Written by Ishani Kumar Singh
Summer in India this year has brought some attention to the consequences of climate change that have started taking effect in India. The rising heat has broken records with the temperature breaching 49 degrees celsius in the capital city. Heatwaves have become more likely, putting a large part of India’s population in distress. Lack of immediate efforts to mitigate or adapt to climate change could lead to dire consequences especially in India, as is warned by the latest Sixth Assessment Report, Working Group II by the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC).
The increase in emission is at an all-time high as evidenced by the recorded increase in the earth's temperature, which is 1.1 degrees Celsius warmer than it was in the late 1800s. The last decade between 2011-2020 was the warmest one on record.
IPCC is an intergovernmental panel that was established by the World Meteorological Organization (WMO) and the United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP) in 1988. Scientists all over the world evaluate papers on climate change to create a referenceable report that can be used by policymakers to create a strategy against climate change. The previous assessment report of 2014 provided the scientific basis for the Paris Agreement in December 2015 which was adopted by 200 states at COP21. The three working group reports of the fifth assessment cycle laid out various projections of climate impacts with different emission scenarios. Each projection led to an increase in the global mean temperature beyond 1.5 degrees Celsius by 2100 (compared to pre-industrial levels). This led a lot of nations, including India, to pledge towards keeping their carbon emission low and becoming carbon neutral by 2030.
IPCC released the second part of its Sixth Assessment Report - 'Climate Change 2022: Impacts, Adaptation and Vulnerability’ on 28th February 2022. According to the Sixth Assessment Report, Working Group II by the IPCC, there are observed impacts on climate change that are human-induced, which has accelerated recently with the advent of new extreme events in nature. This has led to widespread losses to both, nature and human society.
The report bases its study and findings on the fact that the climate, ecosystem and biodiversity, and human societies are interlinked. The first Report which is the Working Group I: The Physical Science basis, was released on 9th August 2021, focusing on the “foundational consensus of the climate science behind the causes and effects of human greenhouse gas emissions.” Through the Shared Socioeconomic Pathways (SSP), which are various projections made on the changes up to the year 2100, the report established that to be anywhere near the threshold of 1.5 degrees Celsius, the emissions would need to be cut down to a net-zero by 2050.
The sixth assessment report outlines several impacts of the above projections such as reduction in food and water security, impacts on social and economic human systems, limited functioning of key infrastructure due to heatwaves, air pollution, etc. In addition, it also predicts adverse effects on climate-sensitive sectors such as forestry, fisheries, agriculture, energy and tourism as well as humanitarian crises such as climate-induced migration, etc.
According to the report, the vulnerability of an ecosystem and people differs substantially when it comes to climate change impacts, depending on the region. Patterns of socio-economic development, inequity, marginalization, historical patterns of colonialism and the manner of governance, all affect the effect of climate change and its impact on the human system. There are areas more vulnerable than others due to a degraded ecosystem, unsustainable natural resources use, and pollution. Global hotspots for high human vulnerability are found in West, Central and East Africa, South Africa, Central America and South America, Small Island Developing States, and the Arctic.
The report lays out near-term, mid-term and long-term risks of the global temperature rising above the level of 1.5 degrees Celsius in various models of scientific projections. Most importantly, near-term climate action that limits global warming to close to 1.5 degrees Celsius would substantially reduce the loss and damage due to the impact of climate change, but cannot eliminate them all. The report noted that socioeconomic trends such as rapid urbanization, violent conflicts, and migration patterns will be impacted by the governance factor more than by climate change. Most of the mid to long-term risks, beyond 2040, are dependent on the near-term climate action and global warming.
The report advocates for adaptation measures to be implemented and observed in all sectors and regions, and for mitigation efforts to be continued where possible. There are several gaps identified by the report in the current adaptation plans that need to be addressed. A lot of these plans already in place by states as assessed by the IPCC report are small, fragmented, lacking in framework, and unequally distributed across regions, which is true for India itself. This can make climate action plans inefficient as the working of an ecosystem and its surrounding human societies are linked together. Addressing one and not the other could lead to short-term answers but no sustainable long-term solutions.
The report also lays down adaptation strategies such as the presence of enabling conditions referring to the political commitments and institutional framework and policies with clear goals and objectives against climate change. It advocates for avoiding maladaptation, actions which lead to adverse climate-related outcomes, which are mostly unintended consequences and can be avoided through detailed long-term vulnerabilities and climate risks. Lastly, there must be adequate financing for sustainable adaptation plans that can be implemented to reduce adaptation gaps. All stakeholders, public and private, need to participate in the process, invest, and prepare a budget plan for adaptation measures. This is especially important for vulnerable areas, groups, regions and sectors.
India is one of the global hotspots identified in the IPCC report as well as domestic reports on the Climate Vulnerability Index (CVI) in terms of geographical and socio-economic vulnerabilities. National Action Plan on Climate Change (NAPCC) is the major climate action plan in India, which has eight sub-plans. Each mission is under a different ministry, there is no one statutory framework or body that deals with the issue of climate change. Similar to most countries, despite the measures to tackle climate change, India is going to fall short of the IPCC recommendations unless the policies let go of all development goals and focus solely on climate change. However, India is already in a vulnerable place as is evidenced not only by the IPCC report but also by regional studies from the country. According to the study, states like Assam, Andhra Pradesh, Maharashtra, Karnataka, and Bihar are the most vulnerable to climate hazards such as floods, droughts and cyclones.
There are international and domestic levels to India’s climate change policy. NAPCC is the domestic, regionally focussed action plan that has technically been in place since 2008. Therefore, there has been a level of awareness at the policy level in India on the significance of development that is climate change sensitive, environmentally friendly, and sustainable. Furthermore, although not cohesive, various ministries incorporate these policies in their work. There are objectives in place, but specific strategies to deal with the issues of climate change are lacking.
India also has favourable enabling conditions such as international political commitments, and a domestic action plan in place that is utilized intelligently. This can be a tool to support the existing adaptive measures and also plan future long-term transformational adaptive measures.
As far as suggestions go, some tweaks can be adopted by India for efficient climate change action. India is an especially vulnerable region to climate impacts. Therefore, India must map out all the vulnerable regions, sectors and also groups of people on a district level. India’s topography and geography are varied enough to warrant different responses for different regions. Planning and implementation are just the starting point for an efficient climate action framework. Setting up a periodic monitoring mechanism to review the progress, and a regular update on new scientific resources and parameters by a research and knowledge committee is crucial to sustaining these efforts.
Mapping out vulnerabilities keeping the challenges of a developing country in mind, a long-term sustainable action plan, good governance and funding are the way out of the challenges that climate change brings for India.
Ishani Kumar Singh is an intern (legal) with the Counter Wildlife Trafficking Programme at WCS-India. She holds a degree in law and from the National Law Institute University, Bhopal and is currently pursuing a master’s degree from the same university.