Human vulnerability to climate change needs resilient systems

The role of economically stronger communities is much more important in regulating catastrophic temperature rise.

ByOnkar Singh

Updated on 13 Nov 2021, 7:42 am

Representational Image (Photo: Pixabay)

Representational Image (Photo: Pixabay)


Heavy rainfall triggering flash floods in Nepal, Uttarakhand, and Kerala took more than 180 lives followed by 14 deaths in Chennai in Tamilnadu within October-November 2021 calls for honest introspection. In the year 2021 itself the cyclonic storms namely Taukte affecting the coast of Kerala and Lakshadweep, Yaas affecting Orissa, Gulab affecting the coast of Odisha and Andhra Pradesh. The susceptibility to fatality increases manifold on account of inadequate preparedness and poor infrastructure to cater to nature’s onslaught. At the same time, instances of drought are not rare in the country. As per the Forest Survey of India report 2018, 54.4 per cent of Indian forests are exposed to occasional fires, 7.49  per cent to moderate frequent fires, and 2.405 per cent to high incidence fires.

Undoubtedly, these devastating climate impacts are not limited to the territorial jurisdiction of any country, but it is the cumulative effect of the causal activities of every habitat on the planet earth, which can only be mitigated by the climate damage abatement strategies followed by each country. Taking a serious view the majority of the world converged at the Paris Agreement to limit global warming to 1.5 oC above pre-industrial temperatures.  But, the Emission Gap Report 2021 of the United Nations Environment Programme has indicated the overshooting of the internationally agreed temperature rise and concluded earth getting warmer by at least 2.7oC in this century, even if the international community honours its commitment to reduce emissions by 2030. This warming being much more than speculated, points to a lack of commitment and action by all communities in general. The role of economically stronger communities is much more important in regulating catastrophic temperature rise. Nationally determined contributions and pledges project the limited impact of emissions just reducing by 7.5 per cent up to 2030 while it has to be up to 55 per cent for limiting global warming by 1.5 oC. Now, with the net zero pledge also, there is a remote possibility of limiting warming to the Paris agreement level due to the lackadaisical approach of those responsible for around 80 per cent greenhouse gas emissions.

Recently held climate summit COP 26 witnessed renewed ambitions, strategies for financing, and strategies for adaptation and building resilience to regulate global warming.  It is worth acclaiming that as the second populous country India has also set an ambitious target of becoming net-zero by 2070 through a multi-pronged strategy of an increasing share of non-fossil fuel capacity up to 500 GW, reducing one billion tonnes of carbon emissions from total emissions, and reducing carbon intensity by 45 per cent in its economy. This involves 100 million tonnes emission reduction every year. Meanwhile, developed nations like the US and China claim to become net-zero by 2050 and 2060 respectively.

There is a dichotomy between the increasing economic activities for survival that yield more pollution and the simultaneous challenge to survival by natural hazards. Perceiving this as a global threat the United Nations rolled out sustainable development goal 13 for taking urgent action to climate change with other goals concerning the continuance of good life on earth. As part of its mission, the suggested climate change measures include accelerating decarbonization for the green transition, green jobs for inclusive and sustainable growth, green economy that is for all, ending fossil fuel subsidies and levying cost on pollution while investing in evolving sustainable solutions, confronting climate risks, and seeking the cooperation of all.

India has a series of programmes for conservation, ecological restoration of degraded forests, and afforestation namely  National Afforestation Programme, Green India Mission, Mahatma Gandhi National Rural Employment Guarantee Scheme, Pradhan Mantri Krishi Sinchayee Yojana, National Adaptation Fund for Climate Change, Climate Change Action Programme, Forest Fire Prevention and Management, Integrated Development of Wildlife Habitats, etc., but the net outcome is not quite encouraging. 

Also, as per the Indian State of Forest Report 2019 (ISFR-2019) the total forest and tree cover in the country is 8,07,276 square kilometres (sq qm) with a forest cover of 7,12,249 sq km and tree cover of  95,027 sq km, which is 24.56 per cent of the geographical area of the country and exhibits an increase of 13,209 sq km of total forest and tree cover compared to that of ISFR-2015. Nevertheless, the annual rise in smog levels and poor air quality has become a recurring feature. The difficulties encountered in breathing, watery and itching eyes in Delhi, Haryana, Punjab, Rajasthan, and Uttar Pradesh constantly remind of certain lapses causing air pollution. Augmenting the forest cover is the cardinal strategy for natural carbon sequestration and nothing can locum tenens to it. Despite having a regulatory framework regarding green cover and land use, the vested interests wrap up in flawed execution practices.

For example, deforesting land cover merely for creating helipads temporarily just for one time landing despite having landing options in a nearby place is frequently witnessed. People forget that the trees take years to get grown while earthmover machines like JCB hardly take any time to ax them and clear the space. Stringent prohibiting regulations to stop such practices besides ample empowerment to forest conservation eco-system could be helpful. 

The so-called development and moderni sation of civilisation are fatally lagging in terms of sustainability. Felling of trees and removal of green cover on grassland for merely getting plane land patches even for avoidable uses, covering of old water bodies and insufficient creation of new water bodies,  massive unmindful construction activities, demolition of older civil infrastructure, stone crushing, cutting and leveling of mountains for creating utilities, excessive aviation activities polluting air space, smoke emissions from fossil fuels and burning, scarce plantation, over populous urban dwellings, discharging untreated affluent, poor agriculture and domestic waste management strategies, etc. are simply making life miserable.

Because of the growing economy, India is likely to feel more heat from the restrictions being imposed for mitigating climate change hazards. Concurrently its huge population is much more vulnerable to climate change hazards and necessitates caution for precluding affliction. Apart from the decarbonisation initiatives as envisaged by governments at centre and states, carbon neutrality of all activities,  the effective civic amenities infrastructure for urban and rural areas together with its proper maintenance, waste management strategies for the short and long term, strictly regulated deforestation, enforceable legal provisions to deter those harming the environment and ecology,  incentivising afforestation, all-embracing futuristic infrastructure policy to sustain forthcoming burden, green policies, and holistic sustainable development plan involving all stakeholders are inevitable. Despite efforts to sensitise the youth about the environment by offering them compulsory subjects pertaining to environmental science, pollution, climate change, etc. as part of the curriculum, the results are not propitious. This means that a modified strategy with much more rigour is required to educate youth for responsibility towards nature. Every person is to be educated well for becoming champion to beholden to the environment, safeguard humanity and life on mother earth.

(The views expressed are personal)


Onkar Singh

Onkar Singh

Founder Vice-Chancellor of Madan Mohan Malaviya University of Technology, Gorakhpur, Uttar Pradesh and Professor of Mechanical Engineering at Harcourt Butler Technical University, Kanpur, UP.

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