On the Indian subcontinent the impact of global warming will be very destabilizing. As glaciers melt, the regions bounding the Indus and Ganges rivers will experience severe flooding. Once the glaciers are gone, the floods will be replaced by profound and protracted drought. The inland backflow of saltwater, caused by higher sea levels, will contaminate low-lying, fertile delta regions. Bangladesh, already famously vulnerable to storm surges, will become more so as sea levels rise.
Given the subcontinent's size and the variety of its regions, it is not possible to confidently interpolate from the IPCC's very broad findings down to the specifics needed for detailed political and security analysis. It is reasonable to say, however, that new and intense environmental pressures will be bad for the internal stability of all countries on the subcontinent, and bad for their relations with each other. At severe levels of climate change, the survival of Indian democracy will be at risk.
The Indus River system is the largest contiguous irrigation system on Earth with a total area of 20 million hectares (about 78,000 square miles) and an annual irrigation capacity of more than about 12 million hectares (about 45,000 square miles) in India, Bangladesh, Pakistan, and Nepal. The headwaters of the basin are in India; thus India is the most powerful player.6 Currently, the other three countries of the system are engaged in water disputes with India. The Indus Water Treaty of 1960 settled some overarching issues, but frequent disagreements persist. (Pakistan now considers India in breach of the treaty for having caused "man-made river obstructions.")7 Climate change will exacerbate these tensions. Because of India's clear upper hand, Pakistan may resort to desperate measures as it seeks water security.
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