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New climate change report reinforces urgent need for action

September 30, 2013 19:59 IST

Uttarakhand was a tragedy that none of us will forget. As experts analysed the tragedy, it became clear that the disaster was more man made. The intergovernmental panel on climate change in its Assessment Report 5 states that human influence on the climate system is clear and this is evident from the increasing greenhouse gas concentrations in the atmosphere, positive radiative forcing, observed warming, and understanding of the climate system.

It also states that the city of Ahmedabad has already taken a successful lead in piloting both, the research and planning, for management of urban heat waves.

What the AR5 report states:

Warming in the climate system is unequivocal; each of the last three decades has been successively warmer at the earth’s surface than any preceding decade since 1850.

Changes in the global water cycle in response to the warming over the 21st century will not be uniform. The contrast in precipitation between wet and dry regions and between wet and dry seasons will increase, although there may be regional exceptions.

Global mean sea level will continue to rise during the 21st century. Climate change will affect carbon cycle processes in a way that will exacerbate the increase of Co2 in the atmosphere (high confidence). Further uptake of carbon by the ocean will increase ocean acidification.

Cumulative emissions of Co2 largely determine global mean surface warming by the late 21st century and beyond. Most aspects of climate change will persist for many centuries even if emissions of Co2 are stopped. This represents a substantial multi-century climate change commitment created by past, present and future emissions of Co2.

These projections are key to India’s national policies and plans such as the National Action Plan on Climate Change released since 2008, which identifies eight core “national missions” for addressing climate mitigation and adaptation.

The first important area is of heat waves that cities in India face year after year. It is likely that the frequency of heat waves has increased in large parts of Europe, Asia and Australia and human influence has more than doubled the probability of occurrence of heat waves in some locations.

India can use the regional projections on heat waves to design and develop urban development and investment programmes for its existing metropolitan cities and fast growing regional hubs of economic growth.

Ahmedabad has already taken a successful lead in piloting both, the research and planning, for management of urban heat waves. The almost two-year-long pilot with the Public Health Federation of India has come up with a sound approach to address increasing frequency and impact of heat waves in Ahmedabad.

The pilot has relevance for a wide range of cities, from Bhubaneswar to Delhi to Hyderabad to Guwahati to even high altitude Leh in Ladakh.

The second important area for India to act upon is the use of global and regional projections for better and faster vulnerability assessment, not only in obvious locations such as flood damaged Uttarakhand or Bihar but also in the fragile Deltas of Mahanadi in Odisha or Ganga and Brahmputra in West Bengal.

For example, in the absence of protection, a one metre sea level rise is estimated to inundate an area of 170,000 ha -- predominantly prime agricultural land -- and displace 0.7 million people in Orissa and West Bengal region. India cannot have its vulnerability and risk assessment not be better informed and analysed when such a large scale economic development is taking place across India.

The large mining projects, projects supported by international financial institutions such as the World Bank and Asian Development Bank or by trade initiatives such as JETRO of Japan must take up more accurate and informed vulnerability analysis to at least better understand if not avoid future losses and damage.

India cannot overlook floods or cyclones or heat waves or droughts or salinity ingress in its development path, both of the economy as well as of its citizens.

India must use the AR5 projections for making more accurate and long-lasting disaster risk management plans for districts and cities across India. The current district and city plans -- for development or disasters -- do not include climate risks more accurately and comprehensively though there are valuable exceptions.

These district plans are of great relevance to the national flagship programmes such as NREG that offers work security or Right to Education or Right to Food. Even cash transfer to poor people piloting can benefit from more accurate plans.

The ministry of rural development can be the single most important beneficiary of the use of AR5 information and data. National Disaster Management Authority has started a programme to revise and revive District Disaster Management Plans in India.

New generations of plans are coming up in Assam, Bihar, Tamil Nadu, Odisha, and elsewhere. Use of AR5 projections in upcoming revisions of DDMP will be most cost and time effective in the short and long run.

On similar lines, AR5 projections are also key to the review and revision of over 17 state level action plans on climate change.

The fourth most important area for India to act upon is for its dynamic and upwardly bound but currently sluggish private sector development. The projections are of timely economic value to the private sector in terms of investments as well as moving towards green and clean economy.

The projections can give long term business information on what to invest where and when in terms of sectors -- agriculture, infrastructure, forestry, urban development, mining, irrigation, or drinking water -- as well as locations.

Vicky Nanjappa