A group of men on a donkey cart in the Punjab, India.

The Environmental Joint Venture for South Asia was announced at the Paris Peace Forum on 12 November 2022 as one of ten projects qualifying for scale-up - meaning resources can be mobilised from across the Paris Paris Peace Forum secretariat and wider community, as well as tailored mentorship and support.

The platform was originally launched in the margins of COP26 by Inter Mediate and Conciliation Resources. It will bring experience from the brokering of agreements around the world, including in Northern Ireland and Colombia to support initiatives that mutually benefit peacebuilding and the environment in South Asia. Environmental and policy leaders from India and Pakistan came together to design the platform. 

Commenting on the selection, Conciliation Resources’ Senior Advisor for South Asia Tahir Aziz said: “It is wonderful that this innovative project has been recognised for the potential to address two critical issues facing people living in the border regions of India and Pakistan. We must continue to find ways of creating sustainable peace. Supporting people to work together to find solutions to common problems can pave the way for greater collaboration. I would like to thank everyone involved for getting us to this stage.”

In the 75 years since partition, the relationship between India and Pakistan has been defined most often by conflict and stalemate. Despite the many ties of family, geography, and shared history that bind the two countries, a record of setbacks and false starts has stood in the way of cooperation on vital regional issues. Nowhere has this inability to cooperate become more pressing than on the climate and environmental crises that cannot be solved within the confines of borders, let alone those that are disputed.

Melting glaciers and unprecedented rainfall have seen landslides and floods hit both nations. Smoke from burning crops drifts both ways across the Punjab border, contributing to the world’s worst urban air pollution and shortening the lives of Indians and Pakistanis alike. Soil and water degradation threaten the livelihoods of farmers and the food security of both economies. As the urgency of these crises grows, the tragedy of the inability of the two nations - home to over 1.5 billion people - to cooperate becomes all the more stark.

This growing ecological and humanitarian crisis presents an opportunity to help build the ties that will contribute to a thawing of relations between India and Pakistan. Peacebuilding and environmental protection can be mutually beneficial to the region.

The first of several projects supported by the platform were unveiled during the Paris Peace Forum which are currently awaiting funding: 

Transformative biomass solutions

The platform members will design the first-ever cross-border, large scale project to address the burning of agricultural waste - one of the biggest triggers of air pollution and winter smog across the northern plains of India and Pakistan. A new business model has been developed and tested in India and will now be implemented on both sides of the border. The idea is simple: Companies buy crop stubble from farmers and transport it to special biomass conversion plants that upcycle it to generate energy for industrial and household use (for example in producing ethanol, which is used in the production of medicine, plastics, cosmetics etc.). The government guarantees the price of the biofuels that these companies sell.

Punjab Climate Compliant Agriculture (PuCCA) - a revolution in sustainable markets

Focused on the breadbasket of the Punjab, PuCCA will aim to create market incentives that make the shift to sustainable agriculture feasible, a win-win-win for farmers, environment, and climate sensitive business leaders.

Inter Mediate is an international organisation advising leaders of government and political organisations on negotiating an end to violent conflict around the world. Inter Mediate was established in 2008 by Jonathan Powell, Tony Blair’s former Chief of Staff and the lead British negotiator on Northern Ireland’s Good Friday Agreement. It works to resolve and prevent conflicts through high-level political dialogue. By doing so, it aims to end the suffering directly caused by conflict and reduce the toll of its inevitable by-products: poverty, insecurity, and refugee flows. 

Photo: A group of men on a donkey cart in the Punjab. © Muhammad Arif Urfi 2022