Climate Action Summit: On climate, local planning as vital as national goals

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December 11, 2020 5:15 AM

CEEW says 75% of India’s districts are hotspots for extreme climate-change-related events; need local risk assessment

Nearly 75% of Indian districts—home to almost half the country’s population—are hotspots for extreme climate events such as floods, droughts, cyclones, etc, CEEW says. (Representational image)

There couldn’t have been a more sobering prelude to the Climate Action Summit that begins on Saturday—the UN has warned that the planet is on a ‘3oC-temperature rise (above pre-industrial levels) by the end of this century’ pathway; greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions rose sharply last year, by 2.6%, thanks largely to wildfires in record frequency and intensity, themselves a result of climate change. Against this backdrop, a new report by the Council on Energy, Environment and Water (CEEW) seeks to draw attention to the fact that India will need sub-national strategies to respond to the extreme weather events resulting from climate change, something policymakers need to take note of at the earliest.

The CEEW study that looks at hydro-meteorological data—hydro-met events contribute to almost 90% of the natural disasters—over five decades, 1970 to 2019, finds that there has been a sharp spike in extreme events over the last decade and a half in India. While the country saw 250 extreme climate events such as floods, droughts, cyclones, heat/cold waves between 1970 and 2005, between 2005 and 2019, these have numbered 310. Also, extreme climate events have flipped in 40% of Indian districts—with drought-prone ones getting flooded alarmingly regularly and flood-prone ones suffering from droughts. Flood frequency has increased eight times between 1970 and 2019, even as that of associated events such as landslides, heavy rainfall, hail/thunderstorms and cloudbursts have gone up 20x. The number of affected districts averages 55 a year now against 19 in the 1970-2005 period. While cyclones hit 258 districts between 2010 and 2020, the average number of districts witnessing cyclones annually has tripled since 2005, and the annual frequency of cyclones has doubled; this has been accompanied by a 12x rise in the number of associated events such as extreme rain, thunderstorms, etc. Similarly, the yearly average of droughts has jumped 13 times since 2005. Nearly 75% of Indian districts—home to almost half the country’s population—are hotspots for extreme climate events such as floods, droughts, cyclones, etc, CEEW says.

As per data from the National Disaster Management Authority, floods in India in 2018 affected land the size of Punjab. The very same year, as per German Watch, the country’s economic losses from climate change stood at `2.7 lakh crore. Bear in mind this is the loss figure—and the CEEW drought, flood, etc, calculations represent climate change impact—when the global temperature has risen by 0.6oC from pre-industrial levels; it is not hard to imagine the extremes that a 2oC rise (the Paris accord goal) would mean, let alone the apocalyptic consequences of a 3oC rise. Apart from mitigation efforts, India will need to focus on adaptation and response—indeed, it is crucial to start now given the UN’s Inter-Agency Standing Committee estimates that every $1 invested in preparedness saves $2 of future recovery and response costs. India’s climate policy—apart from aggressively pursuing domestic and international efforts to bring down emissions, the latter in coordination with other climate champions—has to pay heed to CEEW’s call for the drafting of a Climate Risk Atlas for the country that can inform local action to adapt. The CEEW also recommends that the Union government scale up the basic surveillance and tracking system of the national Integrated Disease Surveillance Programme (IDSP) database and the state disaster management authorities (SDMA) to facilitate emergency preparedness. With risk assessment at all levels—including the grassroots—India stands a greater chance of building climate resilience for the nation by tailoring responses to the local context.

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