Climate crisis threatens India’s development

Climate crisis threatens India’s development

Climate-change has entered our homes, and in another 25 years Indian heatwaves could cross the human survivability limit

Over the last few weeks, the weather lady and the gentleman on our television screens have garnered more of our eyeball share than any other program. Viewers scanned every pixel of the weather map hunting for specs of comforting clouds, with raindrops, coming India’s way. Instead, they were greeted by the bright sun icon and the barometer showing a rising mercury. The entire subcontinent wascolor-coded in a blazing red in every forecast. Climate-change was no longer on our doors, it had entered our homes, offices, streets, agricultural fields, everywhere. In another 25 years, Indian heatwaves could cross the survivability limit for a healthy human resting in the shade. And as usual, the poor are most vulnerable!

90% of India at dangerous levels of Climate&Heat impact

A research paper published in PLOS – a non-profit, Open Access publisher –quoted in leading global media organizations, showed that the Climate Vulnerability Index (CVI) coupled with the Heat Index (HI) put 90% of India at extremely cautious or dangerous levels of adversely impacting adaptive livelihood capacity, food grains yield, vector-borne disease spread and urban sustainability.

CVI is a systematic and rapid assessment tool that is values-based, science-driven, and community-focused. The CVI builds upon the vulnerability framework approach described in the Fourth Assessment Report of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC). The Heat Index is a calculated temperature value that shows how hot it really feels outside when the relative humidity or moisture in the air is combined with the actual air temperature.

Missing SDG goals

The research paper, titled Lethal heatwaves are challenging India’s sustainable development,sounds an alarm over India’s inability to meet the United Nations’ Sustainability Development Goals (SDG), as a result of an alarming increase in CVIandHI impact. What India is experiencing today is a terrifying collision of a series of climate crisis that is throwing every possible challenge at the country – from heatwaves, droughts, cold waves, cyclones, floods, to landslides.

India is currently facing multiple cumulative climate hazards co-occurring due to its size, urbanisation rate, and biophysical characteristics, significantly influencing the hydrological cycle and consequently affecting the behaviour of climate extremes, the research paper says. Between January and October 2022, India recorded 242 out of 273 days of extreme weather events, making it nearly one extreme event daily. These include co-occurrence of extreme heatwaves and coldwaves in the north and western parts, drought in central India, and high flooding in the coastal plains along with landslides in north-eastern region.

The biggest challenge is, India’s ambitious goals of being a global engine of growth could be at serious risk simply because the climate is getting too hot, breaching human tolerance levels. The economic impact of CVI+HI is already showing up in the country missing its SDG goals in the last 10 years.

A trend analysis by the researchers, of the last 20 years from 2001–2021, on the SDG progress with the mortality due to extreme weather events shows that while the effect of extreme weather events has intensified, the pace of SDG progress is slower. Over the last three years (2019–2021), India’s Global SDG rank has declined due to failure in achieving the targets for 11 of the 17 SDGs.

Most of the 11 SDGs India lags on are critically related to climate action. India’s preparedness and performance on SDG 11 (Sustainable Cities and Communities) and SDG 13 (Climate Action) has declined significantly. This becomes severe due to the strong correlation between these SDGs. Thus, in terms of urban sustainability (SDG-11), the failure to develop appropriate low-income housing leaves a significant proportion of the population vulnerable to extreme weather events like heatwaves.

5% decline in GDP feared

The 2022 heatwave in the subcontinent was the severest in more than a century. It had critical knock-on effects. Surging electricity demand and stress on the power grid triggered power outages for two-thirds of Indian households. Outages in Pakistan have lasted up to 12 hours, cutting off power when people need cooling the most. Without electricity, many households have lost access to water. The hot weather has also increased dust and ozone levels, leading to spikes in air pollution in major cities across the region. The heat melted mountain glaciers faster than normal, triggering flash floods in Pakistan.

Extreme heat could ultimately lead to a 15% decline in “outdoor working capacity”, reduce the quality of life of up to 480 million people and cost 2.8% of GDP by 2050, they said. Falling productivity caused by extreme high temperatures could already be costing India 5.4% of its GDP, according to the Climate Transparency Report published by environmental groups last year.

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