In India, average temperatures have increased by 0.6 degrees Celsius (° C) between 1901-10 and 2009-18, according to the India Meteorological Department (IMD). This has resulted in warmer cities and frequent heat waves, disrupted rainfall patterns and increased frequency of extreme weather events. This year, the country witnessed heat and drought in parts of Tamil Nadu, Rajasthan, Gujarat, and in the central region of India whereas floods disrupted livelihoods in the states of Assam, Meghalaya, Bihar and Maharashtra. Now floods have ravaged parts of Karnataka, Kerala, and Maharashtra.
These extreme climatic conditions have been a recurring phenomenon. Even on a global level, one of the most pressing issues of our time has been climate change. Subhajit Naskar, Assistant Professor in Jadavpur University, informed BE, “Climate change is one of the most intricate problems facing mankind today. The paramount complexity of the problem is ascribed to its deeper global consequences on a vast range of issues impacting the very survival of life on Earth.” India, being one of the most populated countries in the world can face severe challenges due to unchecked climate change.
Effects of climate change
The rise in extreme hot days across Indian cities is part of climate change. This summer, major cities in India, such as Delhi, Mumbai, Bengaluru and Hyderabad frequently experienced temperatures above 35°C. World Bank data suggests that due to these increasing hot days, the west coast and southern India are projected to shift to new, high-temperature climatic regimes with significant impact on agriculture. The coastal areas are also vulnerable to sea-level rise, tropical cyclones, and riverine flooding. Many parts of India are already experiencing severe water crisis. An increase in variability of monsoon rainfall, urbanisation, population growth, economic development and increasing demand for water from agricultural and industrial sectors are likely to aggravate the situation. On the other hand, most Himalayan glaciers - where a substantial part of the moisture is supplied by the summer monsoon - have been retreating over the past century. Even with collective international efforts, to restrict global warming to 1.5° C, the glaciers will still have shrunk by 36% by the end of this century.
Impact on the population
A report released by Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) in 2018 stated, “The impact of a 1.5° C increase in global temperatures will disproportionately affect disadvantaged and vulnerable populations through food insecurity, higher food prices, income losses, lost livelihood opportunities, adverse health impacts, and population displacements.” What makes India - an ambitious economic giant - extremely vulnerable to climate-induced stress is its large proportion of extreme poor population whose livelihoods depend on agriculture and natural resources. Farmers may be the most hurt by climate change but other workers can be affected too. In industries such as construction, high temperatures can make life miserable for workers and decrease their productivity. Increasingly harsh weather patterns, declining rainfall and water stress in many parts of the country have become common, with profound impact on poverty, rural livelihoods and migration to cities in search of economic opportunities. According to the World Bank, by 2020 the pressure on India’s water, air, soil and forests is expected to become the highest in the world. Rising sea levels will not only drive large-scale migration from its coastal communities to its already over-crowded urban centres but also from neighbouring countries like Bangladesh, exposing India to destabilisation, food and water insecurity and conflict over precious natural resources.
Urgent implementation of solutions needed
The economically marginalised sections bear the major brunt of climate change. According to Naskar, “The most effective way to address climate change for India is to immediately adopt a sustainable development pathway by moving to environmentally sustainable technologies and promotion of energy efficiency, forest conservation, reforestation, renewable energy, water conservation among others.” While the Indian government continues to emphasise on poverty alleviation and economic development as the country’s highest priorities, stances on domestic emission reductions indicate that India is taking considerable steps to encourage more constructive climate policies.
In many ways, India is paying for the excesses of the developed world. In terms of global greenhouse gas emissions, India’s share remains significantly lower than those of both the US and China. India’s climate change crisis is majorly a result of outside forces but there are domestic drivers as well. For instance, the country still overwhelmingly relies on coal for electricity, the emissions from which contribute significantly to climate change (68% of India’s emissions come from generating energy). Naskar added, “India also needs to urgently reduce the growth of energy-related carbon dioxide emissions through economic restructuring, local environmental protection, and technological change.” The Indian government has set a fairly ambitious renewable energy target, but that comes with their own set of challenges.
Awareness and conservation of resources
According to a World Bank Study, nearly half of the population in India lives in places that are most likely to become severe climatic hotspots by 2050. A research conducted by Yale University observed that 65% of the Indian population is not aware of climate change and related issues. There is need for more awareness.