With the more vulnerable Bangladesh and Maldives seeking firmer commitments to combat climate change, a watered down declaration was issued at the end of the 16th summit of the South Asian Association for Regional Cooperation, which ended here on Thursday. Climate change was the theme of the conference, held for the first time in Bhutan with generous assistance from India.

The eight-member SAARC decided to convene a meeting on the issue before the meeting of the Committee of Parties to be held in Mexico. Bangladesh and Maldives were in favour of some sort of commitment on the peaking of emissions, a stand that did not find favour with China and India during the Copenhagen climate change summit.

It was, therefore, decided to establish an Inter-governmental Expert Group on Climate Change to develop a clear policy direction and guidance for regional cooperation as envisaged in the SAARC Plan of Action on Climate Change.

The member-states also resolved to commission a study, for presentation to the 17th summit, on ‘Climate Risks in the Region: ways to comprehensively address the related social, economic and environmental challenges'.

It was decided to plant one crore trees over the next five years to build a “green and happy South Asia” and enhance trade cooperation.

The statement pledged to concentrate on the uplift of poverty-stricken people in the region that is home to 1.5 billion people — one-fourth of the world population.

Bhutanese Prime Minister Jigmi Thinley said the summit achieved its agenda of regional cooperation with the signing of two key documents — on environment and trade. “I have sensed a strong commitment amid member-states. I hope the intra-government body will be able to meet the aim of regional cooperation,” he said.

Noting that South Asia was prone to the ill-effects of climate change and related disasters, the summit statement urged the member-states to urgently meet the challenge. Seeking a fresh approach to global climate talks, the SAARC leaders sought observer status for the regional grouping at the Cancun conference in Mexico on global warming to be held later this year.

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