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OPINION: How predictable can you get?

S. Gopikrishna Warrier, Regional Manager, Panos South Asia, writes on a new initiative in South Asia that aims to produce more robust scenarios of climate change


Imagine a situation in which the countries in South Asia continue their economic growth drawing excessively on natural resources.

Then, around 2030, a series of extreme weather events caused by climate change — drought, glacial melt and floods — pushes the region off the tipping point, leading to civil unrest, political instability and weakening of institutions.

You may or may not like to imagine such a situation, but this could be one of the plausible scenarios that the policymakers of the South Asian countries may want to consider with climate change.

This is especially so since reports by the Inter-governmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC), including the Special Report on Extreme Events (SREX) released in 2012, have designated the region as vulnerable to climate-induced extreme weather events.

With its uncertainties, the impact of climate change adds to the developmental challenges faced by the South Asian countries.

Policy makers need credible, science-based scenarios about the trajectories that their countries could take to make their societies and economies climate-resilient.

These scenarios need not be alarmist, but should have enough built-in indicators that could send signals when the situation gets bad.

This is particularly important for the agricultural sector, since more than 50 per cent of the population in the South Asian countries lives off agriculture-related income.

And the agricultural sector is linked intricately with the social, economic, political and environmental situation in the countries.


The 15 research centres under the Consortium of International Agricultural Research (CGIAR) have been running a research programme called Climate Change, Agriculture and Food Security (CCAFS) to develop interventions to reduce the impact of climate change on agriculture. CCAFS is undertaking a process to develop socio-economic and agricultural scenarios for South Asia so that they can be incorporated into the global climate change scenarios.

The aim is to develop plausible trajectories that the countries could take from the present to 2050.

Scenarios deal with uncertainties. They are “what if” questions to which decision makers need to have answers.

The military and also multi-national corporations operating in multiple countries with as many uncertain investment environments usually use scenarios. Scenarios are not predictions but systems thinking that articulate in detail plausible future development pathways.

Climate science is uncertain and thus it is appropriate that scenarios are developed for climate-induced changes so that policy decisions are better informed.

In its process of developing scenarios for South Asia, CCAFS has been working with expert stakeholders from the South Asian region. It had undertaken similar processes in East Africa and West Africa, and would be doing the same in Latin America and South-East Asia.

Scientific opinion is still not fully certain about what pattern extreme weather events will take in the coming decades till 2050. This uncertainty sits atop the diverse political, socio-economic and institutional situations in different countries.

For instance, the impact of a large flood would be different in Pakistan, India or Bangladesh. The resilience of national societies and their institutions vary.

In addition, the dynamics of the countries in their relations with other countries in the region and outside also impacts their ability to deal with climate-related events.


A region of high population concentration, South Asia is blessed with an abundant natural resource base which runs across national boundaries.

Trans-boundary rivers, for instance, run through Nepal, India, Bangladesh and Pakistan. The region also has a shared history with strong inter-linkages between societies and economies.

All the countries in the region are growing economically, some more rapidly than others. Sri Lanka and Nepal have come out of civil wars and may not return to such a situation in future, though the Constitution is still not in place in Nepal.

The democratic process in Pakistan is trying to come out of the shadow of the military.

Considering that there is reasonable economic growth and political stability at present, the scenarios developed by the stakeholder group looked at plausible developments into the future — up to 2030 and 2050.

The drivers (the factors that can change the scenarios) considered were human capital (knowledge, information and education); governance and institutions; science, technology and innovation; political stability and conflict; economic structure; and demographic profile. The best-case scenario was one with high human capital; good governance and institutions; effective transfer of science, technology and innovation; political stability within countries and in the region; economic growth driven by the manufacturing and services sector; and low population growth.

The worst-case scenario has all the drivers in the negative. There are three other scenarios in between.

One conclusion was universal across scenarios: If the institutions do not get adversely affected, this region has reasonable resilience to deal with climate change impact.

The impact of good governance and effective political, social and economic institutions can reflect to as much as 2 per cent GDP growth.

CCAFS will merge the socio-economic scenarios with those from IPCC to develop robust scenarios for policy makers in this region.

The consolidated scenarios will help guide public decision-making for improved future food security, environments and livelihoods.

It would also be useful for private decision-makers to target investments, and research and development areas. The scenarios will also provide indicators to decision makers to judge if the development trajectory is deviating from the desired track.

The scenarios will help the agriculture sector (and through it the national and regional economies) to cope with short-term climate variability, adapt to long-term climate change and take decisions that will mitigate the emission of greenhouse gases.

This article first appeared in The Hindu’s Business Line

CDKN is supporting two annual fellowships of print, TV, radio and web journalists in South Asia under a Panos ‘South Asia Climate Change Award’ (SACCA) Fellowship.  This is part of a CDKN project on building climate change awareness in the South Asia media.

We occasionally invite bloggers from around the world to provide their experiences and views. The views expressed here are those of the author, and not necessarily those of CDKN

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