Climate risk maps can mitigate the crisis and protect vulnerable lives
The just-released Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) Assessment Report 6 (AR6), has raised many flags for India about the continued increase in cyclones, heatwaves, rainfall extremes, sea levels, and so on. While 192 countries have submitted their nationally determined contributions (NDCs) reducing emissions, only 11 have submitted their second NDC. Revised NDCs are necessary to meet the global warming targets.
For the first time, India contributed its own historic simulations and future projections to the IPCC climate assessment. But can India translate the IPCC reports to climate action?
Protecting people and properties along with infrastructure, natural resources and biodiversity, call for climate adaptation plans. Climate adaptation is not necessarily a national issue, since the scales of adaptation are often local. Heatwaves and floods, for example, affect communities differently depending on the neighbourhood they live in. Unfortunately, such local adaptation actions do not follow directly from IPCC assessment reports. Therefore, risk maps at national, regional and local scales are needed for effective adaptation. These maps use key metrics to identify and record areas that are at risk of climate hazards.
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Climate change risk is a product of climate hazards, exposure to these hazards, and the vulnerability of communities to respond to and recover from hazards. They typically include heatwaves, heavy rains, cyclones, and so on. Coastal regions face hazards such as tides, cyclones, rising sea levels, storm surge and inundation, while mountains face cloudbursts and landslides.
Socioeconomic vulnerability depends on infrastructure, building constructions, technology (mobile phones, radio, TV, internet), economic (employment, household income, banking services) and social factors (female population, education, elderly and disabled population, children’s population).
Exposure to these hazards depends on the region facing hazards — coastal or mountain regions, urban and rural centres, and so on. Exposure is a function of population density, growth rate, areas that are built-up, the length of coastlines, mountain slopes, and vegetation cover.
Risk maps can effectively and efficiently guide adaptation actions to mitigate climate impacts and protect people, properties, infrastructure, food and fisheries production, and livelihoods. Despite the increases in hazards, this risk may decrease over time based on changes in exposure and vulnerability.
A recently published risk map of India’s coast by a team of IIT Bombay faculty sheds light on coastal risks at the district level. Risk was computed for 2001 and for recent years. The differences in hazards, exposure, and vulnerability as well the net risk from climate hazards were computed to assess how the risks have evolved. A total of 65 coastal districts were chosen along the east and west coasts.
The study finds that 54 out of 65 districts have seen an increase in hazards from 2001 to the current period. Vulnerability has actually decreased for 42 districts with Chennai and Mumbai being low-vulnerability districts. Balasore, a coastal district in Northern Odisha, has the highest vulnerability with the second and third most vulnerable districts being Valsad and Navsari from Gujarat.
The low vulnerability of Chennai and Mumbai are of no comfort because the population density and built-up area make Chennai and Mumbai the highest exposure districts. As a whole, 45 districts are now at greater risk mostly because of increased hazards and most of the high-risk districts are on the east coast. The districts with the highest risk are the eastern districts, Purba Medinipur and South 24 Parganas in West Bengal, followed by Balasore in Odisha. Greater Mumbai ranks as the fourth -riskiest district and this is almost entirely due to its high exposure.
Some key components of reducing risk include infrastructure, building codes, cyclone shelters, and early warning systems. India’s substantive investments in improving weather, climate and cyclone predictions have yielded impressive results in terms of early warning systems for cyclones, heatwaves, storm surges, heavy rainfall, and urban flooding.
Further, integrations focused on developing the blue economy as a holistic management of land, to the ocean continuum to mitigate coastal risks to lives, property, and livelihoods, are needed. In addition to closing any last-mile gaps in the use and usability of early warning systems at the community and family levels, the use of technologies such as drones, satellites, autonomous ocean systems, and data analytics with artificial intelligence is critical for continued adaptation and learning-by-doing.
The National Disaster Management Authority, state authorities, and programmes such as the Pradhan Mantri Awas Yojana (affordable housing for the urban poor), National Cyclone Risk Mitigation, can synergistically identify knowledge gaps for improving risk maps and for disaster prevention, management and recovery.
Similar risk mapping for other regions and sectors such as food, water, energy and health are the way forward for India’s climate adaptation and impact mitigation, which are projected to get only worse.
Dr Raghu Murtugudde teaches at the University of Maryland
The views expressed are personal