Climate Security In The Region Challenges The 'Shanghai Spirit'

It began with the 1996 Treaty on Deepening Military Trust in Border Regions and the 1997 Treaty on Reduction of Military Forces in Border Regions which involved a few central Asian States, the Russian Federation and China. The formal 2001 Declaration of Shanghai Cooperation Organisation (SCO) was tabled with the 'Shanghai Spirit' in Uzbekistan and framed basic principles and outlooks following the reality faced by the Member States. As a security cooperation organisation, the SCO was a step to control US engagement in Asia, which is somehow clear in its (SCO) 2002 Charter.

At that time, 'Shanghai Spirit' was a new security initiative for the region, based on the principles of non-alignment, openness, mutual trust and benefits, equality, consultation, adaptation of diversified civilisations and mutual development. The progress of the SCO underscores institutional development in the form of the SCO Council and secretariat, mutual trade development through various initiatives, including China's Belt and Road Initiative (BRI), and expansion of its membership to the European States. As a regional organisation, the SCO indeed attempts to cater to the needs of the member states and has the necessary ability and potential to develop as a strong regional bloc.

The SCO's Conventions on Combating Terrorism, Separatism, and Extremism, defined the terms of reference in order to highlight, in particular, the issues of violence or intimidation against people or governments that, in an attempt changes behaviour, borders, and/or regimes. However, the SCO is still unable to gain its status, somehow challenging the Western Alliances and is unsuccessful in transforming itself into a significant regional bloc owing to budgetary and mutual trust constraints. Although the SCO also has moved beyond its own structure and made substantive efforts to expand the formal ties with other nations and other multilateral groups, the competing regional objectives of Moscow and Beijing are an oft-used rationale for declaring the SCO as an ineffective bloc.

Unrest in Kyrgyzstan which resulted in violence and eventually a change in the government has also been touted as an example of where the SCO was ineffectual in response to a regional crisis. The disputes among the member States, including India, Iran, Mongolia, and Pakistan, question the SCO's credibility. Such disputes include but are not limited to politics, economy, and security and challenge the economic, political and defence measures so far taken by SCO.

In other words, it would perhaps be better to say that the SCO has sought to shift its focus from strategic and defence cooperation to cooperation on 'globally non-politicised' tasks such as joint efforts to tackle poverty, narcotics, contagious diseases, and natural disasters. The 2005 Tashkent declaration by the SCO member States stressed that in order to address the upcoming challenges, strong regional ties should be strengthened. Therefore, it can be said that the SCO has reached a consensus over time on economic development and natural disaster management.

The emerging climate crisis in Central, South and Southeast Asia, albeit in ways, again challenges the capability of the 'Shanghai Spirit'. The SCO is not well equipped with strong leadership, which can demonstrate how the global west is responsible for the ongoing climate crisis in Asia; its leadership must have thought about developing a strong statement in Samarkand Declaration 2022. So far, development through the SCO Summit 2022, also referred to as 'Samarkand Spirit,' is mainly about BRI and interconnected corridors based on multilateralism, cooperation and mutual economic benefits. Although this declaration and discussion during SCO Summit 2022 also inculcated the policy statements on the climate crisis, climate justice following UN Climate Change Framework, Kyoto Protocol and Paris Agreement have been ignored.

The given international agreements and protocols significantly urge the State-parties to develop climate and environmental policy provisions and national legislation under multilateral and bilateral mechanisms. Notwithstanding each Member State's diverse interests in climate change, there was no diplomatic and governance-based development related to climate justice at SCO Summit 2022. Yet, as tragic climate calamity in the Asian States is, many other states are expected to face losses of resources and other interconnected challenges, no robust plan or action during SCO Summit 2022 was provided by any of the States. This shows the political orientation of all the Member States, which is least based on public perceptions, or the general public of these states is also not well aware of the subject of climate politics.

Advocating for climate justice in such States will eventually convince the public of the reality and seriousness of the core issues. Such a shift may also lead to political change and encourage societal response to the climate crisis, through which longer-term changes may influence the public in climate rather than short-term fluctuations in weather. However, in the SCO Member States, the dominant impact of political orientation on public perceptions of climate change and the lack thus far of any discernible effect of climate variability itself provides little grounds for optimism that future climatic conditions will drive public concern about climate change. Current regional political developments on climate change appears to have led to a situation in which political orientation eclipses actual climatic conditions, and this does not augur well for mobilising public support for effective policy-making.

The author holds an LLD from Dalian Maritime University, China and LLM from University of Hertfordshire, United Kingdom, he was the key personnel running LLM International and Maritime Law program at Bahria University, Islamabad. His recent research focuses on issues relating the ocean and port governance, environmental law, law of the sea and international humanitarian law. He tweets @jahanzebbutt88