The , the UN’s expert body of scientists on climate change, has come at a time when India has recorded the and is suffering heat waves in the first week of April. It has special significance for India, which is among the most vulnerable nations to climate change disasters with 18 percent of the world’s population but less than 3 percent of landmass.
The report – which deals with climate change mitigation – is the third and final document in the process of preparing the sixth assessment report (AR-6) which will be a comprehensive document showcasing the reasons, impact and possible ways to avert the climate crisis. It is a grim reminder for poor and developing countries such as India which are facing the worst impacts of climate change in the form of prolonged droughts, scorching heatwaves, unusually powerful and recurring cyclones, extreme downpours and coastal flooding.
Experts have been warning that such situations will pose a serious threat to India’s food, water and economic security.
Clock is ticking, India on edge
The IPCC report has stated that between 2010 and 2019, the average global greenhouse gas emissions were at their “highest level in human history” though the rate of growth slowed. The assessment also warned that to limit the warming at the threshold of 1.5 degrees Celsius, global emissions should peak by 2025 and overall emissions should be reduced by 43 percent by 2030.
In a report released in December 2019, India was ranked the among 181 nations in terms of climate change impact. In 2018, a report by HSBC said India is out of 67 major economies.
In October 2021, the Delhi-based Council on Energy, Environment and Water released which found that more than 80 percent of India’s population lives in districts highly vulnerable to hydro-met disasters. The report also highlighted that the southern zone of India is most vulnerable to extreme climate events, and 59 percent districts in eastern zone and more than 40 percent in western India vulnerable to cyclonic disasters.
Abinash Mohanty, programme lead at CEEW who also reviewed the second working group report of IPCC, said, “These reports of IPCC are a stark reality check that climate change is ravaging the lives, livelihoods, infrastructures and economies. Finding of these reports reiterate that planetary thresholds will be breached under business and usual, and there will be a sharp rise in climate extremes.”
“CEEW’s research found that the frequency and intensity of extreme climate events in India have increased by almost 200 percent since 2005, with more than 75 percent of its districts being extreme events hotspots. Our policymakers, industry leaders and citizens must use the district-level analysis to make effective risk-informed decisions,” Mohanty said.
India’s Himalayan range has more than 10,000 big and small glaciers and they feed rivers such as Indus, Ganga and Brahmaputra that cater to the demands of more than 40 percent people in the country.
More than 250 million people directly or indirectly depend on India’s 7,500-km coastline for their livelihood, but due to global warming, the sea level is rising and the frequency and intensity of cyclones increasing.
It is not only the Sundarbans – the largest mangrove forest which is also in the UNESCO’s world heritage list – that are endangered but religious and cultural heritage sites such as the Gateway of India, Somnath temple and Vivekananda rock memorial may go under the sea.
According to Mohanty, “climate-proofing of physical and ecosystem infrastructures” should also now become a “national imperative”. “India must create a new Climate Risk Commission to coordinate the environmental de-risking mission. Finally, with loss and damage rising exponentially due to the climate crisis, investing in nature-based solutions can mitigate the scale of impact of these rising climate extremes,” he said.
Dependency on fossil fuel
Almost of India’s installed power capacity is from thermal power plants. The IPCC report stated that there is an urgent need to cut fossil fuels, but according to the International Energy Agency, and the demand will be 1.18 billion tonnes by 2024.
According to the International Energy Agency, India’s coal consumption will increase 3.8 percent by 2024.
However, India has set ambitious goals to build renewable capacity. According to the ministry of new and renewable energy, India has increased its percent in the last 7.5 years. Today, the is more than 50,000 MW whereas the wind power is more than 40,000 MW.
The IPCC report stated that since 2010 there have been sustained decreases of up to 85 percent in the costs of solar and wind energy, and batteries, and this can help countries achieve a low carbon path – India’s initiative to build an International Solar Alliance is a step in this direction. Today, to this solar treaty.
Impact on GDP
Prime Minister Narendra Modi set a goal for India to become a , but climate change may play a spoiler. Last year, London-based global think tank Overseas Development Institute that India may lose 3 to 10 percent of GDP annually by 2100 and its poverty rate may go up to 3.5 percent by 2040 due to climate change.
The Proceedings of National Academies of Sciences, a prestigious American science journal, found three years ago that the and hit developing countries like India. Examining the annual temperature and GDP of 165 countries over the last 50 years (1961-2010), PNAS found that global warming hits the economy of poor countries. It found that the earnings of poor and developing nations decreased by 17 to 31 percent due to global warming impacts – the main reason being decreased productivity and losses due to climate disasters. It said India’s GDP is 30 percent lower today than what it could have been without the impacts of global warming.
Is there a solution?
Since India’s energy demand graph will rise in the coming years and fossil fuel will cater to a large part of it, the solution cannot focus just on the supply – sustainability is the key. Joyshree Roy, one of the lead authors of the IPCC report, said that it will be important to know “how we can reorganise our social and economic activities” so that there can be “higher human well-being with less use of energy”.
Roy said the demand side can handle 40 to 70 percent of the mitigation burden and there are many sectors that have the potential to handle this.
“If we look into food waste reduction, it is a choice that everybody can make for sustainable healthy diet featuring plant-based food, nuts and several other things which are already there. If you provide the right kind of access to infrastructure for helping the waste reduction in the whole supply chain of food then actually we free up some land because you are not producing that much. And this may let you avoid deforestation and you can actually do some afforestation,” Roy said.