≫ What are the effects of climate change?
Global warming has caused a change in the climatic and weather conditions like change in the rainfall pattern, increased flooding, drought, heatwaves, etc. The planet’s ocean and glaciers have felt some significant changes. Oceans are currently warming and becoming more acidic. The ice caps are melting, causing the sea levels to rise. These changes are predicted to be more prominent in the coming decades, threatening our environment and existence. Some of the current impacts of rapid climate change are as follows:
(i) A rise in atmospheric temperature:
- The greenhouse gases released due to human activities are increasing the temperature of the Earth.
- The last 6 years topped the list of hottest years ever recorded.
- The increase in temperature is the major cause of the current increase in heat-related deaths and illnesses, rise in sea levels and an increase in the intensity of natural disasters.
- The 20th century saw an increase in the Earth’s average temperature by 1°F. This is believed to be the fastest rise in a thousand years.
- Research estimates predict that if the GHGs are not reduced, the average surface temperature could increase to 3-5°F by the end of this century.
(ii) Change in landscapes:
- Increasing temperature and changing climate and weather patterns across the globe led to the shift of trees and plants towards Polar Regions and mountains.
- As the vegetation tries to adapt to climate change by moving towards colder regions, the animals that are dependent on them will be forced to follow them for survival. While some survive, many perish in the attempt.
- Other species like polar bears dependent on cold terrains will not have any habitat due to the melting of ice, causing a risk to their survival.
- Thus, the current hasty change in the landscape causes a considerable risk to the survival of many species, including the human population.
(iii) A risk to the ecosystem:
- An increase in the temperature across the globe is changing the weather and vegetation patterns, making the species to migrate to cooler areas for survival.
- This poses a threat to the survival of numerous species. It is projected that by 2050, one-fourth of the Earth’s species may become extinct if the current trend continues.
(iv) Rising sea levels:
- An increase in the temperature of the Earth leads to a rise in sea level due to the thermal expansion (a condition wherein the warm water takes up more area than cooler water). The melting of glaciers adds to this problem.
- The population living in under-lying areas, islands and coasts are threatened by the rising sea levels.
- It erodes shorelines, damage properties and destroys ecosystems like mangroves and wetlands that protect coasts from storms.
- In the last 100 years, the sea level has risen to 4-8 inches and will continue to rise between 4 and 36 inches in the next 100 years.
(v) Ocean Acidification:
- The increase in the CO2 concentration in the atmosphere has increased the CO2 absorption in the ocean. This makes the ocean acidic.
- The increase in the acidification of the ocean can be harmful to many marine species like plankton, molluscs, etc. The corals are especially susceptible to this as they find it difficult to create and maintain the skeletal structures needed for their survival.
(vi) Increase in the risk of natural and manmade disasters:
- The moisture from land and water is rapidly evaporating due to the high atmospheric temperature.
- This causes drought. Those areas that are affected by drought are highly susceptible to the negative effects of flooding.
- As this current condition, the droughts may become more frequent and more severe. This may lead to distressing consequences for agriculture, water security, and health.
- Countries in Asia and Africa are already facing this phenomenon, with droughts becoming longer and more intense.
- The increased temperature is not only causing droughts but also increasing the cases of forest fires across the globe.
- Climate change is also causing increased and intensified hurricanes and tropical storms, causing a devastating impact on human societies and the environment.
- The cause of this is the rise in the ocean temperature as warm waters influence the hurricanes and tropical storms energies.
- The other factors that cause intensified hurricane and tropical storms are raising sea levels, disappearing wetlands and increased coastal development.
(vii) Health issues:
- The high temperature across the globe can pose health risks and deaths.
- The increased heat waves caused by climate change have led to the deaths of many globally.
- For instance, in 2003, the extreme heatwaves led to the death of more than 20,000 people in Europe and caused more than 1,500 deaths in India.
- Climate change increases the spreading of contagious diseases as the long-term warm weather allows disease-carrying insects, animals and microbes to survive longer.
- Disease and pests that were once confined to the tropics may find it habitable in the colder regions that were previously inhospitable.
- Currently, there is an increase in death due to extreme heat, natural disasters and diseases due to climate change.
- World Health Organisation estimates that between 2030 and 2050, climate change may cause approximately 250,000 additional deaths per year due to malnutrition, malaria, diarrhoea and extreme heat.
(viii) Economic impacts:
- It is estimated that if action is not taken to address the carbon emissions, climate change could cost about 5 to 20% of the annual global GDP.
- In contrast, the cost to lessen the most damaging effects of climate change is just 1% of the GDP.
- Climate change can alter shoreline habitats. This may lead to the need for relocation of ports and near-shore infrastructures and habitats, costing about millions of dollars.
- The increased hurricanes and other related natural disasters can bring forth extreme economic losses caused by damaged properties and infrastructures.
- Declining crop yields due to the lengthy droughts and high temperatures can lead to a risk of starvation of thousands of people.
- Coral reefs generate approximately $375 billion each year in goods and services. Their very survival is currently under threat.
(ix) Agriculture productivity and food security:
- The crop cultivation is dependent on solar radiation, favourable temperature and precipitation.
- Hence, agriculture has always been dependent on climate patterns.
- The current climate change
- has affected agricultural productivity, food supply and food security.
- These effects are biophysical, ecological and economic.
- They resulted in:
- Climate and agricultural zones are moving towards poles
- There is a change in the agricultural production pattern due to increased atmospheric temperature
- Agricultural productivity has increased due to the rise in CO2 in the atmosphere.
- Unpredictable precipitation patterns
- The vulnerability of the landless and the poor has increased.
≫ How is climate change affecting India?
- One of the major areas that will be extremely vulnerable to climate change in the future is South Asia.
- India especially will be vulnerable to climate change due to its diverse terrain, rapid use of natural resources due to the current trend of precipitous urbanisation, industrialisation and economic growth.
- Currently, India, in its effort to protect its fast diminishing natural resources, is facing environmental and socio-economic challenges.
- Water and air quality are worsening each day due to environmental pollution.
- Those that are especially susceptible to climate change are the country’s coastal ecosystems, biodiversity and agricultural productivity.
- The natural disasters’ increasing frequency and intensity are causing negative effects to the already struggling Indian economy.
- The adverse effects of such disasters range from poverty, vulnerability to diseases, loss of income and livelihoods.
- According to the World Bank, an increase of 2°C in the world’s average temperature in the next few decades will only make India’s monsoon more unpredictable.
- The changing rain patterns in India are predicted to leave many areas flooded and others without water scarcity.
- More than 60% of India’s agriculture is dependent on rain and the majority of the population are dependent on the agriculture sector for survival. This makes India more vulnerable to climate change.
- It is estimated that by the 2050s, with a temperature increase of 2-2.5°C, water in the river basins of Indus, Ganges and Brahmaputra will be reduced. This may threaten the food security of about 63 million people.
- The poverty reduction rate will also be slowed down due to the rise in the atmospheric temperature.
- Poor will be more vulnerable to climate change since many of them are dependent on the rain-dependent agriculture.
- An increase of 2°C by the 2040s is going to affect crop production and will reduce the crop output by 12%, requiring more imports to meet the domestic demands.
- Furthermore, the decreasing availability of food can give rise to considerable health issues especially among women and children.
- The melting glaciers and loss of snow can pose a risk to reliable water resources in India.
- Main rivers like Ganges, Indus, and Brahmaputra mostly depend on snow and glacial meltwater. This makes them vulnerable to global warming.
- Climate change can further increase the risk of flooding of low areas and threatens agriculture.
(i) Government measures’ limitations:
- From the recent cases of natural disasters like the Chennai Floods, 2015, 2016 drought, 2019 Kerala floods, etc., it is evident that there are no adequate arrangements made to mitigate them.
- For instance, in the case of Uttarakhand or the Chennai rains, the arrangements weren’t adequate to allow the flow of rainwater due to the illegal constructions.
- From the 2016 drought, there were increased deaths, most of them were economically poor and the underprivileged.
- The government failed to ensure long-term mitigation and the big corporate houses that contribute to large-scale pollution of air and water escape with a mere “corporate social liability” clauses. These are some of the major causes of the devastating impact of these natural disasters.
- India does not have stringent laws to ensure protection against climate change.
- The authorities will not be prosecuted for their negligence of duty and the cases that manage to reach the Supreme Court through the public interest litigation were only able to bring about small changes in averting the future crisis.
- Each year, India is facing the negative impact of climate change and the government is taking measures to address it. Yet the measures taken will not be enough to solve the issue due to poor implementation and lack of accountability.
≫ What are the efforts taken at the international level to combat climate change?
(i) Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC)
- The World Meteorological Organisation (WMO) and the UN Environment Programme (UNEP) founded the IPCC to provide for a mechanism to study the effects of global warming at a governmental level.
- IPCC is a UN body that assesses the science related to climate change.
- It provides the policymakers with regular scientific assessments on climate change, its implications and potential future risks while also providing adaptation and mitigation options.
- It complements UNFCCC and vice versa.
(ii) United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC):
- It came to force on 21st March 1994.
- The 195 countries that have ratified it are called the Parties to the Convention.
- The UNFCC is a Rio Convention, one of the three adopted at the Rio Earth Summit in 1992. The others include the UN Convention on Biological Diversity and the UN Convention to Combat Desertification.
- The Joint Liaison Group was established to ensure cooperation among the three Conventions.
- Currently, it also consists of the Ramsar Convention on Wetlands.
- The ultimate aim of the Convention is to stabilize the greenhouse gas concentration “at a level that would prevent dangerous anthropogenic interference with the climate system”.
- It also aims to achieve the said level within a specific period so that the ecosystem is allowed to adapt naturally to climate change while also ensuring food security and sustainable economic development.
- Following its establishment, the COP1 (first Conference of Parties) was held in Berlin, COP2 was held in Geneva and the COP3 was held in Kyoto to adopt the “Kyoto Protocol” that ensures the implementation of the UNFCCC’s objective.
(iii) Kyoto Protocol:
- Kyoto Protocols was adopted in Kyoto, Japan on 11th December 1997 and came to force on 16th February 2005
- Its signatories are committed towards the achievement of emission reduction targets.
- COP 7 held in Morocco in 2001 saw the adoption of the detailed rules for the implementation of the protocol. These are referred to as “Marrakesh Accords”.
- This protocol holds the developed countries are accountable for the current high levels of GHG emissions into the atmosphere due to their role in the industrial revolution.
- Kyoto Mechanism, also known as Flexible Mechanism, is defined under the Kyoto Protocol to lower the overall cost of achieving the emission targets. It includes Emission Trading, the Clean Development Mechanism and Joint Implementation.
- On December 2012, the Doha Amendment to the Kyoto Protocol was adopted. The changes made include:
- New commitments were made by Annex I Parties (developed nations and Economies in Transition) to be implemented between the period of 1st January 2013 and 31st December 2020.
- A revised list of GHG that is to be reported by the Parties during the second commitment period
- Amendments were made to update several articles of the Kyoto Protocol to be on par with the second commitment period.
- The Kyoto Protocol is a significant step towards the reduction of global emission regime that will allow the stabilisation of GHG emissions.
(iv) Paris Agreement:
- Signed in 2016, it is considered to be the world’s first comprehensive climate agreement.
- It aims to:
- Keep the global temperature well below 2°C above preindustrial times and endeavour to limit them even more to 1.5°C.
- Strengthen the nations’ ability to combat the adverse impacts of climate change.
- The Paris Accord calls for a reduction of the GHGs emitted due to human activities equal to that of the trees, soil and oceans so that they can be absorbed naturally.
- As per the Agreement, each country’s contribution towards cutting emission must be reviewed every 5 years.
- It also states that rich countries must help the poorer nations by providing them with “Climate finances” to make them shift towards renewable energy usage.
- The agreement is binding in some elements like reporting requirements. Other elements of the agreement are non-binding like the emission targets of the individual nations.
- The Paris Agreement necessitates all Parties to put forth their best efforts through Nationally Determined Contributions (NDCs) and to strengthen these efforts in the future.
- This also includes the need for regular reporting emissions and implementation by the parties.
- India’s Intended Nationally Determined Contribution (INDC) includes the reduction in the intensity of its GDP by 33 to 35% by 2030 from 2005 level. Additionally, it has pledged to increase the share of non-fossil fuel-based electricity by 40% by 2030. It has also agreed to enhance its forest cover, which will absorb 2.5 to 3 billion tonnes of CO2 by 2030.
- Reducing Emissions from Deforestation and Forest Degradation (REDD+) is a mechanism developed by Parties of the UNFCCC.
- It creates financial value for the carbon stored in forests to offer incentives for the developing nations to reduce emissions from forested lands and invest in low-carbon paths.
- The developing nations will receive results-based payments for results-based actions.
- The REDD+ goes beyond simply deforestation and forest degradation by including the role of conservation, sustainable management of forests and enhancement of forest carbon stocks.
- It is estimated that the financial flows for the GHG emission reduction from REDD+ could reach up to $30 billion per year.
- This improved North-South flow of funds can ensure a significant reduction of carbon emissions and the promotion of inclusive development. It could also improve biodiversity conservation and secure vital ecosystem services.
- Forests are vital carbon sink and thus, it is vital to increase its resilience to climate change.