Cleo Paskal and Uttam Sinha on the Geopolitical Implications of Climate Change for India and ChinaFebruary 27, 2013 By Maria Prebble
India and China – “the two most important countries going forward in this century” – will both experience domestic concerns as a result of environmental change, but they are responding very differently, said Cleo Paskal, an associate fellow at Chatham House, in an interview with the Environment, Conflict, and Cooperation (ECC) Platform.
“China is well ahead of the game, when it comes to trying to position itself in this new world, and we should really take a good hard look at that, and figure out how we want to incorporate our futures into that new global future,” said Paskal.
China is reaching far beyond its borders to extend its geopolitical and economic influence, Paskal said.
“China is very aggressively incorporating a changing global environment into its foreign policy, and you can see that clearly in the Arctic,” she said. They have one icebreaker ship and “more on order.” They’re also funding science research stations, and campaigning for “observer” status on the Arctic Council. Widespread melting of ice cover has increased access to the Arctic’s mineral resources, potentially igniting a resource rush. By the end of 2015, China plans to invest in iron ore and possibly rare earth mineral mining projects in Greenland, Paskal said.
On the other hand, environmental change “is not really on [India’s] agenda in terms of foreign policy,” she said. “It really is not positioning itself for the new physical world that it is going to face.”
“It is not so much about climate change risks in India as it is about having the right development process,” said Uttam Sinha, a research fellow at the Institute for Defense Studies and Analyses in an interview for ECC in the same series.
With a population of 1.2 billion and a faster rate of population growth than China, India is poised to be “at the center of global debate on climate change,” Sinha said.
But, he said, “it is absolutely vital, to [balance] state policies with economic policies and [get] the development path correct.” If India gets the broader development arc right, he argued, the “larger issues of climate change will be removed.”
“The critical element in the climate change debate in the region will be the centrality of water,” Sinha said. For example, the Brahmaputra River flows through China, India, and Bangladesh – the world’s first-, second-, and eighth-most populous countries. Water diversion projects for agricultural or energy purposes combined with altered climate patterns run the risk of straining water resources in the region and creating cross-border tensions.
To avoid transnational conflict, especially over watersheds, Sinha stressed the importance of constructing a cooperative framework agreement in the region. “India has to work in a cooperative manner with its neighborhood,” he said.
Sinha suggested that a focus on domestic development policy will concurrently prepare India to adapt to the consequences of global climate change, in contrast to China’s calculated global strategy.
The geostrategic implications of climate change are being felt everywhere,” said Paskal, “but different countries are approaching [climate change] in different ways.”
Who the “winners and losers” might be is still an open question.
Sources: Bloomberg Businessweek, ECC Platform, Global Water Forum, UN Population Data.