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Climate Change and the Indian Subcontinent

India Resource Center
October 23, 2002

Carbon Build Up

  • The present carbon dioxide concentration has not been exceeded during the past 420,000 years and likely not during the past 20 million years. The rate of increase is unprecedented during at least the past 20,000 years. (1)

  • Over two-thirds of the increase in atmospheric CO2 during the past 20 years is due to fossil fuel burning. The rest is due to land-use change, especially deforestation, and, to a lesser extent, cement production. (1)

Rising Temperatures

  • Global average surface temperature increased 0.6 ( 0.2) C in the 20th century and will increase by 1.4 to 5.8 by 2100. (1)

  • Estimates indicate that India's climate could become warmer under conditions of increased atmospheric carbon dioxide. The average temperature change is predicted to be in the range of 2.33 C to 4.78 C with a doubling in CO2 concentrations. (2)

  • Over the past 100 years, mean surface temperatures have increased by 0.3-0.8C across the region. The 1990s have been the hottest decade for a thousand years. (1) Global temperatures in January, February and March this year have been the warmest recorded. (3)

Melting Glaciers and Rising Sea Levels

  • Global average sea level rose 0.1-0.2 m in 20th century AND will rise by 0.09 to 0.88 m by 2100. (1)

  • Ice melt's share in sea level rise is increasing, and will accelerate if the larger ice sheets crumble. As mountain glaciers shrink, large regions that rely on glacial runoff for water supply could experience severe shortages. In northern India, a region already facing severe water scarcity, an estimated 500 million people depend on the tributaries of the glacier-fed Indus and Ganges rivers for irrigation and drinking water. But as the Himalayas melt, these rivers are expected to initially swell and then fall to dangerously low levels, particularly in summer. (In 1999, the Indus reached record high levels because of glacial melt.) (4)

  • The Dokriani Bamak Glacier in the Himalayas has retreated by 20 meters in 1998, compared with an average retreat of 16.5 meters over the previous 5 years. (4)

Destroying Lives, Destroying Livelihoods

  • A case study of Orissa and West Bengal estimates that in the absence of protection, a one-meter sea level rise would inundate 1700 square kms of predominantly prime agricultural land. (5)

  • In the absence of protection, a one-meter sea level rise on the Indian coastline is likely to affect a total area of 5,763 square kms, and put 7.1 million people at risk. (6)

  • In Bangladesh, for instance, there is a threat to species in the three distinct ecological zones that make up the Sundarbans -- the largest continuous mangrove area in the world. If the saline water front moves further inland, many species could be threatened. These changes could result in economic impacts: Direct employment supported by the Sundarbans is estimated to be in the range of 500,000-600,000 people for at least half of the year, and a large number of these people -- who are directly employed in the industries that use raw materials from the Sundarbans (e.g., woodcutting; collection of thatching materials, honey, beeswax, and shells; fishing)-may lose their sources of income. Sea-level rise also may threaten a wide range of mammals, birds, amphibians, reptiles, and crustaceans living in the Sundarbans. (1)

  • A 1 metre rise in sea level could displace nearly 15 million people in Bangladesh. Such large-scale displacement is likely to cause serious regional instabilities as ecological refugees move across international and regional borders. (1)

  • Goa alone is set to lose 4.3 percent of its land area, including significant portions of its prided beaches and tourist areas. (6)

  • Indigenous people often live in harsh climatic environments to which their culture and traditions are well adapted. Indigenous people generally have low incomes and inhabit isolated rural environments and low-lying margins of large towns and cities. Therefore, they are more exposed to social problems of economic insecurity, inadequate water supplies, and lower health standards. These inadequacies in social safety nets indeed put them at greater risk of climate-related disasters and their effects. For many reasons, indigenous communities are unique and threatened by climate change. First, they are more vulnerable to climate-related disasters such as storms, floods, and droughts because of inadequate structural protection measures and services, as well as to any increase in the prevalence of pests and diseases-especially vector-borne, respiratory, or otherwise infectious diseases. Second, their lifestyles are tied to current climate and vegetation and wildlife. Third, changes in current climate could threaten these lifestyles and would present these peoples with difficult choices concerning their future. (1)

  • Scientific studies indicate that India's rice and wheat production will drop significantly because of climate change. (7)

  • Climate change will cause declines in groundwater levels, and rising sea levels will salinate freshwater sources. (1)

  • Agriculture in the coastal regions of Gujarat, Maharashtra, and Karnataka will be the most negatively affected. Losses are also indicated for the major foodgrain producing regions of Punjab, Haryana, and Western Uttar Pradesh. (8)

  • Increased temperatures will also lead to increase in pest populations and resultant crop losses. (1)

  • Vector-borne diseases, such as malaria, are likely to invade new areas, including the highlands as temperatures increase in these regions making for more conducive conditions for vector populations to thrive. (9)

  • More people, particularly the poor, the homeless, the aged and children, will succumb to or suffer from heat strokes. (1)

  • Water-borne diseases, nutritional diseases due to loss in agricultural productivity will exact an additional toll among rural people, farmers and adivasis. (1)


1. IPCC Special Report on The Regional Impacts of Climate Change: An Assessment of Vulnerability, http://www.grida.no/climate/ipcc/regional/281.htm, 2001

2. Lonergan S. 1998, Climate warming and India: In Measuring the Impact of Climate Change on Indian Agriculture, edited by A Dinar, et al. Washington DC: World Bank. [World Bank Technical Paper No. 402]

3. Mark Henderson , Britain goes to extremes as the world warms up, The Times (London), April 26, 2002

4. Lisa Mastny, Melting of Earth's Ice Cover Reaches New High, WorldWatch Institute, March 6, 2000, http://www.worldwatch.org/alerts/000306.html

5. (IPCC. 1992) Global Climate Change and the Rising Challenge of the Sea--Supporting document for the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, World Meteorological Organization, and United Nations Environment Programme, Geneva]

6. Impacts of greenhouse inducted sea-level rise on the Islands and coasts of India New Delhi: School of Environmental Sciences, Jawaharlal Nehru University, 1993.

7. Kumar K. S. and Parikh J. Climate change impacts on Indian agriculture: the Ricardian approach In Measuring the Impact of Climate Change on Indian Agriculture, edited by A. Dinar, et al. Washington DC: World Bank. [World Bank Technical Paper No. 402]. 1998.

8. Sanghi A, R Mendelsohn, and A Dinar. The climate sensitivity of Indian agriculture, In Measuring the Impact of Climate Change on Indian Agriculture, edited by A. Dinar, et al. Washington DC: World Bank. [World Bank Technical Paper No. 402] 1998.

9. IPCC, 1996, WG II, Section 18.3:WHO, 1996b.

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