The latest IPCC report on the impact of climate change (the last one brought out in August 2021 dealt with the ‘physical science’ of global warming) tells us much of what we know — that the impact of 1.1-1.3-degrees-Celsius rise in world temperatures since the start of the industrial era has already begun to wreak havoc on the subcontinent and the world, and will continue to do so in ever more alarming ways, if ‘adaptation’ (dealing with existing impacts) and ‘mitigation’ (arresting further emission spikes) measures are not taken. The report identifies India as among the most vulnerable in terms of agriculture impact, with its 7,500 km coastline rendering some 3.5 crore people prone to flooding, cyclones and rising sea levels. Climate change is making its presence felt everywhere, be it in the form of heat waves, floods and cyclones in the Western world or the searing droughts in Africa, creating famine-like stress. The FAO food price index touched a 10-year high in 2021. The cost of dealing with extreme climate events will rise as they become more frequent, having a serious GDP impact. A CEEW study points out that most of the 478 extreme weather events that occurred in India between 1970 and 2019 took place after 2005.
The unfortunate part is that a global consensus to act in concert is sorely missing, despite the crisis at hand. The industrialised world is being hypocritical here. They have the resources, in terms of finance and technologies, to deal with impacts, whereas the rest do not. Despite repeated climate pledges on their part to transfer $100 billion annually to the less developed countries, this has not materialised. That the West is morally obliged to do so for being historically responsible for climate change does not cut ice anymore, not least because China and India have emerged as principal polluters, alongside the US. While China is no longer fighting poverty, India does need some carbon space to raise its millions to a better standard of living. It also needs to be atmanirbhar on managing its climate.
That is already happening. India has an emissions reduction plan in place, powered by an energy shift to renewables. It has committed to increasing its renewables capacity five-fold to 500 GW by 2030, and getting to ‘net zero’ emissions by 2070, but has also spelt out the bill to get there: $1 trillion. Realistically speaking, this is not going to come. Hence, India needs to do some of the adaptation and mitigation by itself, and rely on private capital to do so. Its EV and green hydrogen push could reduce fossil fuel reliance considerably. An ecosystem that is based on self-reliance in these sectors will help at a time when tech transfer is scarce and protectionism is on the rise. India needs to create more funds for adaptation; Ahmedabad has shown the way, according to the report, by heat-proofing buildings. However, India’s emphasis on increasing and protecting carbon sinks such as mangroves seems less, going by funds allocated. Climate change adaptation and mitigation cannot be fixed through technology alone.