“Bhutan as Chair of SAARC, made an intervention at the COP plenary today to admit SAARC as an observer at UNFCCC. The intervention was promptly supported by series of interventions by India followed by Pakistan. In response, the COP President requested the secretariat to facilitate the process for the approval of the proposal.” This was a part of a live email update from opening plenary of COP16 sent to CANSA google group from the Moon Palace, Cancun on November 20, 2010. There was an overwhelming response from the colleagues with the positive aspiration that from now onwards along with the civil society network, our governments’ regional forum will also take part in UNFCCC negotiations.
South Asian journalist at Cancun and back in the country also had similar expectations, I was asked several questions upon receiving my email: what actual status did SAARC get at UNFCCC and what actually the observer mean? Is it like EU, or is it like African Union or like ICIMOD and IUCN? These questions in fact encouraged me to scrutinize more about our regional forum. Then, I started inquiring my own people, what I found were, objectively there is no vast difference between SAARC with EU and African Union. One of the objectives of SAARC is to accelerate economic growth and social progress of this region. Similarly, African Union is to accelerate the political and socio-economic integration of the continent and the European Union (EU) is an economic and political union of 27 member states. But in reality what I knew was, objectives are not the only principal guidance of this forum. So, in conclusion, back to the topic, SAARC after Cancun has given similar status as other intergovernmental organization (IGOs). Now, onwards SAARC can also attend any UNFCCC meetings as an observer and can also make a submission on its behalf.
After the SAARC was admitted as an observer in Cancun (COP16), we had a huge expectation that, this regional forum will make interventions, follow the meetings and in real sense will work to bring countries in common platform at least on climate negotiation. In a week long agenda meeting in Bangkok (April 2011), we leave so chairs unturned finding our SAARC flag, mostly on last benches. One of my South Asian colleague shouted, “This was a first meeting after it got approved as an observer and Bangkok is the only nearest venue where the meeting regularly could be hold”. Bangkok (April, 2011) concluded, then came Bonn (June, 2011), our expectation remained as it is upto now.
Last week, I met my colleague in Kathmandu at regional consultation organized to monitor regional climate agenda. He seemed very pessimistic this time, he started saying, “we have long run to move ahead and we already have many positive things on the table. As you know, climate change was the theme of the sixteenth SAARC summit held in Thimphu on April 2010, Thimphu Statement adopted at the meting which foretells us to undertake a number of initiatives to address the adverse impacts of climate change at regional level. In addition, the SAARC Plan of Action on Climate Change adopted in July 2008 also provides activities for enhancing and intensifying regional cooperation to combat climate change”. As I was about to add, opening planetary started. A director for the SAARC secretariat was on the dais, which we could hardly get chance to see on such forum.
I was out of mind during the formal opening speeches and started thinking about how the civil society, governments and SAARC could supplement each other on a long run and could fulfill the commitments made on past declarations and action plan (Dhaka, Thimpu and others). What could be the simplest way fulfill some of those commitments, if we look back to the Thimpu declaration simple things such as to incorporate science-based material in curricula and plantation of 10 million trees, expert group, mountain initiatives and many more could easily be done. The consultation in Kathmandu was very helpful in bringing diverse stakeholders together and review on past commitments and how the civil society could join hands to fulfill the gap on implementation. The presence of SAARC representative and the inspiring speech of the Minister of Environment of Nepal to formally open-up a dialogue with the civil society has shown that in coming days the gap between what was on the text of the declarations and ground activities could be maintained with joint efforts.