COP28: Data Deficits and India's Role in Dealing With Climate Tipping Points

India struggles with the absence of localised climatic data required to develop context-specific adaptation plans.

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The recently released Global Tipping Points report issues a stark warning as carbon pollution continues to drive global temperatures to dangerous heights: humanity stands on the brink of five critical climate tipping points, with three more looming in the 2030s if temperatures rise by 1.5C above pre-industrial levels. These tipping points—the thawing of permafrost, the collapse of ice sheets, and the death of coral reefs—could have catastrophic, irreversible effects ranging from mass migration to financial collapse.

The report highlights the unprecedented dangers associated with tipping points, emphasising that they can trigger devastating domino effects, including the loss of whole ecosystems and capacity to grow staple crops, with societal impacts including mass displacement, political instability, and financial collapse. These tipping points have the potential to cause sudden and irreversible changes in how the world functions, in contrast to gradual changes linked to greenhouse gas emissions. 


What Does the Report Say?

The uncertainty around the timing of these changes emphasises the need for quick action. Three more tipping points could soon be added to the list, affecting mangroves, seagrass meadows, and boreal forests. This would increase the urgency of swift global action. The analysis, which was released in conjunction with the COP28 climate meeting in Dubai, reveals that the globe will warm by 2.5C by the end of the century, exceeding the 1.5C limit that has been pledged.

Because Earth's systems are interrelated, there is a risk of "tipping cascades." For instance, melting the Greenland ice sheet might have a domino effect that affects important currents and weather patterns. The report highlights the catastrophic potential of tipping-point hazards and calls for careful attention despite the unanswered questions.

The research lists "positive tipping points," such as the growing popularity of electric vehicles and the falling cost of renewable energy, while also emphasising the grave repercussions. However, these changes necessitate concerted efforts to promote innovation, control industry, and enlist public support. 

These results highlight the urgent need for international cooperation to lessen the catastrophic effects of climate tipping points. The report acts as a clear call to action for COP28 leaders, who need to acknowledge the seriousness of the crisis and its far-reaching implications for the future of our planet, to review and reinforce their promises. Before irrevocable tipping points forced us into an environmentally disastrous future, now is the moment to take action. 


India at the Crossroads: Navigating Climate Tipping Points

India, a nation home to over a billion people, faces severe ramifications as the globe plays with catastrophic climatic tipping points. The Global Tipping Points research findings are especially important for India since they exacerbate the country's already severe environmental problems and add to the strain of a country already dealing with a range of climate-related problems. 

The primary worry is the possible effects on agriculture, the backbone of the Indian economy, and the provision of food for a sizable section of the country's population. Tipping points could upset monsoons and jeopardise the production of essential crops, such as the melting of ice sheets and changes in weather patterns. Since agriculture employs a significant portion of the population, any disruption in this area could result in food insecurity, unstable economies, and higher poverty rates.

Furthermore, India's extensive coastline is at risk due to the impending threat to coastal ecosystems, including mangroves and coral reefs. The loss of protecting coastal features and rising sea levels could make densely populated coastal areas more susceptible to floods and other extreme weather events, making urban planning and disaster management more difficult. 

Changes in precipitation patterns and permafrost thawing could strain India's already limited water resources. River flows may alter, influencing the water available for domestic, industrial, and agricultural use. The report's focus on mass displacement brought on by tipping points is especially pertinent to India, a country with a high population density and vulnerable groups who are at risk. Climate-related catastrophes may cause internal migration, damaging infrastructure, social harmony, and available resources. 

India must increase its efforts to mitigate climate change in response to these difficulties through international cooperation and domestic legislation. Investing in resilient infrastructure, renewable energy sources, and sustainable agricultural techniques becomes essential. Furthermore, it is essential to support research and innovation to adapt to the changing crucial for India's long-term sustainability.

The Global Tipping Points research highlights the need for comprehensive and adaptable climate policies as India navigates these looming challenges. In addition to protecting the country's economy and ecology, addressing these problems will contribute to the worldwide effort to combat climate change. 


Data Drought in the Climate Crisis

The Global Tipping Points research stresses the essential difficulty of the problematic lack of climate change-related data, impeding effective decision-making, in addition to the immediate threats posed by climate tipping points. Crafting solutions to mitigate and adapt to climate change is made more difficult by the lack of comprehensive and up-to-date knowledge in the face of extraordinary environmental fluctuations. 

In the field of climate science itself, a clear effect of data shortage is apparent. The report underscores the imprecise nature of tipping point timing and triggers, underscoring the pressing requirement for accurate and comprehensive climate data. Our comprehension of the complexities of the climate system is hampered by scientists' inability to effectively simulate and forecast the cascading impacts of possible tipping points without a robust dataset. 

Global policymakers trying to reach emission reduction objectives face difficulties due to inadequate climate data. Accurate knowledge of current emission levels, their sources, and the efficacy of mitigation strategies is necessary for making well-informed decisions. The lack of such data makes it more difficult for governments to implement policies that could successfully reduce carbon emissions and lessen the effects of climate change.

India is among the nations in the region that struggle with the absence of localised climatic data required to develop context-specific adaptation plans. Precise data is essential for developing resilience plans for agriculture, water resource management, and disaster preparedness in a country susceptible to various climatic hazards, ranging from extreme weather events to shifting precipitation patterns. An experiment has happened with the India Data Portal that provides open-source data and visualisation based on the available information. However, challenges of district and sub-district level information remain to provide a comprehensive understanding for decision-makers. 

Furthermore, the lack of data on climate change makes it difficult to get money for programs that address the issue. International organisations and funding agencies frequently need accurate data to prioritise initiatives and allocate resources efficiently. Lack of such information makes it more difficult for countries, particularly poor ones, to get financial support essential for putting sustainable practices into place and lessening the effects of climate change. 

International cooperation is essential to overcoming this data deficit. Investments in satellite systems, open-access data platforms, and cutting-edge monitoring technologies are crucial to close the gaps. A more thorough understanding of climate dynamics can be achieved by supporting scientific research, developing international collaboration, and establishing data-sharing platforms. Governments with access to reliable and detailed climate-related data can only decide how to overcome the challenges posed by the approaching tipping points and create a sustainable future. 

[Anjal Prakash is a Clinical Associate Professor (Research) at Bharti Institute of Public Policy, Indian School of Business (ISB). He teaches sustainability at ISB and contributes to IPCC reports. This is an opinion article and the views expressed above are the author’s own. The Quint neither endorses nor is responsible for them.]

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Topics:  Climate Change 

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