India's Economy, Food Security Faces Serious Harm By Climate Change: IPCC Report

Heat and humidity in India could pass limits of human survivability, the report says.

Climate Change
4 min read
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The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change’s Working Group II report — 'Climate Impacts, Adaptation and Vulnerability' lists India under one of those countries that will be economically harmed the most by climate change.

The report which was released on 28 February Monday, sets the tone for "unequivocal" consequences of climate change caused by human greenhouse gas emissions which is damaging nature and also exposing human societies to irreversible risks.


What Does it Mean for India?

The report says that India could be one of those countries where heat and humidity would pass limits of human survivability.

The report refers to wet-bulb temperatures, a measure that combines heat and humidity. (A wet-bulb temperature of 31°C is extremely dangerous for humans, while a value of 35°C is unsurvivable for more than about 6 hours, even for fit and healthy adults resting in the shade.)

While Patna and Lucknow are expected to exceed wet-bulb temperatures of 35°C, most of the Indian states and cities could reach dangerous levels by the end of the century.

India is also one of those countries which are most vulnerable to sea-level rise.

By the middle of the century, around 35 million people in India could face annual coastal flooding, with 45-50 million at risk by the end of the century if emissions are high. The risks would be far fewer if emissions are lower.

Given the range of impacts from climate change, India's food production and food security will also be severely hit. Combined with disasters taking place across the world, this will impact international supply chains, markets, trade and result in economic shocks.

Climate change could also mean that about 40% of people in India will live with water scarcity by 2050 compared with about 33% now. Ganges and Brahmaputra river basins could see increased flooding if warming passes 1.5°C.

India is also seen as the most vulnerable country in terms of crop production, warns the report. Rice, wheat, pulses, coarse and cereal yields could fall almost 9% by 2050. In the South, maize production could decrease 17% if emissions remain high.

However, the adaptation plans for Indian cities currently focus only on one or two risks while ignoring the compounding nature of disasters such as tropical cyclones coinciding with heatwaves and urban droughts.

As such risks increase, the report says, the adaptive capacity of local communities will be threatened, especially low-income marginalised communities.


Risks For The World At Large

The report that was finalised and approved by 270 authors and 195 governments, note that people in every part of the world are already suffering from impacts of climate change physically, mentally and economically but these impacts are getting increasingly complex and difficult to manage.

Asian countries for instance, are experiencing a hotter summer climate resulting in increase of energy demand for cooling at a rapid rate. Decrease in precipitation influences energy demand as well, as desalination, underground water pumping and other energy intensive methods are increasingly used for water supply.

Among thirteen developing countries with large energy consumption in Asia, eleven are exposed to high energy insecurity and industrial systems risk.

However, losses and damage will only be increasing henceforth, the report warns if emissions are only cut at the rate currently planned. Faster emission cuts will be the only way to prevent this.

Temperature rise beyond 1.5°C, will cause entire ecosystems to be irreversibly lost, even if temperatures are later reduced with measures to remove carbon dioxide from the atmosphere.

Some ecosystems are already at the limits of what they can adapt to, including some warm water coral reefs, coastal wetlands, rainforests, and polar and mountain ecosystems.

"This mass damage is known as ecocide and it's at the root of the global crisis of climate and nature. It's time to criminalise ecocide at the highest level, creating a legal guardrail to protect Earth's vital ecosystems and steer humanity back to safety. Governments must gear up now to make this law a reality - it's a matter of life or death.”
Jojo Mehta, Co-Founder & Executive Director of Stop Ecocide International

Way Ahead

Adaptation to climate change is essential, the report says, but adaptation also is not an alternative to emission cuts should warming continue.

Moreover, the shortage of international finance for adaptation is an important factor that is preventing countries across the world from adapting to climate change.

While global climate finance has increased in recent years, it is still not enough to meet poorer countries’ needs for adaptation, the report says.

“IPCC reports are like alarm bells for the climate crisis. This latest report is a sobering reminder that our global failure to cut emissions is leading to devastating health, economic, and social impacts around the world. But the report is also a reminder that we have the power to change this."
"Christiana Figueres, Co-Founder Global Optimism, former Executive Secretary of the UN Framework Convention on Climate Change

“Near-term actions that limit global warming to close to 1.5°C would substantially reduce projected losses and damages related to climate change in human systems and ecosystems, compared to higher warming levels, but cannot eliminate them all”, the report cautions.

Nonetheless, the urgent task at hand is to create the conditions for development that also allow people and nature to cope with the impacts of climate change in a sustainable and equitable way.

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