How global warming brings Indian Ocean Region together

The Indian Ocean Region is one of the world’s most important arenas of geopolitical contest, but now global warming is forcing critical compromise

Hindol Sengupta December 08, 2021 11:12:35 IST
How global warming brings Indian Ocean Region together

Representational Image. Pixabay

Strategic contestation has always been the history and destiny of the countries of the Indian Ocean Region (IOR). Three of the world’s seven critical bottlenecks for global oil supply lie in this region.

The Indian Ocean Region has always been alive with conflict from its touchpoints in the Gulf to the friction in South-and-Southeast Asia, in Yemen, and off the coast of Somalia, there is no dearth of flashpoints in the region. This has been the strategic playground of America and France, the Soviet Union, and of course India, after all, it is the Indian Ocean. The latest player in these waters, thereby having in a sense muddied them geo-strategically, is China.

But the Indian Ocean Region does more than worry about nuclear-tipped submarines and naval bases in its midst these days. It has a bigger concern — global warming. In August 2021, the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change said that the Indian Ocean was warming faster than other oceanic bodies in the world.

This has severe repercussions for one-third of the world’s population which resides in and around the Indian Ocean. Already cyclonic storms and flooding are becoming more common in coastal areas like India’s Chennai and Goa, and parts of Bangladesh, and Sri Lanka, and other island nations of the region. A recent report by a team of Indian climatic scientists noted that the intensity of cyclonic storms hitting the country from the north Indian Ocean region had been increasing consistently over the last four decades due to global warming.

Global warming is also forcing many of the Gulf nations to completely rethink their fuel strategy — climatic heat is increasingly making parts of the Gulf region difficult for people to live in, and the rising oceans impact the shoreline habitations of these countries.

In the Bay of Bengal, Bangladesh, and the Indian state of West Bengal, could only relatively protect themselves against the super cyclone Amphan in the summer of 2020 because of the presence of vast mangroves, said experts at the latest edition of the Indian Ocean Conference organised by the India Foundation, which I attended at Abu Dhabi. These mangroves are fast depleting and soon may not be able to provide adequate protection. The super cyclones and tornadoes are here to stay.

Rapid overfishing in Indian Ocean waters especially by gigantic trawlers is destroying the natural ecosystem of the region which is adding to the crisis of global warming. There are growing concerns about the rising numbers of Chinese trawlers, for instance, in the Indian Ocean which threaten maritime security in the area.

All this is forging new ties in the Indian Ocean Region. For instance, under the ‘one sun-one world-one grid’ idea, in 2027, the world’s biggest solar farm and battery storage would be sending electricity generated from Australia through undersea cables more than 5,000 kilometres away to Singapore in a $22 billion project.

Sunshine from Australia’s ample north territory would be sent by the Australia-Asia PowerLink project of the Australian Sun Cable company from its Powell Creek Solar Precinct based on 12,000 hectares of arid land south of Darwin. This project is around 10-times the size of the current biggest solar farm (Bhadia Solar Park at Rajasthan in India).

As global warming fears grow, countries like the UAE (United Arab Emirates) are doubling down on moving their economy from oil — Dubai for instance gets a third of its GDP now from tourism and barely 1 percent from oil. Its Emirati cousin is opening its coffers more than ever to entrepreneurship and to push tourism.

As countries jostle for influence in the IOR, to build military bases, and control the monitoring of parts of the shipping lines, there is a growing understanding that the greatest threat to the countries of the region is global warming.

It is global warming that is likely to exacerbate conflict especially in low-lying areas as the waters rise, and it is likely to lead to forced migration as the heat increases.

For a region that has often been troubled by geopolitical competition and crisis, a deeper understanding is seeping in — global warming is the greatest common challenge, and it can only be fought if countries work together, and not against one another.

The writer is a multiple award-winning historian and author. The views expressed are personal.

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