The time to take action against climate change and adapt to rising temperatures is quickly running out. According to the latest study by the UN Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC), acting now to limit global warming to 1.5 degrees Celsius above pre-industrial levels can result in a “substantial” reduction in losses and damage to human settlements and ecosystems.
The report, which was released on Monday, is the second half of the IPCC’s Working Group II’s sixth assessment report, which looks at the impact of climate change, the world’s vulnerability to it, and its adaptation.
According to the report around 330 to 360 million people live in areas that are extremely vulnerable to climate change. Even if the 1.5-degree limit is temporarily breached, there will be extra severe hazards, some of which are irreversible. The people and ecosystems most affected by climate change will be the least prepared to deal with the consequences. The report has said that in order to minimise emissions and better prepare for climate change, governments must adopt climate-resilient development, which includes biodiversity and conservation.
India is one of the most vulnerable countries
IPCC has reported that India is one of the most vulnerable countries in the world in terms of the number of people who will be affected by rising sea levels. According to the analysis, over 35 million people in India might endure annual coastal flooding by the middle of the century, with 45-50 million at danger by the end of the century if emissions remain high. Direct damage is predicted to be $24 billion if emissions are reduced as promised, and $36 billion if emissions remain high and ice sheets become unstable. By 2050, the cost of damage from rising sea levels in Mumbai alone could be $162 billion per year.
“Hot extremes including heatwaves have intensified in cities, where they have also aggravated air pollution events and limited functioning of key infrastructure,” the report notes. “Observed impacts are concentrated amongst the economically and socially marginalised urban residents… Infrastructure, including transportation, water, sanitation and energy systems have been compromised by extreme and slow-onset events, with resulting economic losses, disruptions of services and impacts to well-being.”
“Globally, heat and humidity will create conditions beyond human tolerance if emissions are not rapidly eliminated; India is among the places that will experience these intolerable conditions,” it says.
Wet-bulb temperatures, a measure that combines heat and humidity, are mentioned in the report. Even for fit and healthy adults, a wet-bulb temperature of 31 degrees Celsius is exceedingly harmful, while a temperature of 35 degrees is unsurvivable for more than six hours.
According to the IPCC, wet-bulb temperatures in India rarely exceed 31 degrees Celsius at the moment, with the majority of the country seeing maximum wet-bulb temperatures of 25-30 degrees Celsius. Many portions of northern and coastal India would attain extremely dangerous wet-bulb temperatures of over 31 degrees C by the end of the century if emissions are decreased just to the levels now promised. Wet-bulb temperatures will approach or exceed the unsurvivable limit of 35 degrees C throughout much of India if emissions continue to climb, with the bulk of the country experiencing wet-bulb temperatures of 31 degrees C or higher.
“The report is a call for action on adaptation, building resilience and reducing risks and vulnerability to impacts of climate change. Developed countries must take the lead in urgent mitigation and providing finance for adaptation, loss and damage. Loss and damage due to limits to adaptation are underway and will rise with further warming,” said Bhupender Yadav, environment minister, while articulating the country’s position.
Focus on Climate Justice and Equity
For the first time, the IPCC report recognised ‘climate justice’ and ‘equity’ as critical components of adaptation support. India has long advocated for climate justice, claiming that developing countries should have a “fair share” of the available carbon space for growth.
Gender issues, mental health, loss and damage (the idea of compensating poor and vulnerable countries for the damage they suffer as a result of climate change-related extreme weather events), and the availability of indigenous and traditional adaptation options are among the issues raised for the first time in the UN body’s assessment report.