Key takeaways for India from the climate change report



By Nithin Sridhar

A new report titled “Climate Change: A Risk Assessment” prepared by an International group of climate scientists, energy analysts, and financial experts has warned about various risks associated with climate change.

The report was commissioned by UK’s Foreign and Commonwealth Office, and it warns that if the global emissions of CO2 and other greenhouse gases are not controlled and reduced, there may be serious environmental and social issues like increased heat stress, crop failure, water scarcity, floods, drought, high-level migration, political instability, and terrorism.

The report assesses the risk associated with climate change in three key areas: the future pathway of global emissions, the direct risks arising from the climate’s response to those emissions, and the risks arising from the interaction of climate change with complex human systems.

Key observations regarding India

With respect to India, the report notes that being a tropical as well as a developing country, the adverse impact of climate change will be felt more by India than by the developed non-tropical countries.

It notes that though India is the third largest carbon emitter after China and US, its per capita carbon emission is far behind the other two. But with the rise in living standards of Indians, the per capita emissions would further rise.

In 2010, the per capita emissions related to energy consumption was 1.26 tons of CO2. By 2047, it is likely to rise between 3.3 tons and 5.1 tons. The demand for building space, steel, transport, and energy sectors will increase by at least three times between now and 2047.

The report suggests that by the adoption of efficient building codes, public transport system as the primary mode of travel, and other energy efficient means, India can moderate its emission intensity.

Though coal and other fossil fuels are the primary sources in producing energy and the dependence on them is likely to remain the same, the report suggests that increasing reliance on renewable resources will help in controlling emissions.

The report takes special note of two initiatives of the Indian government that will help to regulate carbon emissions. The first is the Perform, Achieve, and Trade scheme, which stipulates energy efficiency targets for plants in eight industrial sectors, failing which they would need to purchase additional energy savings certificates from over-performers. The second is the government’s target to install 175 gigawatts of renewable-based electricity generating capacity by 2022.

Direct impacts of Climate Change on India

Increased Heat Stress: The report says that there is a 40 percent chance that people in Northern India will not be able to participate in competitive outdoor activities like sports during summer time, if the global average temperature increases by one-degree centigrade every year. With a four-degree centigrade rise in average temperature, this probability will increase to 80-90 percent.

There is a 30 percent probability that the temperature will be so high that even moderate work will not be possible during the hottest month. It further notes that if the global warming exceeds 6 degrees centigrade, then a healthy sleep will become almost impossible.

Crop Failure: Crops are not very tolerant to very high temperatures and the yields may drastically reduce at very high temperatures. The rice (from southern China) has a probability of 75 percent to go beyond the threshold for a global temperature rise of 4-5 degree centigrade.

Floods: If the global emissions continue in the high emission pathway, then the Ganga basin may face floods once in every five years. When the global sea level rises by 1 meter, the probability of what is now a “100 year flood event” will become 1,000 times more likely in Kolkata.

Drought: On a high emission pathway, the cases of extreme drought will increase by 50 percent in South Asia.

Water Scarcity: The report defines water scarcity based on the per capita availability of water. It classifies the water scarcity into three categories: Moderate, Chronic and Extreme. The 2010 figures (in millions) for people of South Asia living in Moderate, Chronic and Extreme water shortage conditions are 1,394, 1,172 and 199, respectively. By 2050, this will rise to: 2,121, 1,802, and 746 respectively. That is, in 2050, around 746 million people in South Asia will be facing extreme water scarcity with access to less than 500 cubic meters of water per capita per year.

Large Scale Migration: The report quotes Vice-Admiral Chauhan (retd.) of the Indian Navy: “In South Asia, drought in Afghanistan and Pakistan, and incessant flooding and loss of land to the sea in Bangladesh, could put those countries’ governments under great stress, and precipitate large-scale migration into India.  

In India, this would combine with an internal population shift from rural to urban areas, further increasing demographic pressure in cities – many of the largest of which – including Kolkata, Chennai and Mumbai – are coastal, and will be increasingly vulnerable to flooding both from sea level rise and from more intense rainfall.  

At the same time, both the influx of internal and external migrants, and the increasing variability of the monsoon, could further destabilize the ‘Red Corridor’, a swathe of economic deprivation and misgovernance that cuts through almost all the eastern states of India, in which Marxist-Leninist rebels are waging a campaign of violence against the state. The temptation to solve this problem through military intervention could become overwhelming.”

Increased Inter-State tensions: The report states that “there is evidence that water scarcity and variability can increase political tensions between states sharing a common water resource, especially if their relations are poor due to other reasons, and can lead to diplomatic, trade, and other forms of non-military conflict.” India and surrounding countries have already had troubles related to sharing the waters of the Ganga, Indus, and Brahmaputra. These conflicts may increase in frequency and intensity with the rising climate crisis.

The report concludes on a positive note saying, “The risks of climate change may be greater than is commonly realized, but so is our capacity to confront them. An honest assessment of risk is no reason for fatalism. If we counter inertia with ingenuity, match feedback with feedback, and find and cross the thresholds of non-linear change, then the goal of preserving a safe climate for the future need not be beyond our reach.”