Climate Change

IPCC Special Report: Climate risks require India to rethink its approach

The report warns of increased risk of coastal flooding, heatwaves, food scarcity and vector-borne diseases

By Padmini Gopal
Published: Monday 08 October 2018
Photo: iStock

A landmark study released by the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) today reveals that India, one of the most vulnerable countries in the world to global warming, will face the brunt of climate change devastation in the coming years. The Special Report on 1.5°C investigates the global warming impacts of attempting to achieve the Paris Agreement goal:  limiting global average temperature increase to well below 2 degrees Celsius (°C) over pre-industrial levels and pursuing efforts to achieve 1.5°C.

The report presents the differences in the impacts that the world will endure from limiting warming to 2°C in comparison to 1.5°C. The way we will live in the future will alter depending on the emission pathway we choose to take, and this choice could mean a matter of life and death for many vulnerable communities in India.

The report states that agricultural economies such as India would suffer the most due to the ramifications of global warming—including intense heatwaves, floods and droughts, water stress, and reduced food production—effectively exposing an already vulnerable population to further poverty, and food and livelihood insecurity.

The report also highlights the following impacts that developing countries like India would face if its warming touches 2°C as compared to 1.5°C:

  • Higher risks from heavy precipitation events, including flooding and tropical cyclones of category 4 and 5, over the North Indian Ocean near the Arabian Sea (3.6);
  • Increased number of hot days; Kolkata can expect annual conditions to be equivalent to that of the 2015 heat wave (;
  • Coastal flooding from sea level rise; high risk to coastal communities due to loss of coastal ecosystems (4.5.1);
  • Communities around the Ganga-Brahmaputra delta and Mahanadi delta will be subject to increased vulnerability (4.5.4);
  • Significant impact on economic growth (5.3);
  • Decreased food availability as a result of projected dip in crop production, particularly maize, rice, wheat and other cereal crops; decreased nutritional quality of rice and wheat (3.2.1);
  • Rising temperatures creating severe negative impact on livestock due to changes in feed quality, spread of diseases, and lack of availability of water resources (4.6.2);
  • Increased risk of vector-borne diseases such as malaria and dengue (4.7);
  • Extinction rates for plants, vertebrates, and insects will increase by 50 per cent (4.3.3).

However, this does not mean that limiting global warming to 1.5°C will leave us safe. India, as will the rest of the world, will continue to experience increasing negative impacts as the temperature rises, albeit much lesser than the calamitous effects of a 2°C warmer planet.

India is already losing about 1.5 per cent of its GDP every year due to climate change-related risks. Agriculture sector has witnessed 4-9 per cent dip in yield) every year as a result of the current 1°C rise in global temperature. Allowing temperature to rise beyond 1.5°C would render India uninhabitable and even poorer. The Special Report states that pursuing current level of targets as set out by the countries’ Nationally Determined Contributions (NDCs) under the Paris Agreement would effectively have us on track to a 3°C warmer world. India has to fundamentally transform its current approach to climate change and not wait on developed countries like the United States to take the lead on scaling emission reductions and addressing historical emissions. Complacency and looking up to other countries’ unambitious climate targets as benchmarks would essentially mean suicide for a vulnerable country like India.

While all countries need to expeditiously augment their climate efforts and coordinate at the global level to achieve net-zero emissions by 2050, for its own interest, India needs to promptly align its NDC to a 1.5°C pathway and, as the report states, swiftly undertake decarbonisation before 2030. In fact, the current gap in climate ambition presents a favourable opportunity for India to take the lead globally and set an example of being an ambitious and committed player to the climate change agenda. Developed countries must actively bolster countries like India in terms of financial and technological support for climate action. Meanwhile, India needs to rapidly mobilise domestic finance that can be directed towards mitigation and adaptation efforts, equally. That is how the country can secure the future of its people while achieving its long-standing domestic priorities of poverty alleviation, food security and sustainable development.

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