India’s vulnerability to climate threats

Written By: Bhasker Tripathi
Delhi, India Published: Oct 16, 2018, 01.41 PM(IST)

Representational Image. Photograph:( Zee News Network )

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Such events, which cause widespread destruction and impact the availability of food and water, are likely to become more frequent and intense in India because of rising average temperatures.

Recent extreme weather events, such as floods in Kerala, wildfires in Uttarakhand and heat waves in the north and the east, have demonstrated how vulnerable India is to climate change. 

Such events, which cause widespread destruction and impact the availability of food and water, are likely to become more frequent and intense in India because of rising average temperatures.

A new report of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC), a global body of climate change scientists, will assess how effective the initiatives of all nations, including India, are in mitigating the rise in global temperatures.

Early leaks of the report indicate its findings are likely to be disquieting. "Climate scientists are struggling to find the right words for very bad news," said the headline of a story in the Washington Post on October 3, 2018.

In the next 10 years the world may reach its carbon pollution quota, the amount of carbon it can release into the atmosphere before the global temperature rises by 1.5 degree Celsius, the Washington Post report said. This could be disquieting news for India, the world’s third-largest carbon polluter after China and the United States. 

The IPCC report is also likely to recommend “stricter” climate actions by governments, allowing the use of only a third of the coal being consumed today by 2030, Bloomberg reported on September 30, 2018, quoting the leaked draft of the report. The aim is to keep warming down to 1.5 degree celsius since the industrial era began in 1800.

Here is the problem for India: It is the second-largest coal consumer after China, putting at risk the lives of 600 million Indians to disasters caused by climate change.

Coal currently feeds about 27 per cent of the world’s and 60 per cent of India's energy demand. “Under a bolder outlook that assumes quicker action to protect the atmosphere, coal use would fall to 13 per cent of the energy market by 2040,” Bloomberg said on September 30, 2018, referring to the IPCCs draft recommendation.

As part of the 2015 Paris Agreement to limit global temperature rise to 1.5-2 degree celsius, India had agreed to cut carbon pollution by raising its renewable power capacity to 40 per cent by 2030 — from 20 per cent in 2018, increase its forest cover, build climate-resilient cities and improve solid-waste management.

Here is where India stands on these pledges today:

Currently, renewable power capacity in India is 20 per cent of installed capacity.

The country’s forest area rose by 1 per cent over two years until 2017, covering 24 per cent of India. But the figure is slightly exaggerated and includes degraded forests and plantations, FactChecker reported on July 4, 2018 . Only 24 per cent of the country’s solid waste collected annually by municipalities is processed.

Are India’s nationally determined contributions (NDCs) to reduce greenhouse emissions ambitious enough to help limit global warming to 1.5 degree celsius? No, according to the Climate Action Tracker, an independent scientific group tracking climate actions of the nations.

India’s commitments “are not fully consistent” with the Paris Agreement, the report said. If India achieves all its targets, warming could be held below 2 degree celsius but would still be “too high” to be consistent with the 1.5-degree-celsius limit.

Four looming climate-change threats for India

Increasing heat wave episodes: If there are no changes in the current emissions and environment policies, India’s average annual temperatures are expected to rise by 1.5-3 degree celsius by 2050. Temperatures will rise by 1-2 degree celsius even if preventive measures on the lines of the Paris Agreement are implemented, said a World Bank-study published in June, 2018.

Over 4,800 Indians died due to heat waves across the country over four years up to 2017, with the highest number of deaths in 2015. These heat-wave events are likely to worsen: Under the current emission scenario, they could increase 75 times by the end of the century, gripping the entire stretch from Uttar Pradesh in the north to the southern peninsular. 

Their frequency will also increase by 3-9 events in the next 30 years, reaching 18-30 events by the final quarter of the century.

The frequency of severe heat waves in India will rise 30 times by the end of the century, even if India adheres to the Paris Agreement and the global mean temperature rise is limited below 2 degree celsius. If not, even a humid seaside city like Kolkata could experience temperature conditions equivalent to its deadly 2015-heat-wave every year.

Water crisis: The other effects of a two degree celsius rise in the global mean temperature over India could be on the availability of water. The annual runoff in the Ganga river basin is expected to decrease by about 20 per cent and this could worsen the current water crisis. Nearly 600 million Indians are facing high-to-extreme water stress because more than 40 per cent of the annually available surface water is being used. About 2,00,000 people are dying every year due to inadequate access to safe water, a situation likely to worsen because of water shortage by 2050.

Lower living standards for 600 million Indians: By 2050, rising temperatures and changing monsoon rainfall patterns could cost India 2.8 per cent of its gross domestic product and could lower the living standards for nearly 600 million people living in "hotspots" — areas vulnerable to changes in average temperature and rainfall, according to the June 2018 World Bank-study.

Chhattisgarh and Madhya Pradesh are predicted to be India's top two climate hot spot states by 2050, followed by Rajasthan, Uttar Pradesh, and Maharashtra. Jharkhand, Haryana, Andhra Pradesh, Punjab and Chandigarh make up the rest of the 10 worst-affected states. In all 10 states, hotter days and erratic rainfall would increase the stress on farmers, said the study.

Nutrition crisis: The rise in carbon dioxide (CO2) in atmosphere is making our food less nutritious, according to a September 2018-study by the Harvard TH Chan School of Public Health at Harvard University. It is also making crops such as rice and wheat less nutritious and could result in 175 million people — 1.9 per cent of the global population — becoming zinc-deficient and 122 million protein-deficient by 2050.

(This article was originally published on DNA. Read the original article)

(Disclaimer: The opinions expressed above are the personal views of the author and do not reflect the views of ZMCL)


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