“A lot of countries in South Asia don’t see solar energy as a main power source – yet. Let’s put it this way: Maldives does.”
Tomislav Delinic, Director for Regional Program SAARC at German political organisation Konrad Adenauer Stiftung, believes the Maldives has a significant role to play in improving environment and energy policies across South Asia.
“Every country needs to find its own most suitable solutions, but it should also share these solutions with others,” he said. “Since the Maldives is pushing forward the renewable energy sector, it can be an asset for the region.”
Renewable energy has been a leading issue for researchers at the Consortium of South Asian Think-Tanks (COSATT) this year. COSATT is an informal non-profit organisation convened by the Institute of Peace and Conflict Studies (IPCS) to bridge policy research in South Asia.
Since 2008 COSATT has developed annual SAARC summit themes into year-long research projects for and by South Asian think-tanks. Previous topics include trade, connectivity, and counter-terrorism.
Delinic was one of several participants in COSATT’s third and final meeting held at Bandos Resort between Tuesday, October 11 and Thursday, October 13.
“We know South Asia lacks connectivity and we try to bridge it by bringing together leading think-tanks which are politically engaged to discuss the most important issues of connectivity,” said Delinic.
Last year’s topic, ‘Green Asia’, lead COSATT to organize a 12-month international research project on environmental security and renewable energy. Research institutes from all SAARC countries have contributed to a summary publication, released yesterday, as well as an eight to ten page letter of recommendations, to be submitted to policy makers prior to the SAARC summit in Addu this November.
The Maldives is figuring into COSATT’s 2011 recommendations in important ways.
The President’s Office last week hosted the release of COSATT’s 2011 report “Energy and Environmental Security: A Cooperative Approach in South Asia”; Vice President Dr. Mohammed Waheed delivered the keynote address.
Delinic said significant potential for action was in store for the Maldives over the next two SAARC summits. Partnership, however, is thin.
“We released the book here not only because SAARC summit will be held here but also because environment is so important for the Maldives. But we lack partners in the Maldives and are looking for researchers to contribute to our work. This is now even more crucial because we will soon pick up next year’s SAARC summit topic, ‘Building Bridges’. Since this has been initiated by the Maldives, their participation at COSATT would be very good.”
Delinic said several Maldivian policy makers and think tank members had met with the COSATT team during last week’s meeting to discuss opportunities, although no agreements have been reached.
While COSATT does not implement policies according to its findings, proposing suggestions is a key step.
“Cooperation has to start somewhere,” Delinic said. “If you’re lacking common ideas, you can’t develop concepts. So we don’t want to allow that our politicians are saying ‘We don’t have the concepts.’ We will give them the concepts. Leading think tanks from the region agree on that.”
Delinic said think tanks are the key to getting recommendations from groups such as COSATT off of paper and into action.
“Countries might have issues with each other, but if you see the think-tanks in many of these places, they’re doing very well. They’re cooperating, they’re agreeing, sometimes they even oppose their own government. This is the future, and we need to work on it further,” he said.
COSATT takes its biggest test at the government level.
According to IPCS research officer and COSATT report editor, J. Jeganaathan, bureaucratic processes tend to block efficiency. “I see the bureaucratic process in each South Asia member countries as an issue. They are rooted in traditional thinking, they cannot move beyond traditional values, and that is an obstacle to progress. Political will is also an issue, it leads to lack of commitment for common funds and cooperation in implementing new policies.”
Jeganaathan added that although international organisations such as the World Bank (WB) and United Nations Development Program (UNDP) have funds to support SAARC regional resolutions, poor cooperation among country officials prevents these funds from being applied.
However, India’s retired Major General Dipankar Banerjee, a mentor at COSATT, was optimistic about the Maldivian government’s support.
“Energy is a vital and immediate concern for the Maldives and for all of coastal South Asia. The Maldivian government ministers are particularly keen that our recommendations be put on the agenda at the summit,” he said.
Banerjee cautioned that implementation is a slow process. Agreeing with Jeganaathan, he said getting recommendations past the suggestion phase was difficult.
“One can’t expect the recommendations of a think-tank to immediately translate into official government policy. But our goal is to sensitize our respective governments, to show them the options as to how we can move forward, and show them a direction. And that’s a slow learning process, nothing happens instantaneously,” said Banerjee.
Delinic was keen to identify the COSATT recommendations as “an incentive of South Asia for South Asia,” and said maintaining close relationships with governments was important. He did note that follow-up has been a constant issue, and said the group’s final meeting today aimed to resolve it.
“Naturally we cannot push the governments further than offering ideas. But still, one can remind them of this. Keeping contact with the policy makers, dropping information through the media, and connecting with local NGOs on certain topics. For example, in the Maldives we feel sure we can find partners in civil society for certain issues,” he said.
Policy recommendations will be released on 9 November, however they will be distributed to the appropriate government ministries and departments prior to the summit.