SAARC and behind its goal.

Sources :Bangladesh Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina presented two innovative proposals-setting up Himalayan Council on the model of the Artic Council to help the climate-victim nations in South Asia and an International Adaptation and Research Centre (IARC) in Bangladesh to recommend measures to cope with the impacts of climate change.

She made the proposals while delivering her statement at the opening session of the 16th SAARC summit at the Grand Assembly Hall as the ‘Climate Change’ is the centrepiece of the Thimphu summit capital of the Himalayan kingdom.

The Prime minister said the proposed IARC could facilitate exchange of scientific data, eco-friendly technologies, experience in renewable energy and assist the relevant SAARC Regional Centres to realise their mandates.

It could also help implement the SAARC Convention on Cooperation on Environment to be signed at the summit.

“Global warming and climate change have already impacted our nations with melting of the Himalayan glaciers, rising sea level, erratic precipitation, land degradation, desertification and salinity,”

As Bangladesh is the most vulnerable country to the global warming, adverse geophysical changes with increasing frequency of cyclones and floods have been retarding the economic growth, poverty alleviation efforts, and millennium development goals (DGs).

“To face these challenges, I believe, a holistic approach is imperative at regional and global level’s” she told the summiteers.

Hasina, who played a key role at the Copenhagen climate change summit last November said at global level, COP-15 at Copenhagen had given hope of a comprehensive, long-term programme.

She said there was now need to lock in the key global players in COP-16 at Mexico City later this year for concrete commitments covering greenhouse gas emission cuts, and guaranteeing fund and technology.

The Prime Minister observed that at the regional level, a unified approach was of essence, and called for the SAARC to establish a Himalayan Council on the model of the Artic council for assisting the affected countries in the region.

Hasina told the summitters that to meet the challenges of the climate change, Bangladesh had adopted 134 action plans under the National Adaptation Programme of Action, and the Bangladesh Climate Change Strategy and Action Plan. The authorities have been designated for Clean Development Mechanism.

She said a plan in progress was dredging of rivers to hold more water, restrict flooding and reclaim inundated land, while river banks were being raised with excavated silt to contain rising water, create green belts and provide homesteads for the displaced.

Moreover, 14,000 cyclone shelters had been constructed with more on the way, she added.

To reduce greenhouse gas, the prime minister said a low carbon path to development was being followed by her government.

“Our plans also include creation of a large carbon sink through social forestry and green belts, use of clean coal technology, nuclear power and renewable energy,” she said, “To meet the costs, we’ve set up a Climate Change fund with our own resources,”

She stressed the creation of a regional power grid to utilise the potentials of renewable sources of energy that include hydro-electricity, solar, wind and biofuels.

She said the member countries faced increasing energy needs as the economies were growing.

“Recent trends indicate immediate need for cooperation at bilateral, sub-regional, and regional levels to harness each other’s capacities and resources,” she added.

Hasina said, “This i8ncludes developing a regional power-grid, harnessing renewable energy sources like hydropower, solar, biofuel, wind and reducing dependence on fossil fuel.” The prime minister proposed a regional grid of power as the SAARC members have the potential to produce hundreds of megawatts of hydroelectricity by using mountainous rivers in India, Bhutan and Nepal.

On the impact on the agriculture sector, Hasina said climate change was also responsible for declining agricultural land, thereby threatening food security. “An answer here is high yielding seeds, resistant to pest attacks and climate variations for enhancing productivity.”

She stressed the need for a SAARC Seed Bank with necessary legal framework for quality seed production, harmonised seed testing, certification, seed trade, and exchange of germ-plasm and plant genetic resources. On the economic scenario, she noted that the South Asian economies had shown remarkable resilience in the face of recent global meltdown. Still, they had suffered from economic slow-down, soaring oil and food prices, and climate change.

She mentioned tariff liberalisation under SAFTA, operation of SAARC Development Fund (SDF), and now SAARC Agreement on Trade in Service (SATIS), and other trade facilitation measures over the last 25 years had enabled the SAARC to cross significant milestons. Nevertheless, she deplored that intra-regional trade among the SAARC countries measures up to a low single digit percentage of global trade of the region.

Though sensitive lists of trade items were being reduced, greater efforts were needed to make SAFTA and SATIS meaningful.

She hoped that once the South Asian Regional Standards Organisation (SARSO) was established, it would efficiently work in harmonising the standards to facilitate trade.

On the vital issue of connectivity, she said South Asian countries had displayed increasing focus on regional connectivity, and on a greater sense of regional identity.

“Success here is possible through enhanced people -to-people contact by means of easy communication, and education services,” she said, adding that it is, indeed, high time to agree on equivalence of education standards and mutual recognition of degrees. The prime minister noted that a productive start could be prioritising disciplines that may initially include science and technology, engineering, medical, law, and financial management. Inauguration of the South Asian University could prove to be a successful vehicle in achieving this objective, she said.

The SDF, whose secretariat was inaugurated Wednesday, could play its role in generating funds from within and outside the region for projects on energy production. On SAARC strivings to intensify connectivity to draw member states closer for mutual gains, the prime minister said : “Certain wrong-doers and terrorists are out to undo our good intentions and the growing trust among ourselves.”

Bangladesh, a nation committed to peace and involved in UN peacekeeping efforts, was firmly opposed to terrorism, insurgency, orgainsed crimes and religious extremism.

“We categorically reject claims of those who cloak themselves in the rhetoric of Islam, or any other faith to justify violence. We are also committed against the use of Bangladesh territory for launching terrorism elsewhere.”

SAARC’s success lies in building bridges among the peoples of South Asia, which is possible through close and free interaction of the peoples from all walks of life.

Stressing that tourism could play a catalytic role, she said this would mean free movements and while there was rationale for immigration control, a reasonable balance could be worked out.

The harsh reality facing the people in South Asia, saying; “Let us take a moment to ponder on the plight of our 1.5 billion people and an awesome majority of them live in poverty craving for food and other basic necessities.”

Reminding the South Asian leaders of their responsibility towards peoples of the region, she said: “Is it not fair that we, as their entrusted leaders, consider seriously their dilemma, determinedly rise above all our differences, and plunge with fixated resolve to change their life?”

“I firmly believe we can, and do so we will, with some bold decisions here. I am convinced that this maiden Summit of the kingdom of Bhutan under its Chair, would lead us across the threshold to a new era of peace and prosperity of our peoples.”

Referring to the fresh wind of democracy blowing across the region, Hasina said: “It is heartening to see all eight states of the SAARC gathered here today are democracies represented by elected leaders. This an historic development emanating from our experience that only democracy can achieve aspirations of our peoples.”

She added : “Indeed, our democracies now need to be cherished, protected, and allowed to mature. I believe these sentiments need to be recorded in a SAARC ‘Charter for Democracy’.”

The 16th summit meeting of the South Asian Associatio for Regional Cooperation (SAARC) has ended amid the usual pageantry in the Bhutanese capital, Thimpu. The SAARC was founded in 1985 and, thus, the latest summit also marked the silver jubilee of this organisation. Indeed, SAARC has matured into a regional organisation of some significance and actual attainments over these years. However, like in the just-ended summit at Thimpu, SAARC has remained largely restricted to discussing its great potentialities by its leaders at their annual summits that taking hard steps to achieve the same.

Regional organisations are formed mainly by their member countries to get access to far bigger regional markets.

This, in theory, at least, helps out every member country to mobilise and employ their resources and people to sell in the bigger market. Therefore, opportunities occur for the member countries in varying degrees to improve their external trade and to attract internally greater investments into income generating production activities to feed their external demand Thus, all members of a regional grouping or their economics can expect economic gains from the flourishing of such a grouping.

The SAARC countries are home to some 23 per cent of the entire global population. Thus, numerically it has the prospect of becoming the biggest common market in the world as the combined growth rate of the populations of SAARC countries is the highest in the world.

One may contend that the modest purchasing power of the poor among the SAARC population restricts its real market size. But in all SAARC countries the sections of the rich, upper middle classes and the lower middle classes are fast rising. They already form a vast market for all kinds of goods and services and their numbers are almost certain to only go on increasing even in the near future despite the hurdles. There is already a very big SAARC market and its size is only likely to expand to an enormous one in the mid-and longer-terms.

But the sad reality at the moment is that SAARC countries are only tinkering at the edges of exploiting this present and potential markets.

Although SAARC was established a quarter of a century ago, intraregional trade or SAARC trade between the member countries themselves, constitutes a small fraction of their total trade. The bulk of their trade is with countries outside the SEAARC. But intra-regional trade even at the present level of various capacities within SAARC, could be several fold larger than what is today. Of course, that requires the SAARC countries to meet the goals of the South Asian Free Trade Area (SAFTA) which they formed in 2006.

But SAFTA has hardly made any substantive progress since its founding. It remains practically stagnant as SAARC countries are yet to take the necessary initiatives to give a spur to it.

With the large lists of sensitive products of every SAARC country which are protected relatively by high tariffs and other disincentives, most members of the South Asian grouping are not actively promoting free trade. It is notable that SAFTA was only peripherally discussed at the recently-concluded Thimpu summit. Hence, the relevance of the new SAARC accord on trade in services to the ground-level realities remains in doubt.

In this context, it is imperative that the SAARC leaders start appreciating the pressing need of doing at the fastest what things need to be done to turn this body dynamic-particularly in the economic sense-and to kick-start the process of collective economic advance of the countries within its fold. If the member-countries of SARC would have taken the right pro-active measures to promote intra-regional trade and trade-related investments, the economic scenario in South Asia could have been much different from what is today.

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