Transboundary Impacts of Climate Change in Asia: Making a Case for Regional Adaptation Planning and Cooperation

This paper outlines prerequisites and needs for collective adaptation solutions to address the impacts of climate change on transboundary natural resources and other teleconnections.
Multiple Authors


Teleconnections, including between transboundary natural resources and their ecosystem services, economic linkages through trade and social linkages in terms of human mobility, are prevalent among the sub-regions of Asia. Climate change has an impact on many of these teleconnections and can have significant implications on the way countries respond to climate change threats, if it is not understood and addressed well.

There is a clear lack of recognition of climate change impacts on transboundary natural resources in the international climate change regime and related processes. Regional adaptation planning provides an important opportunity to address the current gaps in adaptation planning. It can help initiate efforts to identify and quantify the impacts of climate change on regional and sub-regional teleconnections, and mainstream solutions into national and subnational adaptation planning.

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Asia subregional contexts demanding regional adaptation planning and cooperation

Asia is becoming increasingly integrated in terms of trade, movement of people, and natural resource dependence. As a result of the teleconnections between countries, climate change impacts in one part of the region are increasingly being felt in other parts of the region. While the importance of linkages between countries is recognized in various policy processes promoting regional cooperation and integration (e.g. South Asian Association for Regional Cooperation, Association of Southeast Asian Nations etc.), the impact of climate change on these linkages is not yet fully recognized and is not being adequately addressed in the ongoing discourse on climate change adaptation planning.

In South Asia, countries share important natural resources, especially water. Regional cooperation on adaptation is needed for sharing knowledge and best practices, developing new innovative partnerships to adapt to and better cope with regional climate-related risks, exchanging experiences, information and technology to assist in lowering emissions, as well as encouraging the development of more practical collaborative structural and non-structural adaptation projects.

Southeast Asia is relatively advanced with regard to regional cooperation. This cooperation extends to a variety of issues, especially on transboundary pollution and transboundary water resource management. As a result, the region is better prepared to address the transboundary impacts of climate change than other sub-regions in Asia. However, there is a need to specifically review national plans and policies by keeping in view the regional impacts of climate change. Some serious gaps are developing, and sharing relevant scientific knowledge among the member countries can help them to clearly see the transboundary impacts of climate change.

The Hindu Kush Himalayan (HKH) region is considered highly sensitive to changes in climatic variables. There are no formal agreements or mechanisms for regional collaboration on climate change adaptation, although the need for such mechanisms is being increasingly felt. Climate change adaptation is yet to be addressed as a regional issue, while national adaptation planning processes are still in the transitionary stage. There is a huge need and scope for transboundary cooperation on climate change adaptation in the Himalayan region.

Recognition of Transboundary Impacts in International Climate Change Processes

The national adaptation plan (NAP) process is a significant outcome of the Cancun Adaptation Framework and is further strengthened by the Paris Agreement, elevating its importance as a central response to climate change in 2015. The Conference of Parties (COP) and the UNFCCC have provided several mechanisms for helping countries to formulate and implement their NAPs.

These include:

  1. Formulating national adaptation planning guidelines at the behest of the COP to the LDC Expert Group,
  2. Organizing an annual NAP Expo as a platform for countries and institutions to interact on solutions related to the formulation and implementation of NAPs,
  3. A global support program for Least Developed Countries (LDCs) to provide one-on-one institutional support on matters related to NAPs, and;
  4. Supporting developing countries (non-LDC Parties) in national adaptation planning measures under the Adaptation Committee.

There is an emerging view that regional cooperation for regional adaptation planning could hasten the process of adaptation. It could enable countries to harvest the resources available regionally and internationally much more quickly due to their collective power and provides the possibility of ‘synergistic learning’ among countries with similar adaptation needs.

Mechanics of a Regional Adaptation Plan and Cooperation

It is evident that there is a lot to be gained by subregions having a transboundary regional adaptation plan. Such plans can fill important gaps left by national adaptation plans, which largely ignore how teleconnections affect climate change impacts. In addition, transboundary regional adaptation plans will help identify regional resources (i.e. technical and financial capacities) that could help address climate change impacts on transboundary natural resource and other teleconnections. Like any planning, regional adaptation planning is a function of cooperation, but, where cooperation is weak, initiating regional adaptation planning could have the reverse effect of helping to strengthen regional cooperation on adaptation.

The figure below shows the overall architecture of an ideal regional adaptation planning process.

Setting adaptation goals at a regional level is a collective process that ensues after the impacts are well understood and before the roles and responsibilities of individual countries are clearly agreed upon.

While there is no clear metric for when an adaptation goal is agreed at the international level, regions could decide regional adaptation goals based on the regional context, the impacts to be addressed and the timeframe that is available to the region before irreversibly damaging transboundary resources or damaging the prospects of addressing transboundary impacts. The regional adaptation goal, once agreed, would become a shared burden among the countries.

Countries would have to identify regional resources that can be committed to realize the regional adaptation goal. Committing regionally available resources including technical expertise from institutions and financial resources from those that can be shared by the national governments and those financial resources that can be tapped from the bi- and multi-lateral financial sources is necessary to operationalize the regional adaptation plan

There is a need for linking the regional adaptation plan with that of the national and subnational adaptation plans so that the roles and responsibilities can be prioritized at those levels. Such linking is also necessary so as to fully take into consideration the gaps addressed and avoid repetition of efforts if any. Strengthening the national adaptation plan is an important benefit provided by the regional adaptation planning and cooperation processes.

A regional cooperation mechanism on adaption would bring together regional centers that are related to climate change, natural resources, and disaster risk reduction. It will then engage them on regional and national adaptation planning. This will enhance the capacity of regional centers and strengthen their contribution to the region as a whole on an issue that is common to all countries in the region.

Any regional cooperation for adaptation should at least satisfy the following four elements for the cooperation to be successful:

  1. Facilitate capacity building and information sharing,
  2. Enhance collaboration especially by strengthening public-private partnerships,
  3. Enhance financing for adaptation, and
  4. Facilitate sustainable institutional mechanisms that put countries in the driving seat.


Developing effective NAPs is a complicated process requiring a great deal of financial and technical resources. There is a lack of examples for countries to emulate and a lack of continued support for countries to move from one stage of planning to the next.

Asia also lacks a regional mechanism that could help countries collaborate on addressing the transboundary impacts of climate change. These are likely to be immense, but receive little attention in national and regional processes.

The paper emphasizes that regional cooperation has a significant role to play in addressing the transboundary impacts of climate change. Regional cooperation enables countries to work together on collective adaptation solutions to address the impacts of climate change on transboundary natural resources and other teleconnections. The paper sketches the basic outline for a regional adaptation mechanism.


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