Understanding the Nuances of Climate Change in the Indian Subcontinent: Impact and Way Forward is an Online International Monsoon School Program, a Six-Week Immersive Online Introductory Certificate Training Course from August-September 2023 by IMPRI Impact and Policy Research Institute. An informative and interactive panel discussion on “Contextualizing Climate Change in South Asia with a special focus on its Impact” was held on the 5th of August 2023 by Mr Soumya Dutta, Mr Soumya Dutta, Co-Convener, South Asian People’s Action on Climate Crisis (SAPACC), New Delhi.
Mr. Dutta commenced by introducing the concept of climate change and its origin, contextualizing it globally and its relevance to the Indian Subcontinent. The diverse impacts of climate change were emphasized, the most significant being the warming of the Earth’s surface.
A contributing factor to rising temperatures is the increased concentration of primary greenhouse gases like methane and carbon dioxide in the Earth’s atmosphere. He visually depicted that ocean warming isn’t uniform across the globe, particularly prevailing more in the tropics. It’s vital to grasp that elevated ocean temperatures significantly influence climate change-related shifts and disasters, given that 70% of Earth’s surface is covered by water.
The Meteorological Department of India frequently neglects to report the wet bulb temperature or heat index, a blend of temperature and relative humidity. Medically, a wet bulb temperature of 34°C and above poses substantial health hazards. Predictions suggest large portions of the Gangetic plains and central India will experience wet bulb temperatures near 35°C for 4 to 5 months annually in the next decade. This makes outdoor work without cooling nearly impossible, especially impacting the economically vulnerable who engage in prolonged outdoor activities.
The Meteorological Department of India records temperatures 2 meters above the surface, but the air just above the ground is significantly hotter, often due to dark roads and pavements. This significantly affects street vendors and around 40 crore laborers, influencing their health, productivity, and by extension, the economy.
Impact of Climate Change on the Indian Subcontinent
Agricultural production is also adversely affected. Higher-than-normal nighttime temperatures by 1.5°C hinder seed formation, causing reductions in grain size and nutritional value. This proves catastrophic for farmers, particularly the marginalized. Water scarcity poses another challenge, affecting industry, irrigation, power, and consumption.
Although India’s overall rainfall hasn’t drastically changed due to climate change, regional rainfall patterns have shifted. Fewer rainy days result in intensified rainfall, floods, land erosion, and prolonged dry spells, harming both agriculture and infrastructure. Intense rainfall impedes water seepage, hindering underground water table replenishment.
Furthermore, the health and well-being of millions of people across the subcontinent are jeopardized by the changing climate. Heatwaves are becoming more frequent and severe, leading to heat-related illnesses and even fatalities, especially among vulnerable populations.
Seventy percent of India’s electricity is coal-generated, making it the most carbon and water-intensive source. Heavy rainfall in coal mining regions leads to mine closures, hampering electricity production. Extended dry spells curtail coal power plant operations due to water shortages.
Coastal regions in the Indian Subcontinent are particularly vulnerable to the impacts of climate change. Rising sea levels and more frequent and intense cyclones threaten densely populated coastal communities, causing widespread damage to infrastructure, homes, and livelihoods. The loss of coastal ecosystems like mangroves further reduces natural buffers against storm surges and erosion, exacerbating the vulnerability of these areas.
Escalating Trends in Migration
The trajectory of climate-induced migration has been one of undeniable acceleration. In recent years, as the effects of global warming have intensified, communities around the world have found themselves grappling with the increasingly dire consequences of environmental upheaval. This phenomenon, often referred to as “climate migration,” is a complex nexus where environmental factors, socio-economic vulnerabilities, and the impending impacts of climate change converge to shape the movement of populations.
The impact of climate-induced migration is evident in Bangladesh, where millions of people are at risk due to rising sea levels, intensified cyclones, and riverbank erosion. Coastal communities are being displaced as their homes become uninhabitable, pushing them towards overcrowded urban areas like Dhaka. This influx strains resources and infrastructure, heightening competition for jobs and services, and often exacerbating social tensions.
The Ganga-Brahmaputra Delta: A Fragile Ecosystem at Risk
The projection that climate-induced migration will surge exponentially in the coming decades casts a sombre shadow over the already precarious situation. The rising sea levels intensified storms, and shifting climate patterns due to global warming have precipitated a series of challenges that are disproportionately affecting marginalized communities. The Ganga-Brahmaputra Delta and the Sunderbans, regions particularly sensitive to environmental shifts, are poised to bear the brunt of this crisis.
The Ganga-Brahmaputra Delta, with its intricate network of rivers, lush wetlands, and rich biodiversity, sustains millions of lives and livelihoods. However, as rising sea levels encroach upon its shores and saltwater intrusion infiltrates once-fertile lands, the delicate balance of this ecosystem is under imminent threat. Looking ahead to the year 2050, the menacing spectre of climate change’s far-reaching consequences becomes even clearer. A staggering estimation suggests that the relentless progression of climate change could displace a staggering 3.2 crores from the vulnerable regions of this area. Subsistence farming and fishing, long the backbone of the local economy, are being upended, leaving communities grappling with uncertainty and upheaval.
Rising to the Challenge
Government response to climate change’s impacts is notably inadequate, with policies lacking proper monitoring and reflecting a negligent attitude by state governments. District disaster management plans might be in place, but their execution is often lacking, as evident in events like the Uttarakhand floods, exposing their lack of preparedness and accountability.
The urgency of addressing climate-induced migration cannot be overstated. A multi-pronged approach is essential, encompassing climate mitigation efforts, adaptation strategies, and policies that prioritize the well-being and dignity of those most affected. The international community must collaborate to provide support, resources, and innovative solutions to enable vulnerable communities to weather the storms of climate change and carve out sustainable pathways forward.
Furthermore, businesses and industries also bear a significant responsibility in the fight against climate change. Adopting environmentally friendly practices, reducing carbon emissions, and investing in green technologies are pivotal steps that corporations can take to contribute positively to the global effort. By aligning economic interests with ecological concerns, the private sector can play a transformative role in shaping a more sustainable and resilient world, while also reaping long-term benefits for their own operations and the communities they serve.
There’s a significant opportunity for interventions at urban and district levels, focusing on disaster reduction plans and related initiatives. Studies show inland waterways, including lakes and ponds, are rapidly losing water due to evaporation and insufficient groundwater reserves. This adversely affects all those dependent on these water bodies for various purposes.
The government and various other social institutions should undertake actions that include promoting sustainable agriculture practices, investing in renewable energy sources, improving water management systems, enhancing coastal resilience, and fostering international collaborations to address the transboundary nature of climate impacts.
Furthermore, community engagement and education play a crucial role in building awareness and resilience against the effects of climate change. Empowering local residents with knowledge about sustainable resource utilization, disaster preparedness, and eco-friendly practices can lead to a more resilient and adaptable society. By involving individuals at the grassroots level, we can collectively work towards a more sustainable and climate-conscious future.
Acknowledgement: Aasthaba Jadeja is a research intern at IMPRI.
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