South Asian countries agreed to boost regional energy cooperation and build cross border electricity transmission lines, stating infrastructure and energy are the top priorities at the South Asian Association for Regional Cooperation (SAARC) summit held in Kathmandu this week.
The eight member countries of SAARC – Bangladesh, Bhutan, India, the Maldives, Nepal, Pakistan, Sri Lanka and Afghanistan –signed an agreement to develop hydropower and other energy projects and trade electricity through cross border transmission lines. China is keen to become a member of the regional group, but so far has been rebuffed by India. The country currently holds “observer status” along with Myanmar.
South Asia is one of the least connected regions of the world. Many people feel the region has not been able to realise its full potential due to poor connectivity and limited regional trade.
Initially, Pakistan had opposed the agreement, claiming it had not done enough preparation to take a decision on energy issues. Nepal’s prime minister, Sushil Koirala, pushed the agenda in a bilateral meeting with Pakistan’s prime minister Nawaz Sharif and eventually secured a deal as the two day summit concluded on Thursday evening, according to sources within the prime minister’s office. “Signing the energy cooperation document is one of the major achievements of the summit,” said Koirala during a press briefing in Kathmandu.
India also welcomed the deal since energy is the country’s top priority. During his speech at the summit, India’s prime minister Narendra Modi focused on energy, economy and trade in South Asia. “Let us treat electricity as a commodity like any other that we invest and trade in. India will fully support these initiatives in the region,” Modi said. “Let us make our procedures simple, our facilities better, our standards common and our paper work less burdensome,” he added.
India has just signed a deal to build the 900 megawatt Arun III dam in eastern Nepal. The majority of electricity generated will be exported to India.
Legally binding global climate deal by 2015
The eight South Asian countries also called on global leaders to commit to a legally binding agreement by 2015, stating that South Asia has been seriously affected by the impacts of climate change. The thirty five-point declaration issued at the summit underlined climate change as a serious threat for the region. “There is the urgency for the global community to arrive at a Protocol, another legal instrument, or an agreed outcome with legal force applicable to all by the end of 2015,” the SAARC declaration states.
The call for a global agreement comes a week before the United Nations climate summit begins in the Peruvian capital of Lima, an event which will be crucial in determining the nature of the global agreement decided next year in Paris. South Asian countries, who belong to the developing and least developed countries groups under the UN negotiations, have reiterated this position for years.
Some commentators believe the explicit mention of the UN negotiations in the SAARC declaration is significant, suggesting these countries will not be willing to change their stance as intense debate between developed and developing country heats up ahead of the meeting in Peru. “The agreement aimed for Paris should be based on the principles of Common but Differentiated Responsibility and Respective Capabilities and Equity under the UNFCCC,” mentioned the declaration.
Regional Centre for environment and disaster
The governments also agreed to strengthen cooperation on disaster prevention and climate change by establishing a disaster and environment centre by merging existing four regional centers in Maldives, Bangladesh, Bhutan and India. “We aim to work effectively on environment and disasters in South Asia by establishing this centre, the location of which will be decided later,” said Nepal’s prime minister Koirala.
Although trans-boundary rivers are the source of energy and livelihoods for millions of people in the region, there was no specific discussion about these shared resources.