Since 1987, the Heads of State or Government of SAARC at successive Summits 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.
During the Third SAARC Summit (Kathmandu, 2-4 November 1987), a Regional Study on the Causes and Consequences of Natural Disasters and the Protection and Preservation of the Environment was commissioned by the Leaders. The Regional Study was completed in 1991.
The Fourth SAARC Summit (Islamabad, 29-21 December 1988) decided that a joint study be undertaken on the “Greenhouse Effect and its Impact on the Region”. This study was initiated to provide a basis for an action plan for meaningful cooperation among Member States and was completed in 1992.
A Technical Committee on Environment was established in 1992 to:
- examine the recommendations of the Regional Study
- identify measures for immediate action
- decide on modalities for their implementation
The Technical Committee on Environment was mandated to monitor the progress made in the implementation of the recommendations of the two Regional Studies.
Meetings of the SAARC Environment Ministers
Periodic meetings of the SAARC Environment Ministers have been held to take stock of progress and to further enhance regional cooperation in the area of environment, climate change and natural disasters. Since 1992, the SAARC Environment Ministers have met eight 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.
SAARC has also adopted common positions at various international meetings related to environment and climate change. Most recently, a common SAARC position on Climate Change was presented by Sri Lanka as the SAARC Chair at the COP 15 Conference on Climate Change (Copenhagen, December 2009). A Joint Statement on Climate Change for COP15 was also issued by the Permanent Representatives of Member States of SAARC based in New York. Pursuant to the decision taken at the Sixteenth SAARC Summit (Thimphu, 28-29 April 2010), an Inter-governmental meeting held in Thimphu, Bhutan in August 2010, finalized a common SAARC position on Climate Change for COP 16 (Cancun, Mexico, December 2010). The common SAARC position was presented at COP 16 by Bhutan as the current Chair of SAARC.
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.
The Ninth Meeting of the SAARC Environment Ministers is scheduled to take place in Thimphu, Bhutan on 19 May 2011.
Technical Committee on Environment and Forestry
A Technical Committee on Environment was established in 1992 to examine the recommendations of the Regional Study on the Causes and Consequences of Natural Disasters and the Protection and Preservation of Environment; to identify measures for immediate action; and decide modalities for the implementation. The mandate of the Committee was expanded to include within its preview the Regional Study on “Greenhouse Effect and Its Impact on the Region”.
Since then, the mandate of the Committee was expanded to include meteorology and forestry. 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), subject of Meteorology was merged with the Technical Committee on Science and Technology.
Since 2004, the Technical Committee on Environment and Forestry has met three times in June 2004, May 2006 and January 2009. The sectoral mandate of the Technical Committee comprises of environment, 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 coordination and monitoring of the implementation of the 1997 SAARC Environment Action Plan; and SAARC Action Plan on Climate Change (July 2008) are also entrusted to the Technical Committee. The Fourth Meeting of the Technical Committee on Environment and Forestry is scheduled to take place in Thimphu, Bhutan on 17-18 May 2011.
1997 SAARC Environment Action Plan
While the Regional Studies on the Causes and Consequences of Natural Disasters and the Protection and Preservation of the Environment; and the Greenhouse Effect and its Impact on the Region provided a comprehensive assessment of the state of the environment in Member States, the SAARC Environment Action Plan adopted by the Third Meeting of the SAARC Environment Ministers (Male, 15-16 October 1997) 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. A SAARC Coastal Zone Management Center (SCZMC) was established 2004 to promote cooperation in planning, management and sustainable development of coastal zones, including research, training and awareness in the region. Similarly, a SAARC Forestry Center (SFC) was established in Thimphu 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. A South Asia Environment Outlook (SAEO) 2009 was also finalized by Member States in collaboration with the United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP). The SAEO 2009 was launched during the Eighth Meeting of the SAARC Environment Ministers (New Delhi, 20-21 October 2009). A SAARC Convention on Cooperation on Environment as stipulated under Item 17 (Legal Framework) of the Action Plan was signed during the Sixteenth SAARC Summit (Thimphu, 28-29 April 2010) and will enter into force after it has been ratified by all Member States.
Dhaka Declaration and SAARC Action Plan on Climate Change (3 July 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 on Climate Change 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 related to: 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.
The suddenness and the magnitude of the loss and damage caused by the tsunami of December 2004 and the earthquake of December 2005 in the region provided an immediate sense of urgency towards promoting regional cooperation in the area of disaster management. Following the Tsunami, a Special Session of the SAARC Environment Ministers (Malé, 25 June 2005) adopted the Malé Declaration on a collective response to large scale natural disasters.
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.
A SAARC Disaster Management Centre (SDMC) was established in New Delhi in October 2006. The SDMC provides policy advice and facilitates 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 Center was expanded to include the development of a Natural Disaster Rapid Response Mechanism by the Fifteenth SAARC Summit (Colombo, 2-3 August 2008). Pursuant to the Fifteenth Summit directive, the modalities for setting up a Natural Disaster Rapid Response Mechanism including the finalization of a SAARC Agreement on Rapid Response to Natural Disasters are currently under consideration. An Inter-governmental meeting to finalize the text of the draft SAARC Agreement on Rapid Response to Natural Disasters is scheduled to take place in the Maldives on 25 May 2011. The Agreement is proposed to be signed during the Seventeenth SAARC Summit scheduled to be held in the Maldives on 10-11 November 2011.
Regional Cooperation in Environment and Climate Change including Natural Disasters
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 are they key mechanisms to guide and facilitate the agenda of cooperation. Furthermore, Regional Centers such as the SAARC Coastal Zone Management Centre in the Maldives, the SAARC Forestry Centre in Bhutan, the SAARC Disaster Management Centre in India and the SAARC Meteorological Research Centre in Bangladesh constitute a framework of SAARC Institutions which address diverse aspects of environment, climate change and natural disasters.
The 1997 SAARC Environment Action Plan; the Dhaka Declaration and SAARC Action Plan on Climate Change (July 2008); and the Comprehensive Framework on Disaster Management (2006-2015) are some of the most significant initiatives taken to strengthen regional cooperation in the areas of environment, climate change and natural disasters. Furthermore, as a highly disaster prone region, the setting up and operationalization of the SAARC Natural Disaster Rapid Response Mechanism will institutionalize regional cooperation among Member States in the critical area of response in the aftermath of natural disasters in the region.
Sixteenth SAARC Summit, Thimphu, 28-29 April 2010
Climate Change was the theme of the Sixteenth SAARC Summit (Thimphu, 28-29 April 2010) and, among others, the Heads of State or Government of SAARC 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 scheduled to meet in Sri Lanka in 2011. The IGEG.CC is required to monitor, review progress and make recommendations to facilitate the implementation of the Thimphu Statement. The IGEG.CC will report to the SAARC Environment Ministers.
A SAARC Convention on Cooperation on Environment was also signed by the Ministers of Foreign/External Affairs of Member States during the Sixteenth SAARC Summit. The Convention provides for 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. The Convention will enter into force after it has been ratified by all Member States.
SAARC Goodwill Ambassador for Climate Change
Mr. Appa Sherpa, twenty time Everest Summiteer, was appointed as SAARC Goodwill Ambassador for Climate Change for two years (May 2010 – May 2012). As SAARC Goodwill Ambassador for Climate Change, Mr. Appa Sherpa will, among others, undertake advocacy and awareness raising campaigns about the negative impacts of climate change; galvanize support among various stakeholders to work together to address the threats posed by climate change; disseminate the work being done by SAARC in the area of climate change; and underscore the need to ensure timely implementation of the Thimphu Statement on Climate Change; and the Dhaka Declaration and SAARC Action Plan on Climate Change (2008-2011).
Cooperation with Inter-governmental Organizations
SAARC has signed Memoranda of Understanding with the South Asia Cooperative Environment Programme (SACEP) in July 2004; United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP) in June 2007; and the United Nations International Strategy on Disaster Reduction (UNISDR) in September 2008. SAARC was accredited as an Observer with the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC) process at COP 16 (Cancun, Mexico, 29 November-10 December 2010).