India and Bangladesh will launch a forum for cooperation in the conservation of the Sunderbans, a region that is “ecologically vulnerable and sensitive to climate change,” Union Minister of State for Environment and Forests Jairam Ramesh said here on Sunday.

“The India-Bangladesh Sunderbans Ecosystem Forum will be launched in September this year,” Mr. Ramesh said. The decision was taken at a meeting with his Bangladeshi counterpart Hasan Mahmud.

Emphasising the need for international cooperation on environment issues, Mr. Ramesh said Climate Change is the theme for the South Asian Association for Regional Cooperation (SAARC) summit to be held at Thimphu later this month.

“We are working on a convention for environmental cooperation among the SAARC countries. This initiative could be a part of the overall process.”

The forum, which will include non-governmental organisations and civil society of both the countries, will coordinate efforts in afforestation, management of mangroves and conservation of the tiger. A joint tiger enumeration exercise may also be undertaken, he added.

“We have to recognise that the entire Sunderbans region is one ecosystem — 40 per cent of which is in India and the remaining 60 per cent in Bangladesh, and we must share our experiences and working plans for conservation,” Mr. Ramesh said.

He also announced that the Union Cabinet had approved the Rs.1,156 crore Integrated Coastal Zone Management project. Of this, Rs.300 crore will be spent in West Bengal, most of it on the Sunderbans.

The project, to be funded by the World Bank, will be executed over five years and includes prevention of erosion of the islands, building of storm shelters, promotion of eco-tourism, improving the livelihood of the inhabitants of the region and electrification of Sagar Island.

The Minister also said that the 13th Finance Commission had sanctioned a grant of Rs.450 crore for strengthening embankments at critical areas in the Sunderbans.