In the first week of November 2021, the COP26 gathers in Glasgow to tighten the loose ends of the Paris Climate Change agreement of 2015. Its agenda, that intends to create a shared sense of responsibility amongst all member states is forthcoming but misses on some important enablers of climate change. The internationally adopted Nationally Determined Contributions (NDC) mechanism neglects many important aspects of climate change that do not fall within the prescribed framework.
For instance, the global initiative on climate change does not give any representation to the peoples of disputed territories – as if they are not on an equal pedestal of humanity. Jammu & Kashmir is one such example where a region under continuous onslaught of floods, earthquakes, rising temperatures and environmental degradation lacks a proper mention in the global discourse on climate change.
‘Protecting nature’ and ‘adaptation’ are identified as the key goals of the global initiative to save the planet Earth. The world seems to have agreed that environmental degradation needs to stop immediately and communities at risk must be supported to adapt to the changing environment.
Unfortunately, at this critical time, the erstwhile State of Jammu & Kashmir happens to be in the grip of an armed conflict between India-Pakistan and China. This has exacerbated the environmental degradation and prevents any global adaptation mechanism from coming to the support of communities at risk in Jammu & Kashmir in case of any disaster.
The case of this adaptation mechanism’s access to the communities at risk in disputed territories is indeed peculiar. Pakistan-administered Kashmir witnessed a major earthquake in 2005, that killed almost 80,000 people. The far-flung Gilgit-Baltistan region of the erstwhile J&K also had a major climate tragedy in the form of the Attabad disaster when an entire village in Hunza was submerged, killing scores of people. In the hinterland of Kashmir, a major flood in 2014 shattered the scenic stretch of land known for a glorious civilisational background. It was extremely hard to mobilise any support for the indigenous communities on both sides of Kashmir for a set of reasons.
The positioning of forces near the water bodies in the Pir Panjal range, the incessant use of heavy artillery, unprecedented deforestation to stop infiltration, war exercises, misuse of natural resources and an invisible ban on the necessary adaptation techniques to save human life will render J&K unlivable
The forcible division of Jammu & Kashmir, the blockade of natural trade and travel routes of the region and the occupation – both visible and invisible – made it extremely hard for any climate change initiative in the erstwhile J&K State to find feet. Both sides of J&K are inadvertently connected through mountain ranges, passes, glacial bodies and rivers; which makes it necessary to focus on the erstwhile State as a whole and not in terms of Indian- and Pakistani-administered parts.
The recent Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) report warns that even with a 1.5 degree rise in global temperature, the glaciers will continue to melt at an alarming rate in the Hindukush-Himalayan (HKH) region. The 2019 IPCC report had revealed that the HKH region is at the risk of losing 60% of its glaciers by the end of the century, which literally means extinction of human settlements in this region – particularly in the erstwhile J&K.
However, the armed conflict and the resultant deployment of forces along the 727-km-long Line of Control and Line of Actual Control hardly gets a mention as an enabler of climate change – much due to the lack of agency and representation of the peoples of J&K in world forums. The positioning of forces near the water bodies in the Pir Panjal range, the incessant use of heavy artillery, unprecedented deforestation to stop infiltration, war exercises, misuse of natural resources and an invisible ban on the necessary adaptation techniques to save human life will render J&K unlivable.
The notions of traditional security followed in letter and spirit by states across the globe have invariably given a false sense of hope to people regarding the safety and sustainability of human life. It is particularly true in Kashmir’s case, where divided parts are fiercely protected by the deployed armies against each other, but in this process have taken the misery and the risk to human life to an alarming level. In addition, the recent hypersonic missile experiments by China and India have bolstered the already notorious arms race in South Asia which is at the verge of a Climate disaster.
Dr. Shakil Romshoo, Vice Chancellor of the Islamic University of Science and Technology (IUST) Kashmir, in his study has mentioned that the Kolahoi glacier, which is the main source of water for Kashmir’s biggest river, the Jhelum, is shrinking at 0.08 sq. km/year which is extraordinarily dangerous.
The glaciers in this region are feared to be among the world’s fastest thinning ones. From the last four decades, the glacial heights have remained occupied by the contending forces in the region, further speeding the melting process. Avalanches, both major and minor, have become more frequent in these areas due to the increased human activity and one fails to make any sense as to why this calamity in making has not received any attention from the UN bodies.
At the onset of COP26, it must be highlighted that there are regions such as Jammu & Kashmir where emphasis on traditional security measures has aggravated the potent threat of non-traditional security risks. This is a peculiar case which calls for immediate attention and a sincere inquiry at the top. The representation of indigenous communities living in the conflict zones must also be ensured, so as to make the ‘global’ climate change initiative truly global in the true sense of the word.
The writer holds a doctorate in International Relations from QAU and served as Research Fellow at SOAS London. She specialises in the role of Kashmiri diaspora in conflict transformation