As the world standstill on a climate strike across cities this week demanding more policy change, we look at what does climate change mean for India and what options do we have to save the climate while saving our economy.
Climate change has sunk into every aspect of beings and beyond. It is no more only affecting our ecosystems but economies and development. It is evident that these extreme discrepancies in nature have been driven by the production and consumption behavior of humans. Since the pre-industrial 19th century, average surface temperatures on Earth rose to 0.95 degrees Celsius between 1880 and 2016 (NOAA, 2017). Studies show that this temperature will blow past 1.5 degrees Celsius by early 2026 and very soon it will exceed the dangerous threshold of 2 degrees Celsius within a 30-40 years’ time period (Henley & King, 2017). The magnitude of the threat is at its peak for the world to respond, yet in reality countries like India need to take regress policy decisions and it is no more matter of picking the best basket but of picking the most sustainable one.
Impact of Climate Change in India
While climate change remains one of the most talked-about topics, understanding the facts about what does this change really means is important. The global temperature is changing. In India, average temperatures have increased by 0.6 degrees Celsius between 1901-10 and 2009-18. (IMD, 2018) The World Bank estimates that, if climate change continues unhindered, then average temperatures in India could reach as high as 29.1° C by the end of the century up from 25.1° C currently. The change in temperature level affects different aspects of beings such as,
Deterioration of the Ecosystem
In India’s western coastal states due to floods, more than 247 people have died in 2019. The number of rainy days is decreasing while intense rainfall events of 10-15 cm per day are increasing. The trend of low rainfall at the beginnings of the monsoons season and heavy rainfall towards the end is disrupting the entire ecosystem.
The weather report published on August 2019, the 15 places where it rained most around the world, eight were from India -Naliya, Okha, and Rajkot in Gujarat, Mahabaleshwar in Maharashtra, Cochin, Alapuzha, and Kozhikode in Kerala (El Dorado, 2019). However, the same weather report listed four places of India among the world’s hottest 15 places around June 2019.
India’s geography is vulnerable to global warming with 7500Km of coastline, and more than 10,000 big and small glaciers in the Himalayan region. According to the Environment Ministry, between 2018 and 2019 as many as 2400 Indians lost their lives to extreme weather events such as floods and cyclones.
Will ‘Good Health’ be a myth?
With the changing, temperatures and precipitation patterns to climate change, population’s health are being affected by an increasing rate of various vector-borne diseases, (Bhattacharya, Sharma, Dhiman, & Mitra, 2008). These diseases have affected the vulnerable section of the society which includes the elderly, children, urban populations, and the poor.
The rise in the disruptive rainfall patterns has affected the supply of fresh water. A lack of safe water can compromise hygiene and increases the risk of diarrhoeal diseases, trachoma (an eye infection that can lead to blindness) and other illnesses (Environ Health Perspect, 2011).
In Bihar, around 200 people died due to extreme heatwaves. Exposure to outdoor and indoor heatwaves and air pollution has contributed to nearly five million deaths from stroke, diabetes, heart attack, lung cancer and chronic lung disease in 2017. Thus, becoming the third-largest cause of death in India.
Effect on the Economy
A region’s vulnerability to temperature changes depends on several factors such as access to infrastructure (electricity, roads and water connections) and dependence on agriculture (Mint, 2019). Central districts in India are the most vulnerable to climate change due to deficiency in infrastructure and are largely agrarian. GDP per capita of the central region could shrink by nearly 10% by 2050 because of climate change. (WB, 2019)
A primary channel for the fall in incomes comes from climate change’s effects on farmers. The monsoon and suitable temperatures are critical inputs for farmers. Hotter weather and disrupted rainfall hurt crop yields and, consequently, their incomes (Mint, 2019). Extreme temperatures and droughts shrink farmer incomes to the tune of 4-14% for key crops. (Survey, 2018) Poorer farmers in regions with weaker infrastructure and less irrigation are most affected.
It is estimated that by 2030, temperatures in the Himalayas region are projected to rise up to 2.6 degrees Celsius and also increase in intensity by 2-12% with respect to 1970s. That means there will be an increase in flash flood events leading to large scale landslides and loss of agriculture area affecting food security.
In industries such as construction, high temperatures can make life miserable for workers and decrease their productivity (Mint, 2019). According to the International Labour Organization, the loss in productivity by 2030 because of heat stress could be the equivalent of India losing 34 million full-time jobs (up from 15 million in 1995)—the highest among the world’s most populous nations.
The Failed Efforts
With the manufacturing and agriculture industry in a sinking situation, climate change would worsen the situation of the Indian economy. The country relies largely on the non-renewable and most polluting energy source-coal for electricity, around 68% emissions come from generating energy which contributes significantly to climate change. Moreover, the inefficient agricultural policy encourages excessive water use, which intensifies any climate change-induced monsoon variations.
In the 2011 Gadgil committee, which was headed by ecologist Madhav Gadgil recommended that 64% of the Western Ghats area should be declared as an ecologically sensitive area. Then in 2012, the Environment Ministry made another committee to examine the Gadgil Committee report. The Kasturirangan Committee headed by Indian space scientist K Kasturirangan drastically reduced the area under protection from 64% to 37%. Moreover, the committee refuses any role to democratically elected local bodies on environmental issues. States such as Gujarat, Maharashtra, Goa, Karnataka, Kerala, Tamil Nadu have not accepted both the committee report. These states have a higher risk of extreme weather events and their defiance towards protecting their ecological area will further induce catastrophic situations (India Times, 2019).
Looking at the current political scenario in India, climate change policies don’t seem to be the number one priority. In order to increase the ranking in the ease of doing business, the requirement of Environmental Impact Assessments has been removed by the government. Thus, many pending projects that were held on grounds of saving the environment have been approved. In order to protect the environment, a clean energy Cess is been charged from the people by the Indian government. In between 2010 and 2018, around Rs. 86,440 crores have been collected as Clean Energy Cess (Department of Expenditure, 2018). Out of which, only around Rs. 20,942.29 crores were transferred to National Clean Energy Fund. From that 20,000 crores only around Rs. 15,911.49 crore were used on projects. This was a non-lapsable fund important to mitigating climate change. In addition, the government diverted the remaining Rs. Rs 60,500 crore to the losses incurred due to the introduction of GST (ET, 2018).
The climate change is not pertinent to certain individuals or a country but it is indeed a global phenomenon. More than the country’s peace we have come to the point where the obligation for peace with the environment has to be given due importance. India being a developing and geographically sub-continental region is seriously susceptible to calamitous events from climate change.
From the type of crops to the infrastructure development, the necessity of taking a sensitive approach is essential. It’s important to build a network of research institutions throughout the country under a national program. Learn more quickly from the research and the past errors and then apply it to the real world. There should be faster and quick progress in the experimentation and the implementation process.
The obvious choice for India to be part of climate change action is, its energy transitions from coal-based energy source to renewable energy. The future of India and its economic growth plans are critically linked to the fortunes of the energy sector. There are possibilities of the setback in the economic growth and will create inhibitions in the sight for the common people regarding its cost and efficiency. However, this statement is not reflecting the reality as consumers are not impacted by the declining costs of renewable and subsidies. Moreover, the acceleration of the demand and supply will be balanced by the renewable energy grid integration (TERI, 2019).
Socially, the inclusion of youth in the process of action against climate change and the importance of the political will to face this crisis should be given due diligence. The 600 million young Indians comprise the majority of the votes, therefore, it is the strong political will enables to address the issue meticulously through wise policy changes.
When climate change is affecting the entire ecosystem, health of the population and the economy of the country, what will be India’s choice of priority as one of the fastest growing economies? Is it to lead the race and save the economy or prioritize sustainability and save the ecosystem?
Written By Viji Rajesh, Research Associate Policy Talks
Bhattacharya, S., Sharma, C., Dhiman, R., & Mitra, A. (2008). Climate change and malaria in India.
Carbon Brief. (2018). The impacts of climate change at 1.5C, 2C and beyond. Carbon Brief.
Environ Health Perspect. (2011). Impacts of Climate Change on Public Health in India: Future Research Directions. NCBI.
ET. (2018, December 10). Parliamentary panel objects to diversion of clean energy fund to compensate states for GST. Economic Times.
Henley, B., & King, A. (2017). Trajectories toward the 1.5°C Paris target: Modulation by the
Interdecadal Pacific Oscillation. Geophysical Research Letters.
IPCC. (2018). Global Warming of 1.5 degrees Celsius. Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change.
Mint. (2019, July 21). The growing threat of climate change in India. LiveMint.
NOAA. (2017). Global Climate Report. National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration .