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What the latest IPCC report on climate vulnerability & adaptation means for India

India is one of the South Asian nations to record the most number of urban adaptation initiatives, but these plans are marred by uneven distribution of funds and priority. 

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New Delhi: India is among the most vulnerable countries to climate change, with exposure to rising sea levels and changing monsoon patterns having already led to a loss of 16 per cent of its per capita GDP since 1991, said the latest report by the UN Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC).

According to the IPCC report released Monday, India’s GDP will be hit by changes in the monsoon as farming and fishing get adversely affected. While catch of commercial fish species like hilsa shad and Bombay duck is expected to decrease, production of rice and wheat, among others, is also seen to be hit.

Moreover, India’s coastal cities like Mumbai are also at elevated risks. 

The new report was divided into 18 chapters that looked at the regional implications of global warming, as well as how countries can adapt to it. It warned that the window to act against climate change is fast closing. If governments don’t act now to mitigate and adapt to climate change, we may no longer be able to “secure a livable and sustainable future”.

“In South Asia, extreme climatic conditions are threatening food security, thus agro-based economies like India and Pakistan are the most vulnerable to climate change in this regard,” said the report, adding that more intense heat waves of longer duration and higher frequency are projected with medium confidence over India.

‘Wet bulb’ temperatures in India, which measure both heat and humidity, will reach 31 degrees Celsius — lethal for human beings — if emissions are not drastically cut, the report said.

Even though India is one of the South Asian countries to record the most number of urban adaptation initiatives, these plans are marred by uneven distribution of funds and “priority”, with larger cities receiving greater focus.  

“We highlight that hybrid solutions that bring together infrastructural, ecosystem-based and institutional strategies together are most effective. Ecosystem-based adaptation on its own does not seem to be effective to reduce climate risks, especially at higher warming levels,” Dr Chandni Singh, lead author on the chapter on Asia, said in a media briefing to reporters Sunday.

The report was an outcome of an analysis of over 34,000 papers by 207 scientists. The summary for policymakers, which highlighted the overall findings of the report, was negotiated with 65 governments for two weeks before being released Monday.

The Indian government also sent a delegation to participate in discussions before the report’s release. In a statement, Environment Minister Bhupender Yadav said India “welcomed” the report’s findings.

“India firmly believes that climate change is a global collective action problem that can be solved only through international cooperation and multilateralism,” he said.

Also read: Soot from research & tourist activity hastening snow melt in Antarctica, finds global study

Changes to fishing and agriculture

The IPCC report found that melting glaciers in the Hindu Kush mountain range may increase water supply in rivers, but that this will be short-lived because of a reduction in glacier mass over the long run.

In the Ganga and Brahmaputra rivers, an “increase in extreme precipitation events is likely to cause more flash flood events in the future”, said the report. The first part of the IPCC report released in August last year said India would face increased precipitation in the remaining decades of the century.

Changes in the monsoon will also adversely affect farming and fishing, which account for around 20 per cent of India’s GDP.

According to the report, 69 per cent of commercially important species in Indian fisheries have been impacted by climate change and human action. A study cited in the report projected “large decreases in potential catch of two key commercial fish species (hilsa shad and Bombay duck) in the Bay of Bengal which forms a major fishery and food for coastal communities”.

Rice, wheat, pulses, and coarse grains are likely to see a 8.62 per cent fall in production by 2050, which will have a “severe” effect on the Indian economy.

“Price spikes are projected for the period 2015 to 2040 in all South Asian regions with India, Pakistan and Sri Lanka predicted to witness increasingly much higher rice and wheat prices than under the baseline scenario creating major concerns over food affordability and food security,” the report said.

Crop yields are likely to be threatened by the golden apple snail, an invasive alien species, by 2080.

Also read: Punjab & Haryana’s 2009 policy to save water worsened air pollution, says ISRO study

Rising sea levels and cities at risk

India has one of the highest populations exposed to rising sea levels. In Mumbai, damages due to sea level rise will amount to $49-50 billion by 2050 “and could increase by a factor of 2.9 by 2070”, the report said.

In the next 15 years, 600 million Indians will be living in cities, which makes improving their adaptive capacities more urgent, IPCC authors said.

“The urbanisation process helps in achieving economic growth for the country but cities will be at a much greater risk of climate change. Most of the coastal cities would see sea-level rise, warming of oceans is leading to catastrophic events such as cyclones, heat waves, sea-water intrusion in groundwater bodies,” said Anjal Prakash, lead author of the chapter on cities.

“Most of the coastal cities like Mumbai, Chennai, Kolkata, Visakhapatnam, Puri, Goa are all at greater risk of rapidly changing climatic conditions. Cities must be resilient to cater to some of these challenges which will become an order of the day impacting our economies and livelihoods,” Prakash added.

India can integrate climate adaptation into its development by investing in climate-smart agriculture and in blue-green infrastructure (infrastructure that capitalises on the benefits of working with green spaces and naturalised water-flows), the report said.

Also read: Govt’s new rules for plastic packaging: Recycle upto 50% of single-use plastic in 3 yrs


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