How Climate Change affects India
Precisely at a time when India is confronted with development imperatives25, we will also be severely impacted by climate change. Like other developing countries, several sections of the Indian populace will not be able to buffer themselves from impacts2,8 of global warming. With close economic ties to natural resources and climate-sensitive sectors such as agriculture, water and forestry, India may face a major threat15, and require serious adaptive capacity to combat climate change. As a developing country, India can little afford the risks and economic backlashes that industrialized nations can. With 27.5% of the population still below the poverty line, reducing vulnerability to the impacts of climate change is essential15.
It is in India’s interest to ensure that the world moves towards a low carbon future. Many studies have underscored the nation’s vulnerability to climate change8. With changes in key climate variables, namely temperature, precipitation and humidity, crucial sectors like agriculture and rural development are likely to be affected in a major way.
Impacts are already being seen in unprecedented heat waves, cyclones, floods, salinisation of the coastline and effects on agriculture, fisheries and health8.
India is home to a third of the world’s poor, and climate change will hit this section of society the hardest. Set to be the most populous nation in the world by 2045, the economic, social and ecological price of climate change will be massive.
The future impacts of climate change, identified by the Government of India’s National Communications (NATCOM) in 2004 include25:
- Decreased snow cover, affecting snow-fed and glacial systems such as the Ganges and Bramhaputra. 70% of the summer flow of the Ganges comes from meltwater
- Erratic monsoon with serious effects on rain-fed agriculture, peninsular rivers, water and power supply
- Drop in wheat production by 4-5 million tones, with even a 1ºC rise in temperature
- Rising sea levels causing displacement along one of the most densely populated coastlines in the world, threatened freshwater sources and mangrove ecosystems
- Increased frequency and intensity of floods. Increased vulnerability of people in coastal, arid and semi-arid zones of the country
- Studies indicate that over 50% of India’s forests are likely to experience shift in forest types, adversely impacting associated biodiversity, regional climate dynamics as well as livelihoods based on forest products.
India stands to lose on too many counts to allow a ‘climate-politics-as-usual’ scenario. Therefore, positive engagement with global climate negotiations at the next UNFCCC meeting in December 2009 is crucial8.
India’s accelerating emissions
Although not an emitter historically, India currently has one of the fastest growing economies in the world. With a government target of 8% GDP to achieve developmental priorities16, a share of one sixth of the global population, and changing consumption patterns, India’s emissions are set to increase dramatically.
Growing at an almost breakneck pace, and guzzling coal, gas and oil in large quantities4, we are today, the fourth largest emitter of greenhouse gases worldwide. Although our per-capita emissions are among the lowest in the world, our growth rates imply that the past is no predictor of the future8. The most recent IPCC report suggests that India will experience the greatest increase in energy and greenhouse gas emissions in the world if it sustains a high annual economic growth rate. The International energy Agency predicts that India will become the third largest emitter of greenhouse gases by as early as 2015.
India imports large quantities of fossil fuels to meet its energy needs, and the burning of fossil fuels alone accounts for 83% of India’s carbon dioxide emissions. Nearly 70% of our electricity supply comes from coal.
Although India has maintained its clear economic and social development imperatives, the government recognizes that climate change is an serious problem, and that business as usual is no longer the way forward.
India on climate change
India has committed to actively engage in multilateral negotiations in the UNFCCC, in a ‘positive and forward-looking manner’15. The government recognizes that ‘global warming will affect us seriously’ but maintains that the ‘most important adaptation measure to climate change is development itself’8. This has ensured that India’s position at the UNFCC has stubbornly remained ‘common but differentiated responsibility’. Under the UNFCCC agreement itself, India is not subject to any binding emission reduction targets until the year 2012.
In spite of this guarded stand, India has ‘declared’ that even as it pursues its social and development objectives, it will not allow its per capita emissions to exceed those of developed countries. The 11th 5-year plan does make headway in reducing energy intensity per unit of GHG by 20 percent while boosting cleaner and renewable energy8.
In June 2008, the Prime minister released the much awaited National Action Plan on Climate Change (NAPCC). The NAPCC outlines a strategy by which India will adapt to climate change, while maintaining a high growth rate, protecting poor and vulnerable sections of society and achieving national growth objectives11. It focuses on eight areas intended to deliver maximal benefits to development and climate change (mitigation and adaptation). However, detailed action plans for each mission, and any clear targets are missing from the report8.
Although the action plan may be a missed opportunity for leadership on climate change, the good news is that change is coming8. Realising that the market is changing, and not to be left behind in the global race, Indian businesses are beginning to take on climate change as a business issue.
What we need now is for the government of India to capitalize on India’s position as a developing giant, take the lead and engage with governments of the world and the private sector for a low-carbon future.
- IPCC report 2007
- Stern Review
- Design to Win
- Imagining India: Nandan Nilekani
- Earth Policy Insitute
- International Energy Agency
- Malini Mehra. India Starts to take on Climate Change.
- Public information bureau
- Pew Environment Trust
- United Nations
- United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change
- The Nature Conservancy
- National Action Plan on Climate Change
- Sharma S., Bhattacharya S. and A. Garg. Greenhouse gas emissions from India: a
perspective. Current Science Vol 90, No. 3, p 326-333.
- KMPG report
- Climate 101: Pew centre report on Climate change
- Nasa Earth observatory report
- Meteorological Office, UK.
- Royal Society
- Jacob Rukvitz; 2008; Climate entrepreneurs, GlobalFOCUS
- State of the World report 2009
- The Road to Copenhagen: India’s position on climate change issues
- Climate Change and India: Impacts, Policy Responses and a Framework for EU-India Cooperation. 2008. Policy Department Economic and Scientific Policy, European Parliament