Climate Change Assessment and Economic Impacts

Session Report
Mansi Garg

Introduction

Professor Rekha Nianthi, a distinguished academic from the Department of Geography at the University of Peradeniya, Sri Lanka, delivered an enlightening presentation that meticulously examined the multifaceted dimensions of climate change and its profound economic implications, with a special focus on the Indian subcontinent and various Asian nations. Her insightful discourse commenced with a clear definition of climate change, characterizing it as a protracted shift in long-term temperature and weather patterns primarily driven by the burning of fossil fuels, which releases greenhouse gases like carbon dioxide and methane into the atmosphere.

Understanding Climate Change Causes

Professor Nianthi laid a strong foundation by emphasizing the significance of comprehending both the human-induced and natural triggers of climate change. She delineated the anthropogenic causes, notably emissions stemming from fossil fuel combustion, deforestation, and agricultural practices. Simultaneously, she underscored the relevance of considering natural factors such as continental drift, forest fires, volcanic eruptions, and ocean currents in the broader climate change narrative.

Global Temperature Trends

Backing her assertions with data from reputable sources, including NASA and the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC), Professor Nianthi presented compelling evidence of the consistent and worrisome escalation in global temperatures over recent decades. She highlighted that 2023 had already borne witness to some of the hottest days ever recorded, serving as a stark reminder of the ongoing trend of global warming.

The Asian Context

Transitioning seamlessly into the Asian context, Professor Nianthi illuminated the intricate interactions between the atmosphere, oceans, and land within this region. She elucidated the pivotal role played by factors such as the Intertropical Convergence Zone (ITCZ), monsoons, and the cyclical alterations in Asian countries. Her expertise illuminated the fascinating nuances of this region’s climatology.

Monsoons and Their Impact

The presentation further delved into the Asian monsoons, particularly in Sri Lanka, which experiences four distinct climatic seasons. The southwest and northeast monsoons were identified as pivotal, significantly influencing agriculture and shaping the various climate zones within the country. Professor Nianthi’s nuanced exploration painted a vivid picture of how these monsoons are integral to the fabric of life in Sri Lanka and neighbouring regions.

A Global Perspective

With a global lens, Professor Nianthi led her audience on an exploration of climate change’s far-reaching consequences. She underlined the escalating frequency and intensity of heatwaves, extreme weather events, and their adverse impact on nations spanning India, China, Europe, Pakistan, and beyond. This comprehensive view showcased the universality of the climate crisis.

Glacier Melting and Water Shortages

A poignant segment of the presentation highlighted the alarming rate at which glaciers in the Hindu Kush Himalaya region are melting—a phenomenon of great concern given its potential to trigger water shortages for millions of people who depend on these freshwater sources.

Coastal Communities

The plight of coastal communities was another focal point, with Professor Nianthi addressing the adverse ramifications of rising ocean temperatures, ocean acidification, and sea-level rise on the livelihoods and habitats of residents in Sri Lanka and neighbouring nations. These changes underscored the urgency of climate action.

Economic Implications

The crux of the presentation revolved around the profound economic ramifications of climate change. Professor Nianthi elucidated how climate change has led to increased occurrences of droughts, floods, heatwaves, and disruptions in crop production, all of which have contributed to food insecurity and substantial economic losses. The intricate link between climate change and migration patterns across Asia, particularly in countries such as Bangladesh, China, India, and the Philippines, was explored, emphasizing how climate-induced displacement further complicates these economic challenges.

National Strategies and Policies

In response to these multifaceted challenges, Professor Nianthi shed light on various national strategies and policies in Sri Lanka aimed at both adaptation and mitigation. However, she underscored the necessity for updated policies and models to adequately address the evolving impacts of climate change.

Economic Risk Assessments

Towards the conclusion of her presentation, Professor Nianthi turned her attention to economic risk assessments, emphasizing that lower-income countries, especially those in South Asia, are disproportionately vulnerable to GDP losses due to climate change. She referenced studies projecting potential global economic losses by 2050, as well as the looming risk of credit rating downgrades for over 60 countries by 2030, offering a stark reminder of the economic perils at stake.

The presentation emphasized the following key points:

  1. Definition of Climate Change: Prof Rekha Nianthi reiterated the definition of climate change as a long-term shift in temperature and weather patterns, primarily attributed to the burning of fossil fuels and the resulting greenhouse gas emissions.
  2. Human and Natural Causes: She stressed the distinction between human causes of climate change, such as emissions from fossil fuels, deforestation, and agricultural activities, and natural causes like continental drift, volcanic eruptions, and ocean currents.
  3. Temperature Trends: Prof Rekha Nianthi presented temperature trend data, showcasing the significant increase in global temperatures since the mid-20th century. She highlighted the recent record-breaking temperatures in July 2023, demonstrating the ongoing warming trend.
  4. Climate Change in the Indian Subcontinent: The speaker discussed the unique climate characteristics of the Indian subcontinent, including the influence of the Intertropical Convergence Zone (ITCZ) and monsoons. She noted that the region experiences two main monsoon seasons, the southwest and northeast monsoons, which significantly impact local climates.
  5. Global Impact of Climate Change: The presentation included a global perspective on climate change, emphasizing the growing frequency and severity of heatwaves, floods, droughts, and extreme weather events worldwide.
  6. Economic Impact on Asia: Prof Rekha Nianthi pointed out the economic consequences of climate change in Asia, including increased droughts, flooding, agricultural losses, and energy demand for cooling during hotter summers.
  7. Glacier Melting: The speaker highlighted the alarming rate of glacier melting in the Hindu Kush Himalaya region, impacting freshwater resources for millions of people.
  8. Impact on Biodiversity: Climate change is shown to affect terrestrial and freshwater species across Asia, leading to habitat loss and changes in ecosystems.
  9. Health Impacts: Prof Rekha Nianthi discussed the emerging health impacts of climate change, including heat-related illnesses, infectious diseases, and other climate-related health risks.
  10. Migration Flow: She emphasised increase migration flows due to weather-related disasters can pose challenges for affected countries.
  11. Urban Heat Islands: The presentation highlighted the intensification of urban heat islands in Asian cities, which can have adverse effects on human health and energy consumption.
  12. Water Scarcity: The speaker discussed the increasing water stress in Asian countries, particularly in transboundary river basins like the Ganges and Indus.
  13. Droughts: Prof Rekha Nianthi provided statistics on the impact of droughts in Sri Lanka and the broader Asian region, affecting millions of people and leading to water shortages.
  14. Future Predictions: The presentation included forecasts for future climate conditions and their potential economic and societal impacts, emphasizing the need for proactive measures.
  15. Nature-Based Solutions: The speaker advocated for nature-based solutions, such as wetland restoration, mangrove conservation, and urban green infrastructure, to enhance resilience to climate change.
  16. Mitigation and Adaptation: Prof Rekha Nianthi emphasized the importance of both mitigation (reducing greenhouse gas emissions) and adaptation (preparing for and minimizing the impacts of climate change) strategies.
  17. Economic Losses: The presentation highlighted the economic losses associated with climate change, with an emphasis on the need for new models to more accurately predict potential losses.
  18. Need for Awareness: The speaker stressed the importance of raising awareness about climate change and its impacts among the general population to encourage behavioral adaptations.
  19. Infrastructure Resilience: The presentation discussed the significance of infrastructure resilience and the role of adaptation measures, including green and blue infrastructure, in reducing risks.
  20. Global and Regional Efforts: Prof Rekha Nianthi mentioned global agreements like the Paris Agreement and regional efforts to address climate change, highlighting the need for coordinated action.
  21. Economic Vulnerability: The speaker noted the economic vulnerability of Asian countries, particularly those with large populations living in poverty, and the urgent need for effective climate action.

Conclusion

In summation, Professor Rekha Nianthi’s presentation provided a comprehensive, deeply informative overview and intricate impacts of changes on the Indian subcontinent and Asia, and the profound economic consequences that these regions face. With a commanding grasp of the subject matter, she articulated the urgency of addressing climate change and implementing adaptation measures to curtail damage and secure a future of sustainable development.

Her presentation acted as an unequivocal call to action, emphasising the imperative of collaborative efforts at the local, regional, and global levels to combat and curtail greenhouse gas emissions, and put into practice adaptation strategies that will safeguard the futures of Asian nations and their economies. Professor Nianthi’s powerful conclusion reiterated that it is not merely an environmental concern but a matter intrinsically tied to economic and social well-being for millions residing in the Asian region.

Acknowledgement: Mansi Garg is a research intern at IMPRI

Posted By: Riya Rajvanshi is a research intern at IMPRI

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