Saturday, October 15, 2016

Climate change: WHAT IS IN STORE FOR INDIA?

Note: For the next few weeks,  a climate series will be posted with  focus on Climate change and the politics of fossil fuel industry. It is important to know and understand  that climate change is real and  there is no doubt that human intervention is the reason. Creating doubt in climate science is the malicious efforts of the fossil fuel Industry for their own prosperity. India is one of the countries who is going to be severely impacted by climate change, and hence, we should pressurize our government to act on it with utmost priority. 

IPCC (Intergovernmental panel on climate change) predicts India could experience a 40% decline in agricultural productivity in the next 50 years. This exacerbates the growing demand to double our  food production to feed the burgeoning population.  

All climate models predict more extreme weather conditions with droughts, heavy rain falls, storms in most parts of India as a result of climate change. The foremost threat is to agriculture. With different agro climatic zones, diverse cropping patterns and seasons, 2/3rd rainfed, climate variability is already affecting agriculture in India. According to Indian Institute of Tropical Meteorology, decrease in number of rainy days (5-15 days on an average) is expected over much of India, along with an increase in heavy rainfall days in the monsoon season. These changes are expected to increase the vulnerability of Indian agriculture.

The recent HudHud cyclone caused devastation for the state of Andhra Pradesh.  In one of my  visits to the affected area, the farmers showed vast tracts of previously fertile land filled with huge boulders and stones leaving it unfertile now. Most of these families with just one piece of land in their holding, now has nothing to cultivate.  According to Andhra government, cyclone HudHud caused 2190 crore rupees (328 million USD) loss with agriculture sector being the worst hit.  Similarly in 2013, Uttarakhand flash floods, 30% of cultivated area in the state was severely affected resulting crop loss and damages.  Crop loss, unfertile lands, spread of diseases are major challenges to India’s food security.
Due to vagaries of climate, agricultural investments have become a big gamble.  This has taken a heavy toll on farmers, who burdened with huge debts ends up taking their own lives. Farmer suicides have increased by 40% between 2014 and 2015.

Climate change is drastically going to affect our water resources. In India, almost 80% water is consumed for agriculture. The demand for water in urban areas has increased over the years. The growing urbanization has increased water sharing conflicts between cities and villages.  Portable drinking water is still not accessible to millions of Indians.   In addition, ground water is over exploited in many parts of the country. With the fluctuating rains, water is soon going to be an expensive commodity.

Climate change Education classes for
school children in Paderu, AP 
by Laya, INECC
A flip side to water scarcity is floods and droughts. Approximately 40 million hectares of the land is vulnerable to floods, with 8 million hectares affected by it. Of the total agricultural land in India, about 68% is prone to drought of which 33% is chronically drought prone, receiving rainfall of less than 750mm per year. Unabated global warming will lead to exacerbation of the droughts, cutting down the water availability  and increased floods will worsen the situation.

Another major challenges for Indian cities which aim to become ‘smart’ is climate resilience.  Cities are constantly threatened by climate change exposing its poor infrastructure and high vulnerability.  As India is expecting more million plus cities, infrastructure and basic services should be the first priority. The vulnerability of Indian cities is exposed in the recent 2015 Chennai floods which brought the city standstill for many days. Cities are also more prone to communicable diseases, air pollution and bad health due to changing climate. Climate change if not abated is projected to decrease India’s GDP by 9%.
It is also possible that climate change may fasten the pace of rural-urban migration over the next few decades. The agrarian crisis in rural India could be catalyzed by climate change into a migratory rout, driven by greater monsoon variability, endemic drought, flooding and resource conflict.

Also, coastal ecosystem is susceptible to huge damages as a result of climate change with salt water intrusion affecting ground water, submergence of land, displacement of families, spread of diseases, destruction of coral reefs, damages to biodiversity.


WHY 1.5 C???

With agreeing to reduce warming to “well below 2 C” in the Paris agreement, world has recognized the threat that comes with more warming. For many, including developing countries and island nations it’s a threat to their very own existence.

So what is the huge difference in half a degree?
The target to reduce warming to 1.5 C instead of 2 C is very important as a half degree averaged out over the whole world can mean much more of an increase in some locations and at certain times. It could be 5 or 10 degrees warmer at certain places than 1.5 or 2 degrees.  The European Geosciences Union published a study in April 2016 that examined the impact of a 1.5 C vs. a 2.0 C temperature increase by the end of the century. It found that the increase from 1.5 to 2 degrees raises the impact on phenomenon by about one third.  Heat waves would last around a third longer, rain storms would be about a third more intense and the increase in sea level would be approximately a third higher.

A study published by Erich Fischer and R Knutti  of the Institute for Atmospheric and Climate Science in Zurich found that the risk of what was “once in a 1,000 days” hot weather has already increased five-fold. Their modeling suggests that it will double again at 1.5 C and double once more as we go from 1.5 to 2 C.

It looks like 1.5 C warming is manageable for the world. Still 2 questions arise:
a)What are the implications of 1.5 C warming?
b) How are going to limit the warming to 1.5 C??

During the Paris meet in 2015, UN’s IPCC have been asked to submit report on implications of 1.5 C targets by 2018. 

Climate change is going to affect each one of us. Its just a matter of few years - however rich or poor - we will have to deal with it. Its high time each of us make low carbon transitions in our lifestyle at the same time  pressurize our governments to take action and voice our concerns in the international platforms. Only by engaging the entire world and bringing them in one platform, do we succeed in saving our planet!

Anu Kuncheria
anukuncheria@gmail.com

REFRENCES:
1. Senapati, M. R. , Behera, B. , & Mishra, S. R. (2013). Impact of Climate Change on Indian Agriculture & Its Mitigating Priorities. American Journal of Environmental Protection, 1(4), 109-111.

2. Kumar R, Gautam HR (2014) Climate Change and its Impact on Agricultural Productivity in India. J Climatol Weather Forecasting 2:109. doi:10.4172/2332-2594.1000109

3. https://www.theguardian.com/environment/2016/jun/16/what-would-a-global-warming-increase-of-15c-be-like

4. E. M. Fischer, R. Knutt Anthropogenic contribution to global occurrence of heavy-precipitation and high-temperature extremes, Institute for Atmospheric and Climate Science, ETH Zurich, Switzerland