India: New report finds India’s food security, water resources and health at risk from warming climate

June 19, 2013


19 June, 2013: Late last year, the World Bank released a report – Turn Down the Heat – which concluded the world would warm by 4°C by the end of this century if concerted action was not taken now. A new report, released today, spells out an alarming scenario that could unfold as a result of global warming.

The new report - Turn Down The Heat: Climate Extremes, Regional Impacts and the Case for Resilience – looks at the likely impact of warming on agricultural production, water resources, coastal ecosystems and cities across three regions - South Asia, Sub-Saharan Africa, and South East Asia. It assesses impacts at present day temperatures of 0.8°C above pre-industrial levels, as well as in a world that is warmer by 2°C and 4°C.

The report finds that if the world warms by 2°C - which may happen within the next 20 to 30 years - widespread food and water shortages could unfold, together with prolonged droughts, unprecedented heat-waves, more intense rainfall and flooding, and a significant threat to energy production.

These are not challenges looming at the end of the century, the report says. Rather, severe impacts can begin to appear within the next 10-20 years, within the span of the current generation. Already, a warming trend has begun to emerge over South Asia, and India’s large and growing population is experiencing water stress in many parts.

Increasing temperatures, changing rainfall patterns, declining snowfall, retreating glaciers, and declining groundwater can make the situation even worse. Impacts can be aggravated by rising sea-levels and more intense tropical cyclones, precipitating a major crisis for food security and the rural economy.

Urban populations cannot escape the consequences of global warming, either. Densely populated urban areas, especially those with unplanned urbanization, would be increasingly at risk from prolonged spells of extreme heat, floods, and disease.

The case for resilience has never been stronger. Already, our world is 0.8°C above pre-industrial levels of the 18th century. Irrespective of future emission paths, the warming already underway will lead to a number of climate impacts. Many of the worst impacts could still be avoided by holding warming below 2°C, but the window for action is narrowing rapidly.

The onus is clearly on today’s generation to develop heat and drought resistant crops, improve ground water management, invest in water storage infrastructure, build adequate flood defenses, improve energy efficiency and the performance of renewable energies, ‘climate-proof’ critical public infrastructure that is locked in for long periods, and make cities more resilient to climate change. To minimize damage from floods and cyclones to human life and property, strong building codes will need to be enforced.

In a very real sense development is the best adaptation – investing in skills, health, knowledge, better infrastructure and a more diversified economy will render countries more climate-resilient.

The report therefore demands action - bold action - to ensure that the future of millions is not put at risk. This requires strong political will together with innovation, for early action on climate change will far outweigh the costs in the longer term.

India’s climate change action plans

The government of India has accorded top priority to the issue of climate change. The Prime Minister’s Council on Climate Change provides the broad framework for action at the highest level. Action Plans on eight crucial sectors provide the necessary policy, regulatory and institutional framework. Many states have prepared climate change action plans.

The Planning Commission hosts a high-level working group on low carbon growth that outlines the road map towards a low carbon future. The key challenge now is the implementation of these plans which entails the identification of priority actions, coordination between various agencies, and finding suitable financing mechanisms.

World Bank’s Role

The World Bank seeks to help countries increase their resilience to climate change by providing the tools, best practices, and funds to help support action.

In India, the Bank has supported a number of adaptation initiatives, such as the community led Drought Adaptation Initiative in Andhra Pradesh that helped small farmers increase their resilience to droughts.

The World Bank is also empowering local communities in a number of states to improve the conservation of their watersheds and integrate adaptation in all rural livelihood projects. Projects are helping improve the availability of water, enabling farmers to move to higher value crops, and promoting the efficient use of scarce water resources. The Bank is also working on innovative crop insurance schemes and supporting resilience through disaster risk reduction and management projects.

The Bank is also supporting mitigation efforts through the development of environmentally sustainable hydropower in Himachal Pradesh, and piloting projects that support the National Solar and Energy Efficiency Missions. It is increasingly looking at development through a “climate lens” by integrating climate risk assessments and carbon accounting in all its projects.

IFC, the World Bank Group’s private sector arm, is working with several Indian companies to build climate smart solutions. For example, it is introducing efficient water use technologies for basmati rice cultivation in Haryana. Till date, the project has led to water savings of 1.1 million cubic meters and has benefited over 1,000 farmers. Another IFC program – Lighting Asia – is providing renewable lighting solutions amongst two million people in rural India. By the end of 2015, the program aims to bring down CO2 emissions by at least 64,000 tons.