The phenomenon of climate change has been happening throughout history.But, anthropogenic activities have been taking a toll on the local, regional, and global environments since the Industrial Revolution. The effects are manifested in changing rainfall patterns, sea-level rise, frequent occurrences of extreme weather events, shrinking glaciers, and ocean acidification. It is projected that between 2030 and 2052, the global temperature would reach around 4°C. Undoubtedly, global warming would lead to the frequent occurrence of climate-induced disasters.
Almost 1.3 million deaths and 1.4 billion injuries occurred due to different disasters like storms, floods, heatwaves, drought, etc., between 1998–2017. Other than deaths, climatic disasters are a significant factor for human displacement that makes people homeless in many disaster-affected nations. Reports state that disaster related losses have increased upto 151% in the last 20 years.
Climate Emergencies, Urbanisation Make Coastal Areas 'High-risk' Zones in the Global South
While temperature-rise and its effects are global, the developing nations and the Global South are the most hit regions.
Global warming, unplanned urbanisation, and rapid climate change expose the urban poor to natural hazards. At present, almost 3.9 billion people are located in urban areas. This number is likely to rise to 6.3 billion by 2050, which is nearly 66% of the total world's population. The growth of urbanisation primarily has been occurring in the Global South.
The problem of flooding, for example, is compounded due to the presence of informal settlements on the floodplains, poorly designed (and absence of ) waste disposal system coupled with higher runoff from hardened surfaces such as roads and pavements. Coastal regions are being projected as high-risk areas as they face significant damages due to climate emergencies.
Mumbai, Sunderbans, Kerala: How bad It Is Right now
Scott A. Kulp and Benjamin H. Strauss have predicted that by 2050, the sea levels would be high enough to engulf lands where almost 150 million people live. Indian Sundarban-Biosphere-Reserve (SBR) is a case of a dynamic ecosystem with a vast mangrove stretch with huge biodiversity reserves in the world. However, the area is now severely threatened by climate change-induced disasters. In the last 23 years, the area has witnessed 13 supercyclones.
Also, sea-level rise, salinity alteration, and other anthropogenic activities have pushed the local communities at the frontline of vulnerability. Researchers have explained that altered salinity is severely affecting mangrove growth. Ironically, the embankments constructed to protect people have made their lives even more vulnerable by interfering with the tidal flows and influencing sediment deposition. Man-made diking has also exacerbated the hazard of floods. All this environmental degradation comes at the cost of economic uncertainties of communities staying in Sunderban. Needless to mention that their livelihoods depend on the forest.
Not only Sundarbans, but places like Mumbai may also face severity due to ongoing human activities. Although urbanisation is imperative for economic development, unsustainable urbanisation can cause irreversible harm to coastal ecosystems and invite the wrath of nature.
Cyclones are becoming more frequent, like Tauktae in 2021, Vayu in 2019, and Nisarga 2020.
An IIT-Bombay research has highlighted the severe violation of coastal-regulation-zones (CRZ) along the Maharashtra coastline, which increased from 2002 to 2019. The same study points that coastal No Development Zones (NDZs) have been reduced to almost 50–96%. Places like Kochi, Chennai, and other coastal cities also could face a similar threat.
Almost 170 million people live in the coastal areas of India, and nearly 49% of Indians depend upon the coast in direct or indirect ways.
India has 7200 km of shoreline, and this whole stretch is being subjected to continuous anthropogenic stressors like unplanned urbanisation and development.
36 Million Indians Will be Displaced by 2020: Study
Reports suggest that almost 235 square km of coastal land were eroded and lost from 1990 to 2016.
As per the Internal Displacement Monitoring Centre data, displacement of nearly 3.8 million Indians took place as of 2020 for causes like flooding due to heavy monsoon rainfall. Different scientific studies propose that climate change heavily induces human migration and displacement, especially along the Indian coastline.
An 8.5 cm of sea-level rise has taken place along the Indian coast in the last five decades. NCCR 2018 report states that during the previous 26 years, severe erosion has changed almost 70% of West Bengal's coastline, followed by Kerala (65 %), Gujarat (60 %), and Odisha (50 %). Studies predict frequent flooding and assert a possible displacement of almost 36 million people residing in those areas by 2100.
It is very easy to identify the stresses caused by a sudden onset of disasters and displacement/migration due to them. But, it is rather difficult to assess migration patterns caused by slow disasters like sea-level rise. The aftermath of the 2018 flood in Kerala witnessed a displacement of almost 1.4 million people. This incident should be a strong reminder of the enormous human-climate conflict about to occur soon in India.
India Not Prepared for Slow-Onset Disasters
Understanding the severity of extreme weather events and their implication on local communities is of utmost importance. Experts have suggested that forming a holistic vulnerability framework and inclusion of coastal communities in preparing a sustainable coastal management plan might help combat the vulnerability in coastal regions like Sunderban. Sustainable embankments in the coastal areas might lead to better livelihood opportunities. In addition, mangrove conservation and disaster risk management policies could elevate the ecosystem and socioeconomic setup of the coastal structure of the Reserve. Sustainable urbanisation and coastal development (by public and private players) plans and conservation management plans are required for the long-term protection of the coastal lines of Maharashtra.
Current policies in India have considered the migration issues related to rapid-onset disasters like cyclones under disaster reduction and rehabilitation policies. However, slow-onset disaster-induced migrations are yet to make a policy-level occurrence.
The existing institutional policies in India do not identify migrated victims of environmental degradation. The repositioning of different coastal communities and settlements should be prioritised as a preventive disaster management strategy. Climate change is unavoidable, and the intensity and frequency of disasters will only increase in the future. Hence, we need a futuristic national-level policy on sustainable coast management.
French researchers Pablo Servigne and Raphaël Stevens explained how changing weather and climate patterns lead to environmental degradation, scarcity of resources, and widespread extinctions. Histories suggest that human-induced environmental degradation caused collapses in societies like the Maya, Harappan civilisation, Easter Island, etc.
The diminishing resources resulting from environmental degradation lead to fights and wars, which threaten our security. Needless to say, both international and national security discourses have always been a primary driving force for forming different security policies.
Hence, "threats" associated with climate change are real, and more climate scholars and practitioners should be included in the process. Nevertheless, the consensus is that climate change is happening and action is indeed urgently needed.
(Dr. Tuli Bakshi is a Postdoctoral Fellow at the Indian Institute of Technology Bombay. She has done her PhD from IIT Kharagpur and is presently doing postdoctoral research in the Dept of Earth Science at IIT Bombay. Her primary research area is combating greenhouse gas emissions through CO2 sequestration. This is an opinion piece and the views expressed above are the author’s own. The Quint neither endorses nor is responsible for the same.)