Vulnerable sections likely to bear brunt of global warming

Hindustan Times, New Delhi | By
Nov 11, 2019 08:05 AM IST

The average annual temperature on Earth has gone up by 1°Celsius as compared to levels before the industrial age (1850 -1900). The IPCC report warns that a jump from 1.5°C to 2°C will lead to a substantial increase in risks.

An increase in the global temperature of more than 1.5 degree Celsius over the pre-industrial levels will put the world at risk of severe heatwaves, heavy rainfall, frequent extreme weather events such as cyclones, and rising sea levels. And, it will be the world’s poor who will bear the brunt, experts have warned.

Schoolchildren protest against climate change in New Delhi on March 15, 2019.(Sarang Gupta/Ht archive)
Schoolchildren protest against climate change in New Delhi on March 15, 2019.(Sarang Gupta/Ht archive)

A special report by the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change released in October last year urges countries across the world to take steps to drastically reduce emissions to maintain the temperatures within the 1.5 degree Celsius threshold also states: “Populations at disproportionately higher risk of adverse consequences with global warming of 1.5°C and beyond include disadvantaged and vulnerable populations, some indigenous peoples, and local communities dependent on agricultural or coastal livelihoods.”

The average annual temperature on Earth has gone up by 1°Celsius as compared to levels before the industrial age (1850 -1900). The IPCC report warns that a jump from 1.5°C to 2°C will lead to a substantial increase in risks; particularly in developing nations and island countries in the tropics that have limited capacity to adapt.

Not only will the poor be affected more, climate change is expected to increase poverty and disadvantages faced by the vulnerable.

“The relationship between climate change and poverty is very well established now. Not only will it affect the poor people the most, the effects of climate change will push people who are above the poverty line right now into poverty. The people and the governments need to have serious discussions about the challenges that we will face. It has to be constructive and look for solutions needed,” said Dr Leena Shrivastava, vice chancellor, TERI School of Advanced Studies.

Developing Nations at a Higher Risk

The impact of climate change will be more pronounced in underdeveloped and developing countries with huge proportions of vulnerable people and lower adaptive capability.

“No country will escape the impact of climate change. Some countries might be better equipped to deal with the extreme weather conditions and the resulting losses. The impacts would be more pronounced
in developing countries like India because not only will there be the climactic shocks but also a huge vulnerable population that is not prepared to cope with it,” Dr Malancha Chakrabarty had told HT. She is a Fellow with the Climate Change and Development Initiative at think tank Observer Research Foundation.

Shrivastava added that increase in temperatures, air pollution levels, or rainfall leading to flooding will also have a higher impact on the poor, who are more exposed and vulnerable.

“The poor have a low adaptive capacity. If we look at the current air pollution crisis in Delhi, you will see a certain class of people wearing masks, but the poor who spend more time outdoors are unable to afford it. It is also the affluent who can afford to stay indoors and get an air purifier. [It’s the] same for increasing temperatures; poor people living on the street face the brunt of the high temperatures along with the urban heat islands,” Shrivastava said.

The Delhi-National Capital Region has seen air quality plunge to emergency levels since Diwali, on October 27, with pollution from firecrackers, farm fires and other weather conditions resulting in creation of toxic haze that envelops the area during the winter months.

Continued emissions of greenhouse gases are projected to lead to a 4°C rise in average annual temperature in India by 2100, with the average number of extremely hot days around the country projected to increase by more than eight times per year — from 5.1 (in 2010) to 42.8, shows a study ‘Climate Change and Heat Induces Mortality in India’ by the by the Climate Impact Lab in collaboration with the Tata Centre for Development at UChicago.

Countries also need to keep climate change in mind when it comes to addressing urban poverty and providing a safety net to citizens.

“There is a need to help build resilience. And, when governments talk about social housing programmes, they need to keep the issues that come with climate change in mind.

“The focus needs to be on building comfortable housing facilities that can keep the people safe rather than just building a shelter. Climate change vulnerability has to become part of every action we take,” she said.

Several studies have also shown that climate change has resulted in an increase in the number of extreme rainfall incidents in India.

A 2017 study published in Nature Communications shows that there has been a threefold increase in widespread extreme rain events over central India during 1950–2015.

“There are a huge number of people in this country who depend on agriculture, even subsistence agriculture, who will face a lot of economi hardship with even slight changes in rainfall,” said Dr Chakrabarty.

According to the sixth Global Environment Outlook (GEO-6) presented at this year’s United Nations Environment Assembly, loss of biodiversity due to climate change will affect the poor and the vulnerable “disproportionately”.

“Biodiversity loss is also an equity issue, disproportionately affecting poorer people, women and children. The livelihoods of 70% of people living in poverty directly depend on natural resources,” it reads.

India has lost over 1.6 million hectare of tree cover between 2001 and 2018; the total tree cover which used to be 12% of the country’s geographical area in 2000 reduced to 8.9% in 2010, according to a study released by the World Resources Institute (WRI), a global research non-profit.

The GEO-6 report also said that ownership of land by local communities can help turn land assets into development opportunities and secure a more sustainable use of land.

“Indigenous and other forms of community-managed land could generate billions of US
dollars’ worth of ecosystem benefits through, among other things, carbon sequestration, reduced pollution, clean water and erosion control,” the report said.

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    Anonna Dutt is a health reporter at Hindustan Times. She reports on Delhi government’s health policies, hospitals in Delhi, and health-related feature stories.

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