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Climate change: It's now or never for India

Murali Krishnan New Delhi
March 3, 2022

A new UN report has warned that climate change repercussions for India will be irreversible if New Delhi doesn't take drastic measures by 2030. Are Indian authorities up for the challenge?

Heavy rain floods streets of Indian city of Jaipur as commuters struggle
The report notes that climate change is already impacting health, livelihood and infrastructure in India's urban areasImage: Vishal Bhatnagar/NurPhoto/imago images

The latest UN Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) report has painted a bleak picture for India, warning that the South Asian country could face multiple climate change-induced disasters in the next two decades.

Unless greenhouse gas emissions are drastically reduced by 2030, it will become impossible for Indian authorities to reverse an imminent climate catastrophe, it said.

"The IPCC report clearly delineates that multiple climatic and non-climatic risks will interact with each other, which will result in increased overall risks cascading across sectors and regions. It will pose unique challenges to India," Ritwick Dutta, an India-based lawyer at the Legal Initiative for Forest and Environment (LIFE) organization, told DW.

"This should serve as a wake-up call for the Indian government to mainstream climate concerns across all levels of decision making," added Dutta, who received the 2021 Right Livelihood Award for his work with local communities.

Scientists from 67 countries, including nine from India, contributed to the UN report on climate change.

Can India adapt to climate change?

"The report finds that water is central to adaptation. For example, a majority of adaptations are being forged in response to water-related hazards," Aditi Mukherjee from the New Delhi-based International Water Management Institute told DW.

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"On the one hand, water is a part of the problem as a large majority of world's population are experiencing climate change through water-related impacts, but on the other hand, water is also a part of the solution," she added.

According to the report, more than 40% of India's population will face water scarcity by 2050, and at the same time the country's coastal areas, including big cities like Mumbai, will be affected by rising sea levels.

Flooding will intensify in the Ganges River and Brahmaputra River basins, and at the same time crop production will be disrupted by droughts and water scarcity.

"It is an existential threat [for India]. The window of opportunity to deal with the crisis is closing," Sunita Narain, director of the Center for Science and Environment in New Delhi, told DW.

Impact on urban livelihood

The report notes that climate change is already impacting health, livelihood and infrastructure in India's urban areas.

The impact, however, will be felt more by economically and socially marginalized urban residents, who live in informal settlements.

There has been 35% urban growth between 2015 and 2020, and cities will see at least 600 million more residents over the next 15 years, according to the report.

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"Tackling different climate change challenges will require collective action. Governments, private sector and local communities need to work together to reduce risks," Roxy Mathew Koll, a climate scientist at the Indian Institute of Tropical Meteorology, told DW.

"We have to move away from quick fixes. We need transformational adaptation to reduce the root causes of vulnerability by shifting systems away from unsustainable trajectories," he said.

India's climate targets

In November, Prime Minister Narendra Modi pledged at the Glasgow climate summit that India can meet 50% of its energy requirements by increasing its non-fossil energy capacity to 500 gigawatt by 2030.

Modi also said India will reduce its total projected carbon emissions by 2030, decrease the carbon intensity of its economy by 45% by the same year and achieve net-zero emissions by 2070.

Bhupender Yadav, India's minister of environment, forests and climate change, welcomed the IPCC report and told media the government is taking measures to reduce energy sector emissions.

"Environmental negotiations are not about give and take — they are about saving the world. Developed nations must take historic responsibility and consider what they have done in the past," Yadav said.

Another IPCC report, which is scheduled to be released in April, will suggest remedies to tackle the climate crisis and how to reduce greenhouse gas emissions.

"India needs to act in its own interest. Our climate change strategy must be based on the principle of co-benefits. We should take measures to deal with climate change because it is good for the world, but also because it is good for us," said Narain.

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Edited by: Shamil Shams

Murali Krishnan
Murali Krishnan Journalist based in New Delhi, focusing on Indian politics, society and business@mkrish11