On December 12, as the world marked five years of the landmark Paris Agreement on Climate Change, it also provided for an opportunity to take stock. Over the past five years, our knowledge of the exact nature of the risks of climate change impacts, as well as the opportunities to mitigate against them, have become more refined. This week’s column takes a look at one such report that came out around that date, focusing on India’s climate change challenges.
On 10 December, the New Delhi-based energy research institution Council on Energy, Environment and Water (CEEW) released a study appraising the climate change-induced threats facing India. The study, Preparing India for Extreme Climate Events: Mapping Hotspots and Response Mechanisms, which is a district-level profiling of extreme climate events in India, concludes that 75% of Indian districts are vulnerable to events such as cyclones, droughts, floods and cold waves. Authored by Abhinash Mohanty, a programme lead at CEEW focusing on risks and adaptation, the study is based on an extreme events catalogue prepared by the organisation, covering a time period of 1970-2019.
Among other things, the study finds that the number of such events are increasing across India. While between 1970-2005, there were 250 extreme climate events, there were 310 such events between 2005-2019. It also found that the pattern of extreme climate events is also shifting. In over 40% of Indian districts, areas that were once drought-prone are now becoming flood-prone and vice versa. The frequency of flood events have increased by nearly eight times in the past 50 years. On average, while about 19 Indian districts experienced annual floods between 1970-2005, between 2005-2019, 55 Indian districts experienced floods every year. The number of eastern coastal districts affected by annual cyclones has tripled since 2005, while the frequency of cyclones have also doubled. Meanwhile, the annual average of drought-affected districts have increased by 13 times since 2005.
The report urges the importance of climate risk assessment as a cornerstone of India’s climate resilience strategies and proposes the creation of a climate risk atlas of the country. Echoing earlier climate reports, the CEEW study also calls for greater availability of weather and climate data in the country.
Across 2020, there have been other studies that have issued India-specific climate warnings, including the Ministry of Earth Sciences (MoES) climate change assessment report. Reading the CEEW study in tandem with these, it is increasingly clear that simultaneous strategies of mitigation and adaptation are urgently required to deal with the multiple climate threats facing India.