India’s climate crisis susceptibility and the way forward - Hindustan Times
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India’s climate crisis susceptibility and the way forward

ByAparajitha Nair
Jun 13, 2023 06:56 PM IST

This article has been authored by Aparajitha Nair, journalist, Hindustan Times.

The climate crisis poses an increasingly complex challenge worldwide, with profound implications for ecosystems, economies, and societies. India's geographical diversity plays a significant role in its vulnerability to climate crisis. With its extensive coastline spanning over 7,500 kilometres, the country faces increased risks from sea-level rise, coastal erosion, and extreme weather events such as cyclones and storm surges. Coastal cities like Mumbai, Chennai, and Kolkata are particularly vulnerable to flooding, which can result in massive economic losses and displace thousands of people. Inland, India's Himalayan region faces the threat of glacial melt, leading to increased risks of flash floods, landslides, and water scarcity. This poses severe challenges for the millions of people who rely on the Himalayan rivers for their livelihoods, agriculture, and hydropower.

The doomsday clock is moving forward due to three calamities: The climate crisis, the pandemic and the threat of a nuclear conflagration. (Shutterstock)
The doomsday clock is moving forward due to three calamities: The climate crisis, the pandemic and the threat of a nuclear conflagration. (Shutterstock)

India's agrarian economy, heavily reliant on monsoon rains, is highly vulnerable to climate crisis. Variability in monsoon patterns, erratic rainfall, and prolonged droughts can significantly impact crop production and food security. Agriculture contributes to a significant portion of India's employment and GDP, making the country's vulnerability to climate crisis. a critical concern. Furthermore, rising temperatures and changing rainfall patterns exacerbate pest infestations, crop diseases, and water stress, jeopardizing agricultural productivity. Small and marginal farmers, who constitute a substantial portion of India's agricultural workforce, are particularly at risk, as they often lack the resources and technology to adapt to changing conditions.

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India's water resources are under increasing stress due to the climate crisis. Changing precipitation patterns and the shrinking of glaciers affect river flows and groundwater recharge. The demand for water, already high due to population growth and industrialisation, is further strained. Regions such as Rajasthan and Gujarat, which already face water scarcity, are projected to experience increased drought conditions. This not only affects domestic water supply but also agricultural irrigation and industrial operations, threatening economic growth and public health.

The climate crisis has far-reaching implications for public health in India. The rise in temperatures and extreme weather events can increase the frequency and intensity of heatwaves, leading to heat-related illnesses and deaths. Urban areas, characterised by concrete structures and limited green spaces, are particularly susceptible to the urban heat island effect. Moreover, natural disasters, such as cyclones and floods, can have severe health consequences, including injuries, waterborne diseases, and the displacement of vulnerable populations. The recent experiences of Cyclone Fani in 2019 and Cyclone Amphan in 2020 highlight the devastating impact such events can have on lives and infrastructure.

India is one of the world's most biodiverse countries, housing numerous endemic species and ecosystems. Climate crisis poses a significant threat to this rich biodiversity. Rising temperatures, changing precipitation patterns, and habitat loss can disrupt ecosystems and impact flora and fauna. The Western Ghats and the Sundarbans mangrove forest are prime examples of ecosystems vulnerable to the climate crisis. The loss of biodiversity not only affects ecosystem services but also impacts livelihoods dependent on tourism, agriculture, and forestry.

A long-term approach to climate action enables India to make a smooth and effective transition towards cleaner and more sustainable energy sources. By investing in renewable energy technologies such as solar, wind, and hydropower, India can reduce its dependence on fossil fuels and decrease greenhouse gas emissions. This transition not only mitigates climate crisis but also improves air quality, reduces health risks, and promotes energy independence. Moreover, a long-term approach allows for the implementation of comprehensive policies and incentives that promote energy efficiency, sustainable transportation, and green infrastructure. By setting clear long-term goals and targets, India can create a conducive environment for innovation, investment, and technological advancements in the clean energy sector.

Contrary to the perception that climate action hinders economic growth, a long-term approach to climate action can actually drive sustainable economic development and job creation in India. By focusing on clean energy, energy efficiency, and sustainable industries, the country can foster innovation, attract investments, and create new employment opportunities.

For instance, the renewable energy sector has the potential to generate millions of jobs across the value chain, from manufacturing and installation to operation and maintenance. By investing in renewable energy infrastructure and supporting the growth of green industries, India can tap into this immense job creation potential while reducing its carbon footprint.

India's vulnerability to climate crisis necessitates a long-term approach to build resilience and adapt to the changing climate. By adopting measures that enhance resilience in sectors such as agriculture, water management, and infrastructure, India can mitigate the adverse impacts of the climate crisis and reduce the vulnerability of its population.

Implementing climate-smart agricultural practices, investing in water conservation and management systems, and developing climate-resilient infrastructure are essential components of a long-term adaptation strategy. Such measures not only protect communities from the immediate impacts of climate crisis, such as droughts, floods, and heatwaves but also contribute to long-term sustainability and food security.

A long-term approach to climate action significantly improves public health and well-being. Addressing climate crisis helps reduce air pollution, which has detrimental effects on respiratory health and cardiovascular diseases. By promoting clean energy sources and sustainable transportation, India can tackle air pollution and create healthier living environments for its citizens.

Furthermore, a long-term perspective ensures the conservation and restoration of ecosystems, which provide essential services such as clean air, water, and natural resources. Preserving biodiversity and green spaces not only contributes to physical health but also enhances mental well-being and quality of life for individuals and communities.

Embracing a long-term approach to climate action positions India as a global leader in the fight against climate crisis. By setting ambitious long-term goals, India can demonstrate its commitment to sustainable development and inspire other nations to follow suit. This leadership role can also help India leverage international partnerships, access climate finance, and foster global cooperation to address the shared challenge of the climate crisis.

This article has been authored by Aparajitha Nair, journalist, Hindustan Times.

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