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Climate change threatens India's economy, food security - IPCC

by Nita Bhalla | @nitabhalla | Thomson Reuters Foundation
Monday, 31 March 2014 14:32 GMT

The world's second most populous nation is particularly vulnerable to the impacts of climate change

India's high vulnerability to climate change will slow the country's economic growth, undermine health, threaten food security and make it more difficult to lift people out of poverty, a new report by scientists said on Monday.

The latest report from the U.N. Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) places an emphasis on the impacts of global warming and attempts to make a stronger case for governments to adopt policy on adaptation and cut greenhouse gas emissions.

"This is the most extensive piece of science done on climate adaptation up until now," Aromar Revi, one of the lead authors of the report, told a news conference. "The key issue as far as India is concerned is vulnerability and exposure."

The report says that a warming trend is "unequivocal" and that temperatures were likely to rise by between 0.3 and 4.8 degrees Celsius (0.5 to 8.6 Fahrenheit) by the late 21st century. The low end of the range would only be achieved if governments sharply cut carbon emissions.

It also said that world sea levels could rise by between 26 and 82 cm (10 to 32 inches) by the late 21st century, driven up by melting ice and an expansion of water as it warms, in a threat to coastal cities from Shanghai to San Francisco.

Experts say India is likely to be hit hard by global warming. It is already one of the most disaster-prone nations in the world and many of its 1.2 billion people live in areas vulnerable to hazards such as floods, cyclones and droughts.

More frequent and more severe weather events caused by climate change mean that countries like India must improve their planning, say climate scientists.

Freak weather patterns will not only affect agricultural output and food security, but will also lead to water shortages and trigger outbreaks of water and mosquito-borne diseases such as diarrhea and malaria in many developing nations.

"All aspects of food security are potentially affected by climate change including food access, utilisation of land, and price stability," said Revi, adding that studies showed wheat and rice yields are decreasing due to climatic changes.

The IPCC lead authors said India, like many other developing nations, is likely to suffer losses across all major sectors of the economy including energy, water, transport, agriculture, insurance and tourism.

For example, evidence suggests climate change will adversely impact the tourism industry, particularly beach resorts as visitors choose to spend their holidays at higher altitudes due cooler temperatures or sea level rises.

India ranked the most vulnerable out of 51 countries in terms of beach tourism, while Cyprus is the least vulnerable in one study which was examined by the IPCC scientists.

The transport sector, said IPCC authors, would also likely to be affected with extreme weather which may destroy infrastructure such as roads, bridges, ports and airports - impacting the delivery of goods and services.

IPCC experts said that while there was greater awareness and more work being done by countries to adapt to climate change, this needed to be intensified.

"The world has realised that mitigation is absolutely critical and probably the most effective form of adaptation but adaptation processes have to be accelerated especially in countries that are lower, middle-income countries like India," said Revi.

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