas related to the environment. The implementation of the Convention has been entrusted to a Governing Council, comprising of the Environment Ministers of Member States.
SAARC Agreement on Rapid Response to Natural Disasters (2011)
The “SAARC Agreement on Rapid Response to Natural Disasters” was signed at the Seventeenth Summit (Maldives, 10-11 November 2011) and will come into force once all Member States completes the ratification process, which has been completed by five countries till date (November 2014). The setting up and operationalization of the SAARC Natural Disaster Rapid Response Mechanism as provided for under the Agreement would institutionalize regional cooperation among Member States in the critical area of response in the aftermath of natural disasters in the region.
Collaboration with Inter-governmental Organizations
SAARC is collaborating with many regional and international organizations, and has signed Memorandum of Understanding (MOU) with the South Asia Cooperative Environment Programme (SACEP) in July 2004; United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP) in June 2007; the United Nations International Strategy on Disaster Reduction (UNISDR) in September 2008 and Asia Disaster Preparedness Centre (ADPC). The MOUs are renewed as may be required. These agencies extend technical and financial support in implementing SAARC programmes.
SAARC is an accredited Observer of the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC) since COP 16 (Cancun, Mexico, 29 November-10 December 2010) and has presented common SAARC positions on climate change.