South Asia is also home to the world’s four most air-polluted countries: Bangladesh, Pakistan, India and Afghanistan. Climate change will not only affect internal areas; in mountain areas, climate change will likely affect the frequency of natural disasters. This includes increasing the likelihood of events such as landslides, but also glacial retreat in the Himalayas. On the other hand, rising sea levels represent an existential threat to several coastal areas in south Asia: not only due to the increasing severity of tropical storms, but because the large Bangladeshi share of the coast and most of the Maldives may disappear before the end of the 21st century.
India is at the centre of this trend: temperatures in the country’s south have already risen above average and there is a risk of a similar rise in northern internal areas According to the 2019 Global Climate Risk Index (CRI) developed by Germanwatch and referring to 2017, India ranks as the 14th most vulnerable country. This is an improvement on the two previous years, nevertheless India placed second as most-affected by casualties related to extreme weather.
Air quality in Indian cities is deteriorating fast and is today worse than the situation in China. In January 2017, Greenpeace issued a report, ‘Airpocalypse’, assessing air pollution in Indian cities. In the 2018 World Health Organization (WHO) global ambient air quality database, 11 of the 12 cities with the highest levels of small particulate – PM2.5 – are located in India. According to AirVisual’s 2018 World air quality report, also measuring PM2.5, 22 of the top 30 most polluted cities in the world are in India. Gurugram, a suburb of the Indian capital, Delhi, is the world’s most polluted city. The situation is especially critical in November, December and January, due to a combination of atmospheric and human factors, including winter inversion and post-monsoon biomass (stubble) burning to get rid of crop residue in the countryside. The health impact on the inhabitants of the northern Indian Gangetic plain is significant: according to a study by the University of Chicago on the air quality life index (AQLI), pollution concentration in Delhi in 2016 reduced life expectancy by more than 10 years.