In the lead up to the anniversary of the signing the Paris Climate Agreement we need to re-assess climate change–induced national risks.
On the 46th Earth Day, April 22, 2016, at the UN Secretariat in New York, in a record pact, several nations committed to slowing down the emission of greenhouse gases in order to check global temperatures rising well below two degrees Celsius.
World leaders made this commitment to leave behind a cleaner and cooler world in the presence of 197 children — representative of future generations who stand to inherit the earth.
India ratified this accord on the birth anniversary of the father of the nation, Mahatma Gandhi, in 2016 ahead of the Marrakech Climate Summit. We may have committed to more renewable energy, but as a developing nation hungry for power, it’s hard to eschew coal, as witnessed by Prime Minister Narendra Modi inaugurating new units of the Koradi Thermal Power Station in Maharashtra this Good Friday.
However, the Indian administration reiterates that even though curbing “climate change is everyone’s responsibility”, developing nations are facing the consequences of the developed world’s greed.
Jharkhand, India. A young boy carries a chunk of coal into the mining camp where he lives. Photo: Robb Kendrick, National Geographic
We need to get beyond passing the buck. Indians are on the frontline and face multiple risks to human security due to climate change.
Now the World Bank exhaustively classified the risks India faces — impacts as a result of climate change way back in 2013. National studies as well as findings of the Nobel Peace Prize–winning Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change and international data from UN Environment research have reiterated them.
In addition to the well-known consequences of sea-level rise in a nation dominated by coastal megapolises and less-talked about consequences of glacier melts in a land dependent on glacier-fed perennial rivers, India faces the following:
1. Water security risks: A result of changing rainfall patterns, increasingly frequent droughts and consequently stress on groundwater and scarcity. Droughts and flooding are cyclical and the changes to the monsoon and the rainfall result in cloudbursts.
In unplanned mega-cities, even a minor cloudburst is disruptive (former US secretary of state John Kerry who was in Delhi to sign the Logistics agreements was stuck in traffic as a result of the downpour) and devastating when major (Jammu, Mumbai, Chennai floods).
2. Food security risks: The consequences of water insecurity impact food security. Crop failure and loss due to flooding and other natural disasters add to the stress in agriculture, with rural livelihoods still dependent mainly on farming. Add to this the loss of nutrients as a result of a warming planet and we have hunger and hidden hunger staring us in the face.
Villagers paddle with their belongings through floodwaters in Pobitora Wildlife Sanctuary. Photo: CNN
3. Health security risks: Health is wealth and heat waves, increasing infections fomented by a hot and humid weather as well as poor nutrition is costing people with hospitalisation expenses and poor quality of life. The water scarcity and poor quality of drinking water in general leads to kidney failure and kidney stones are ticking bombs for many Indians. Scarier, real and more painful than a possible zombie apocalypse even!
4. Energy security risks: Heat waves that melt roads also disrupt the electrical grid disrupting power supply. Power generation itself is at risk from the climate change-caused water insecurity as dams go dry and thermal power stations face a shut down due to lack of water to generate turbine-turning steam!
5. Personal security risks: According to the UN’s Global Environmental Outlook (GEO-6): Regional Assessments, more than 40 million Indians will be at risk from rising sea levels by 2050. This will add to the number of migrants and internally displaced. Rural populations and failed farmers are already flocking to the cities in search of better opportunities adding to ecological stress and social destabilisation.
Climate change impacts in India. Infographic by Business Today.
Where cities lie on the coast, the populations’ lives and livelihoods still remain at risk. According to a November 2015 World Bank report, by 2030, climate change’s effect on the Indian economy could impoverish 45 million.
Considering the link between revolts and climate change-induced food insecurity, inflation and income inequality, ensuring social stability is definitely at peril.
In a more domestic consequence of climate-induced insecurity, domestic violence against women left behind by migrant workers is on the rise.
Follow the money trail of the bankers and the insurers and you will realise the need to tackle the risk. Insurers flock to climate conferences while governments drag their feet. We really do need to ensure that the global temperature increase doesn’t exceed 1.5 degrees Celsius in order for us and the planet to survive and thrive.
At this tipping point, we need to look into methods of healing the world and creating carbon sinks that reverse global warming.
It may not be as easy as returning a stolen heart stone to an enraged goddess, but a secure future lies in responsible eco-friendly action.
Originally published in Daily O