Cooperation between India and China vital for curtailing global environmental degradation

China and India, the emerging economic giants of the world, will largely determine the environmental outcomes for our planet in the 21st century, claim the world’s eight leading scientists from India, China and the United States, led by Kamaljit S. Bawa, in this week’s policy forum in Science.

Both China and India, because of border conflict and construction of hundreds of dams are leaving a huge ecological footprint in the Himalayas. Imports of palm oil and timber by both countries are contributing to deforestation in Southeast Asia. China is the biggest and India fifth largest emitter of greenhouse gases.

Bawa, the Founder President of the Bangalore based Ashoka Trust for Research in Ecology and the Environment, a Distinguished Professor of Biology at the University of Massachusetts, Boston, and a Fellow at Harvard’s Kennedy School of Government, urges the two countries to “exercise environmental stewardship to sustain their growing economies.”

According to Jack Liu of the Michigan State University, and a coauthor of the paper, water availability could be the most challenging issue facing the two countries and one that will require careful cooperation. The Himalayas are the common source of rivers for both countries, and if a country builds a dam on its side to generate hydroelectric power, it will likely cause water shortages downstream in the other country.

"Water is a huge issue," said Liu. "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."

"We all have a huge interest in a sustainable world and the way we're managing it now, it simply isn't sustainable," said Peter Raven, co-author and president of the Missouri Botanical Garden. Raven also is a foreign member of both the Chinese and Indian academies of science. "The problems get worse every year; biodiversity loss and climate change have clear global significance. Our thesis is the two countries share so much adjacent territory that the environmental benefits should be obvious and, informed by scientific analysis, should provide a bridge between them."

The authors of the Science paper call for earnest cooperation between the two countries for exchange of knowledge and joint monitoring of the environment particularly in the Himalayas. According to Bawa, “the countries must find ways to overcome political differences to jointly address environmental problems for true peace and security for their people.”

In addition to Bawa, Liu and Raven, other authors of the paper are Lian Pin Koh, of the Institute of Terrestrial Ecosystems in Zurich, Switzerland; Tien Ming Lee, of the University of California-San Diego and Yale University; P.S. Ramakrishnan, of Jawaharlal Nehru University, in Delhi, India; Douglas Yu and Ya-ping Zhang, of the Kunming Institute of Zoology, in Yunnan, China.