India is both a major greenhouse gas emitter and one of the most vulnerable countries in the world to projected climate change. The country is already experiencing changes in climate and the impacts of climate change, including water stress, heat waves and drought, severe storms and flooding, and associated negative consequences on health and livelihoods. With a 1.2 billion but growing population and dependence on agriculture, India probably will be severely impacted by continuing climate change. Global climate projections, given inherent uncertainties, indicate several changes in India’s future climate:
Global observations of melting glaciers suggest that climate change is well under way in the region, with glaciers receding at an average rate of 10–15 meters per year. If the rate increases, flooding is likely in river valleys fed by these glaciers, followed by diminished flows, resulting in water scarcity for drinking and irrigation.
All models show a trend of general warming in mean annual temperature as well as decreased range of diurnal temperature and enhanced precipitation over the Indian subcontinent. A warming of 0.5o
C is likely over all India by the year 2030 (approximately equal to the warming over the 20th century) and a warming of 2-4oC by the end of this century, with the maximum increase over northern India. Increased warming is likely to lead to higher levels of tropospheric ozone pollution and other air pollution in the major cities.
Increased precipitation⎯including monsoonal rains⎯is likely to come in the form of fewer rainy days but more days of extreme rainfall events, with increasing amounts of rain in each event, leading to significant flooding. Drizzle-type precipitation that replenishes soil moisture is likely to decrease. Most global models suggest that the Indian summer monsoons will intensify. The timing may also shift, causing a drying during the late summer growing season. Climate models also predict an earlier snowmelt, which could have a significant adverse effect on agricultural production. Growing emissions of aerosols from energy production and other sources may suppress rainfall, leading to drier conditions with more dust and smoke from the burning of drier vegetation, affecting both regional and global hydrological cycles and agricultural production.
Uncertainties about monsoonal changes will affect farmers’ choices about which crops to plant and the timing of planting, reducing productivities. In addition, earlier seasonal snowmelt and depleting glaciers will reduce river flow needed for irrigation. The large segment of poor people (including smallholder farmers and landless agricultural workers) may be hardest hit, requiring government relief programs on a massive scale. Finally, migration, especially from Bangladesh, may strain resources and India-Bangladesh relations.
The most important impacts of climate change will likely include the following:
High-input, high-output agriculture will be negatively affected even as demands for food and other agricultural products rise because of an increasing population and expectations for an improved standard of living. Millions of subsistence and smallholder farmers will experience hardship and hunger through being less able to predict climate conditions. To a certain extent, trade may compensate for these deficits.
Glacier melt may yield more runoff in the short term but less in the medium and long terms. More severe storms (especially cyclones) will cause more damage to infrastructure and livelihoods and exacerbate salt water intrusion in storm surges. Changes in the timing and amount of monsoon rains will make the production of food and other agricultural products more uncertain, so that, even in good-weather years, farmers will be more likely to make decisions leading to lower-productivity.
Exacerbation of Inequality
The welfare of those who are affected by climate change and who have limited means to adapt may act as a force that can change governments, strain public budgets, and foster unrest. About one-third of Indians are extremely poor, and 60 percent depend upon agriculture for their livelihoods.
As India searches for additional sources of energy to meet rising demand, climate change mitigation efforts may constrain its use of indigenous and imported coal, oil, and gas, while development of nuclear energy will be slow at best and likely to encounter opposition. Other non-emitting technologies will require technology transfer and capacity-building.
India receives immigrants from a number of countries. Under climate change conditions, it may be flooded with many more, particularly from Bangladesh. Such migration may exacerbate tension between the two countries as well as putting a strain on Indian central and state governments.