At a country level, India has committed to making a clean energy transition, producing 175 gigawatts of renewable energy by 2022 from renewable sources. As the founder of the International Solar Alliance and Coalition for Disaster Resilient Infrastructure, India is also leading on climate resilience work across the global south. Neighbouring Bangladesh is one of the fastest growing economies in South Asia and routinely outperforms its larger neighbours on key human development indicators. On the frontline of the climate emergency, facing extreme weather, flooding and rising sea levels, it has called for greater political and financial commitment to combating climate change. The mountain kingdom of Bhutan is another fine example of growth that is grounded and premised on principles of ecological sustainability and human wellbeing. The country has a constitutional commitment to maintaining 60% forest coverage at all times. In Pakistan, the government’s Billion Tree Tsunami program has restored over 600,000 hectares of forest, with 10 billion more saplings to be planted across the country by 2023. COVID-19 is an opportunity to double down on these, and similarly promising, efforts.
At a regional level there is also recognition of the need for governments to work more closely together in building greater resilience to climate change. In October 2020, the governments of Afghanistan, Bangladesh, Bhutan, China, India, Myanmar, Nepal and Pakistan agreed to co-operate on climate impact mitigation work. Chief among their priorities will be protecting the ecosystem of the Hindu Kush Himalayas. The importance of this vast expanse of mountains to the people and places of the sub-continent cannot be overstated. The Hindu Kush Himalayas support 240 million people directly and indirectly provides water, food and other eco-system services to nearly 1.9 billion more.
As we head into 2021 with the promise of a vaccine, and a potential end to the pandemic, on the horizon, it is imperative that we do not use the long tail of the crisis as an excuse to return to a business-as-usual scenario. This will not be an easy argument to win. Carbon intensive growth pathways will always remain attractive for the quick wins, returns, jobs and opportunities they provide. But if COVID-19 has taught us anything, it is that our health, safety and security is tied to the health of our environment. They say every crisis is an opportunity. For South Asia, the opportunity is to embrace a greener, more inclusive, equitable and sustainable future.