Understanding the Nuances of Climate Change in the Indian Subcontinent: Impact and Way Forward is an Online International Monsoon School Program, a Six-Week Immersive Online Introductory Certificate Training Course from August-September 2023 by IMPRI Impact and Policy Research Institute. An informative and interactive panel discussion on “Climate Change, Policy Intervention and Sustainable Development” was held on the 5th of August 2023 by Dr Bamadev Sigdel, Visiting Professors of Economics, Program Director, Centre for Policy Studies & Rural Development, Kalimati Kathmandu, Nepal.
Understanding Climate Change
Dr. Sigdel commenced the session with a comprehensive explanation of the intricate concept of climate change. He highlighted that climate change denotes a profound alteration in the state of the climate, manifesting through discernible shifts in the mean and variabilities of climate properties. Importantly, such changes endure over extended periods, typically spanning a decade or more. Even seemingly marginal adjustments in the global average temperature can translate into profound and potentially hazardous shifts in climatic patterns and weather dynamics.
Climate Change Challenges in South Asia
The regions of South Asia, home to an expansive population of around 1.5 billion individuals, are confronted with formidable challenges. These challenges revolve around the ambitious pursuit of rapid, sustainable economic growth aimed at alleviating poverty and achieving the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs). However, these aspirations occur within the context of accentuated vulnerabilities presented by the global phenomenon of climate change. The impending impacts of climate change could unleash substantial economic, social, and environmental repercussions that could undermine the very foundations of growth and poverty alleviation endeavors in this region.
South Asian Economic Landscape
The distinctive tapestry of South Asia encompasses countries with varying characteristics. Among these nations, India, Bangladesh, and Pakistan emerge as highly populous entities. Of notable significance, the Maldives stands out, boasting the highest annual GDP growth rate in the region.
Climate Change Impacts in South Asia
The perils of climate change are increasingly manifesting in South Asian nations. These countries face a mounting frequency and severity of extreme weather events, culminating in a spectrum of challenges. The consequences range from inundations and landslides to infrastructural damage and the decimation of agriculture. Hydroelectric power generation is curtailed, while human health is compromised. Remarkably, the coastal fringes of Bangladesh, India, the Maldives, and Sri Lanka are precariously poised due to the imminent threat of rising sea levels. The ramifications include the potential displacement of settlements, loss of vital agricultural terrain, and dire impacts on the tourism and fisheries sectors.
Projections accentuate the gravity of economic implications in the face of climate change for South Asian countries. The anticipated per capita GDP losses within this region might surpass the global average. Such projections indicate substantial potential losses for Bhutan, Nepal, India, and Pakistan, standing at 18%, 13%, 10%, and 10% respectively. Additionally, the region’s water scarcity concerns threaten food, water, and energy security.
Glacial Melting and Climate Change
The Himalayan mountain range serves as a stark indicator of climate change impacts. The increased melting of its major glaciers has triggered a surge in flooding and disasters. The Hindukush region in Nepal, among others, presents compelling evidence of these transformations. As glaciers shrink, they release less water during the dry season, which can lead to water scarcity issues for communities and agriculture downstream.
The Himalayan region is known for its unique and fragile ecosystems. The melting glaciers and altered water flow patterns have a cascading effect on these ecosystems, affecting the distribution of plant and animal species, and disrupting local biodiversity. Beyond ecological concerns, the shared water resources originating from the Himalayas have the potential to become sources of geopolitical tension among neighboring countries. Competing interests and demands for water resources can strain diplomatic relations and pose challenges for water management in the region.
Greenhouse Gases and Global Temperature Rise
The prime drivers of accelerated climate change are the emission of greenhouse gases, particularly CO2. A disconcerting fact is that Earth’s average temperature has already surged by 1.5°F over the past century, and models predict a further rise of 0.5 to 8.5°F over the upcoming century.
Understanding Sustainable Development
Dr. Sigdel’s insightful session delved deeply into the fundamental concept of sustainable development. This intricate idea revolves around the delicate equilibrium of meeting current societal needs while safeguarding the ability of future generations to meet their own necessities. This philosophy places paramount importance on the astute management of a nation’s bio-physical resources, striving to strike a harmonious balance between resource productivity and conservation. By optimizing resource use in a way that prevents depletion and damage, sustainable development seeks to ensure a lasting and resilient environment for both present and future inhabitants.
The essence of sustainable development was eloquently encapsulated by Dr. Sigdel. It resonates as an imperative strategy for providing livelihoods that are environmentally responsible and non-resource depleting, especially for marginalized populations. This approach goes beyond mere economic growth, emphasizing human well-being, equitable distribution of resources, and the preservation of ecological systems. By nurturing human resources and enhancing technological prowess, while rectifying institutional weaknesses, sustainable development seeks to bolster the productivity of available resources, fostering a trajectory that secures both prosperity and environmental integrity for generations to come.
Sustainable Development Framework
Sustainable development represents a multifaceted framework. It hinges on several key dimensions, including eradicating poverty and hunger, addressing the global ecological footprint, and effectively managing shared resources. Achieving economic and environmental stability necessitates an intricate interplay between economic, environmental, and social considerations in decision-making processes.
Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs)
The 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development, featuring a comprehensive set of 17 goals, resonates significantly with South Asian countries. Given their current position, these nations lag behind on various socio-economic and environmental indicators. Notably, the region is still home to 36% of the global poor. Achieving the targets for extreme poverty reduction is challenged by natural disasters, inadequate access to fundamental services, and insufficient investments in education, health, and social protection.
Food Security and Sustainability
Amid these complexities, concerns about food security loom large. With burgeoning populations, there is mounting apprehension about the ability to meet escalating food demands without depleting vital natural resources. This scenario becomes even graver as sea levels rise, threatening to render many densely populated coastal areas uninhabitable and contributing to an estimated 40 million climate migrants in South Asia by 2050.
Climate Change Adaptation in India
Recognizing the pronounced vulnerability of rural populations with limited infrastructure, the Indian government has taken proactive measures toward climate change adaptation. Initiatives like “Climate Change Adaptation in Rural Areas of India” are emblematic of this commitment. The objective is to seamlessly integrate climate change adaptations across diverse sectors encompassed by the purview of both Central and State governments.
In light of the shared nature of climate change’s impact across South Asian countries, cohesive action and mutual coordination assume paramount importance. Collaborative endeavors must pivot on capacity building, robust research and development, and the proactive sharing of best practices. By harnessing regional cooperation, these nations can more effectively address the multifaceted challenges posed by climate change.
Acknowledgement: Aasthaba Jadeja is a research intern at IMPRI.
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