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Mainstream, VOL LIII No 50 New Delhi December 5, 2015

Climate Change in India: Challenges and Solutions

Sunday 6 December 2015

by Sharat Poornima

“The Earth provides enough to satisfy every man’s needs but not every man’s greed.”

Mahatma Gandhi 

The idea of environmental conservation was built into India’s traditional culture. The ancient dictum in India “tyakten Bhunjitha” (concept of consumption along with sacrifice) indicates towards the method of checking the state of imbalance. With the scientific progress and technological development, man started utilising resources at a much higher scale. Large-scale consumerism has brought mankind to a state where our needs have gone beyond the means to fulfil them. Our resources are meant not only for the utilisation of the present generation but also for the future generation. Therefore, a balance between the growth of population and the utilisation of resources is absolutely necessary. Any imbalance in either of the two may disrupt the continuity of our economic, social, and cultural development.

India has been ranked at a low 155th position in a global list that places countries on how well they perform on high-priority environmental issues. The reason India is so vulnerable to climate change is because it is a large country with many living in poverty, inadequate infrastructure, and lack of government planning to deal with complex weather systems. India is subjected to irregular monsoons, flooding, rising sea levels, and higher temperatures. The monsoon season is vital to the Indian economy because many Indians are agrarian. What happens to India’s monsoons will drastically affect the fate of the agricultural sector and the people dependant on it. Climate change is going to continue to create erratic extremes throughout the monsoon season. Preparation for weather irregularities brought about by climate change is thus essential to protect the lives of the Indian people and the growth of the Indian economy.

With a current economy that is resilient and an ecology that is fragile, India is still looking for ways to achieve sustainable development as it was defined at the Stockholm Summit— development that is economically sound, socially relevant and environment-friendly. It has been recognised that the poor are highly vulnerable to natural calamities, environmental degradation, and ecological disasters because they depend on nature for their livelihood. Economic development at the cost of degradation of the environment will aggravate the problems of poverty, unemployment and disease. Thus, the integration of issues of development with those of environment has been in the forefront of India’s policy-making.

Climate change is one of the complex problems facing mankind today. This is evident from observations of increases in the global average air and ocean temperatures, widespread melting of snow and ice, and the rising global average sea level. It poses a variety of challenges with wide-ranging effects. It is projected to have significant impacts on conditions affecting agriculture, including temperature, precipitation and glacial run-off. Agriculture is the mainstay of the Indian economy and provides food and livelihood security to a substantial section of our population. Agriculture will be adversely affected not only by an increase or decrease in the overall amounts of rainfall but also by shifts in the timing of the rainfall. Any change in rainfall patterns poses a serious threat to agriculture, and therefore to the economy and food security. Rise in temperatures caused by increasing green house gases is likely to affect crops differently from region to region. Erosion, submergence of shorelines, and salinity of the water-table due to the increased sea levels are the factors that mainly affect agriculture through inundation of low-lying areas. Increased frequencies of drought, floods, storms and cyclones are likely to increase the variability of agricultural production.

Lack of access to water is a matter of concern contributing to heightened competitions within the country. As the population expands and the consumption of water spirals upwards, water problems are bound to intensify. Increase in temperature due to climate change has been widespread over the globe. Global warming has resulted in decline in mountain glaciers and snow cover in both hemispheres and this is projected to accelerate throughout the 21st century. This will in turn lead to reducing water availability, hydropower potential, and would change the seasonal flow of rivers. Increasing flood pose challenges to society, physical infrastructure and water quality. Rising temperatures will further affect the physical, chemical and biological properties of fresh water lakes and rivers, with predominantly adverse impacts on marine life forms. The growing demand of water in agriculture, industrial and domestic sectors has brought problems of over-exploitation of the groundwater resource to the fore. The rise of the sea level under warming is inevitable. The coastal areas of our country face a grave risk from the sea level rise, which could flood land and cause damage to coastal infrastructure and other properties. Flooding will displace a large number of people from the coasts putting greater pressure on the civic amenities and rapid urbanisation. Climate change has the potential to cause immense biodiversity loss, affecting both individual species and their ecosystems that support economic growth and human well-being. Devastating effects on the native habitats of many animals and plants due to global warming is likely to drive a considerable number of today’s known animal and plant species to extinction. Mountain ecosystems are hot-spots of biodiversity. However, temperature increases and human activities are causing fragmentation and degradation of mountain biodiversity. Climate change poses a host of threats to the survival of mankind. Emissions of the Green House Gases have been responsible for the depletion of the ozone layer, which protects the earth from harmful direct rays of the sun. Depletion of stratospheric ozone results in higher exposure to the ultra-violet rays of the sun, leading to an increase in the incidents of skin cancer. It is anticipated that there will be an increase in the number of deaths due to greater frequency and severity of heat waves and other extreme weather events. Climate change and the resulting higher global temperatures are causing increasing frequency of floods and droughts leading to the risk of disease infections.

India had adopted the National Environment Policy 2006 which provides for several measures and policy initiatives to create awareness about climate change and help capacity building for taking adaptation measures. On June 30, 2008 India unveiled its National Action Plan on Climate Change with a view to lay down the priorities and future actions of the government for addressing climate change and updating India’s national programme relevant to addressing climate change. Eight national missions (solar mission, energy efficiency, sustainable habitat, water, Himalayan eco-system, Green India, eco-green agriculture and knowledge) have been specifically outlined to simultaneously advance India’s development and climate change-related objectives of adaptation and GHG mitigation. India is committed to a path of sustainable development. To effectively address the concerns of climate change and to follow the path of sustainable development, the global energy diet, which is fossil fuels centric, must be changed. Efforts must be made to harness the potential of alternative sources of energy, such as hydro-power, solar and wind and progressively make transition to clean energy. The possibility of harnessing nuclear energy can also be explored for meeting the long-term energy needs. Invest-ment in renewable energy infrastructure is a priority area for action.

India has taken several steps in the imple-mentation of Clean Development Mechanism projects in the country. The idea of “national water grid” was scientifically studied by the Central Water Commission through the National Water Development Agency, an autonomous body under the Water Resources Ministry. The feasibility of using electricity and battery-operated vehicles is also being explored. Efforts are being made to extract energy from urban and industrial waste. The use of cheap plastic bags should be substituted with eco-friendly plastics. In areas of water scarcity, drought-proofing measures through water storage and rainwater harvesting can be applied.

Similarly, techniques to clean the fumes and smokes in cars and other vehicles should be introduced. Afforestation, preventing the felling of immature and young tress, and creating awareness amongst the local people about the importance of forests may help in conserving biological diversity. Recycling of fossil fuels can be the safest way to ensure conser-vation of minerals. The role of environmentalists, especially the non-governmental organisations, is very crucial in formulating effective policies for tackling climate change. Movements like the Chipko Andolan of 1976 bear testimony to the fact that the people of India are concerned about their habitat. Besides, R&D in alternative fuels and low carbon infrastructure must get due priority. Unless we develop indigenous green technology, we cannot attain sustainable development.

Climate change is the defining issue of our times. It should be addressed by all countries with a shared perspective, free from narrow and myopic considerations. We urgently need a new economic paradigm, which is global, inclusive, cooperative, environmentally sensitive and, above all, scientific. Sustainable development based on addressing the needs of the poor and optimal harnessing of scarce resources of water, air, energy, land, and bio-diversity will have to be sustained through more cooperative endeavours. Then alone we could make some headway in saving our lone planet from the brink of climate disasters.

The author is a BA Third Year student of Political Science, Lady Shri Ram College for Women, University of Delhi.