Director General of INSSSL Delivers Welcome Remarks at the Workshop on "Climate Change and Resource Security"
Director General of INSSSL, Mr. Asanga Abeyagoonasekera delivered the welcome remarks at the inaugural session of the International Workshop on "Climate Change and Resources Security: Challenges for Security and the Security Sector in South Asia” organised by INSSSL, CSAS and KAS on 30th November 2017 in Colombo.
"Secretary of Defence, His Excellency the Ambassador of Germany, Dr. Peter Hefele from KAS, Dr. Nishchal Pandey, COSATT members, distinguished scholars, ladies and gentleman…
On behalf of INSSSL and our partners - Center for South Asian Studies, KAS, Regional Project Energy Security and Climate Change Asia-Pacific (RECAP) (Hong Kong) and COSATT, let me warmly welcome our Chief Guest and Keynote Speaker - Mr. Kapila Waidyaratne, His Excellency Mr. Jorn Rohde - the Ambassador of Germany, Dr. Peter Hefele, Dr. Pandey and all distinguished guests in attendance today at the International Workshop on Climate Change and Resources Security: Challenges for Security and the Security Sector in South Asia.
Let me begin by thanking our Chairman of INSSSL, the Secretary Defence, for taking his time to be with us. It is a great honour to have you with us today.
INSS does forecasting but we did not anticipate today’s bad weather which has created distress to the entire nation. We have today some of the best minds here from India, Nepal, Pakistan, Bangladesh, Maldives, Singapore, Germany and Australia, representing different sectors, to discuss a very important and timely topic. We have Government representatives from the SAARC region, Europe and the USA, representatives of the Security Sector (military, police), international organizations, professional and academic experts and journalists.
Thus far, this conference is one of the first of this nature held in Colombo, with such a diverse group of experts in attendance. Therefore, I thank our partners and everyone who worked hard to make this a reality.
INSS as the national security think tank in Sri Lanka, from its inception, has made this important area of Climate Change and its security implications a top priority. What you witnessed last night is a clear indication of extreme weather patterns in Sri Lanka, which is an increasing occurrence due to a result of climate change. We had several programs at the institute recently that discussed issues related to Sri Lanka’s natural disasters, floods, landslides slides and the statistic stand at close to 300 lives claimed annually due to the incidence of climate change. This pattern will continue and island nations will become increasingly vulnerable to this threat.
In the context of the Sri Lankan security environment, it was our valiant military who became first responders to save lives and bring the nation to normalcy during this on-going wave of natural disasters. The pattern of climate security is replicated all across the South Asian region, threatening the security of individuals with the threat of rising sea-levels and submersion. The 2004 tsunami killed 228,000 people in the South Asian region and cyclone Nargis that hit Myanmar in 2008 – took 138,300 lives. Thus, the region is evidently prone to deadly natural disasters and is perhaps the most threatened region by the incidence of climate change.
Our President, His Excellency President Sirisena, who is also the president of the INSS Board of Governors, has been a supporter for a better environment in minimizing the carbon foot print of citizens, in his capacity as Minister of Environment. Addressing the UN Summit for the Adoption of the Post-2015 Development Agenda, the President stated: “Sri Lanka will be fully committed to dealing with the 13th Sustainable Development Goal relating to climate change, we will strive to minimize risks of possible environmental hazards.” His Excellency the President, along with Prof.Mohan Munasinghe, Sri Lanka’s Nobel Prize winner for climate change, are working on a comprehensive strategic plan for the year 2030. INSS has contributed to the security sector of this strategic plan and one of the primary inputs has been on the security implications of climate change.
While the State has an important role to play in the discussion on climate security, individuals also could play a bigger role in this regard. To give you an example, I wish to share a story of a close friend of mine, a fellow Young Global Leader - Ida Auken, a Parliament Member from Denmark, who was also one of the speakers at COP21.She represents an example of an individual, who as the Minister of Environment, started the development of thinking of waste as a resource instead of just ‘waste’. She developed a resource strategy instead of a waste strategy and thereby started the recycling agenda in Denmark. It’s also impressive that she pedaled her push-cycle to parliament everyday in an effort to take a small step for a carbon free environment; which is perhaps a transition which will take South Asian politicians a long time to adopt.
Similarly, Norman Myers, a British environmentalist, argues that climate change refugees might out number all current refugees worldwide, the latter of which is a figure widely contested by social scientists and migration experts. Large-scale migration of people across borders due to environmental disasters and sea-level rise can trigger major security concerns. These are not linear events; they have complex consequences and have spillover effect to other sectors of society as well. Climate change is linked to insecurity at the human as well as national level and could trigger violent conflicts (i.e. resource wars), contribute to vulnerability and inequality. To put it simply, an environmental crisis can lead to resource scarcity, breakdown of the socio-economic fabric and thereby lead to conflict.
If you look at the South Asian region’s water security, the Tibetan Plateau is the main source of water for the region. It is the point of origin for the region’s major rivers — Indus, Ganges, Yangtze, Mekong, and Brahmaputra, catering to 40 percent of the world’s population. Thus, regional actors need to act fast before the region’s inherent political and ethnic conflicts entwine with the ravages of climate change and overwhelm them.
This brings me to today’s workshop, which I believe will be a platform for exchange of ideas spanning different continents. We will discuss among other things, promoting the creation of think tank and expert networks in the Asian region as well as with extra-regional actors of the Europe and the US on this pertinent issue. This will pave the way for further trans-regional cooperation. In this context, this workshop will also work towards supporting the development of comprehensive national and regional security strategies toward climate change and resource-related conflict prevention, thereby conceptualizing adaptation strategies for the security sector in South Asia.
The response of the South Asian region should be to develop a comprehensive security approach to climate change crises. It is not States alone that need to securitize on this issue but it is also a necessity to make people’s lives secure, as national security must be understood in terms of human security in this day and age. Let me conclude with a quote from Prof. Mohan Munasinghe: “Climate change is the ultimate risk multiplier, exacerbating other crises too. Its worst impacts fall on the poor who are least responsible for the problem.”