Water availability could be a challenging issue facing the two countries

Much greater cooperation between China and India, the world's emerging economic giants, is essential for tackling pressing environmental issues, says a group of scientists who have research programmes in one or both countries.

The two fast-growing countries, which are also the world's most populous, “will play a significant, perhaps a dominant role in shaping the environmental outcomes for our planet this century,” observed the scientists in a commentary published in this week's issue of the journal Science. Cooperation between the two will be vital for curtailing biodiversity loss, mitigating climate change and reducing deforestation.

With both countries witnessing tremendous economic growth, there is growing stress on environmental resources, says Kamaljit S. Bawa, the first author of the paper.

Such stress is being felt in regions from which these resources are drawn, including the Himalayas, pointed out Dr. Bawa, founder-president of the Ashoka Trust for Research in Ecology and the Environment (ATREE), a non-governmental organisation headquartered in Bangalore, and Distinguished Professor of Biology at the University of Massachusetts in Boston, U.S., when he spoke to this correspondent.

Water availability could be an increasingly challenging issue facing the two countries and one that will require careful cooperation, observed Jiangquo Liu, Distinguished Professor of Fisheries and Wildlife at the Michigan State University, U.S., who is also one of the authors of the paper.

“Water is a huge issue,” said Dr. Liu in a press statement issued by the university. “It's being discussed extensively. We need to make people aware of the benefits of cooperation. It's more than just China and India that will be affected if these two countries don't work together. The environmental impacts will be felt around the world, including in the United States.”

The two countries were also enlarging their ecological footprint in Asia. This included import of large quantities of wood, which would contribute to deforestation-driven greenhouse gas emissions and biodiversity loss in Asia, the paper pointed out. Although several agreements have been signed since 1988, collaboration and coordination between China and India in dealing with environmental challenges has so far been limited, it noted.

Considering the magnitude of the environmental issues, the two countries need to work together much more closely, said Dr. Bawa. They could share knowledge. Besides, coordinated action would be more effective in tackling such problems.

The paper suggests a number of steps that could be taken to increase cooperation between the two Asian giants.