More than 80% cent Indians live in climate-vulnerable districts, according to a recently released report ‘Mapping India’s Climate Vulnerability: A District Level Assessment’ by Abinash Mohanty and Shreya Wadhawan of the Council on Energy, Environment and Water (CEEW). The study, supported by the India Climate Collaborative and Edelgive Foundation is the first-of-its-kind Climate Vulnerability Index to assess the vulnerability of India’s districts against extreme climate events.
Overall, 27 Indian states and union territories are vulnerable to extreme climate events which often disrupt the local economy and displace weaker communities. The states of Assam, Andhra Pradesh, Maharashtra, Karnataka and Bihar are most vulnerable to extreme climate events such as floods, droughts and cyclones in India.
The report highlights that 463 out of 640 districts (as per the 2011 Census of India) in India are vulnerable to extreme floods, droughts and cyclones. More than 45% of these districts have undergone unsustainable landscape and infrastructure changes.
183 hotspot districts are highly vulnerable to more than one extreme climate event. Dhemaji and Nagaon in Assam, Khammam in Telangana, Gajapati in Odisha, Vizianagaram in Andhra Pradesh, Sangli in Maharashtra, and Chennai in Tamil Nadu are among India’s most climate-vulnerable districts.
More than 60% of Indian districts have medium to low adaptive capacity, as per the CEEW study. The analysis suggests that 67% of hotspot districts have a medium adaptive capacity and 31% have a low adaptive capacity for extreme flooding events. Five out of six zones have a medium adaptive capacity, barring the eastern zone, which has a low adaptive capacity.
CEEW study also highlighted that states in India’s northeast are more vulnerable to floods, while the ones in the south and central are most vulnerable to extreme droughts. Further, 59 and 41% of the total districts in the eastern and western states, respectively, are highly vulnerable to extreme cyclones.
Although the north-eastern zone has a medium adaptive capacity, states like Assam, Arunachal Pradesh, and Manipur have low adaptive capacities and are highly vulnerable to extreme floods. The north-eastern zone bears the brunt of the southwest monsoons, which is responsible for the heavy precipitation that drives flood events in the region.
Districts like Pune, Mumbai, Thane, and New Delhi have a high adaptive capacity for extreme flood events, indicating the presence of prompt and efficient disaster preparedness and adaptation plan at the ground level.
CEEW analysis suggests that 75% of hotspot districts in India are vulnerable to extreme drought events and their compounding impacts.
“The frequency and intensity of extreme climate events in India have increased by almost 200% since 2005,” said Abinash Mohanty, Programme Lead, CEEW, and lead author of the study. CEEW analysis indicates that implementing robust risk mitigation mechanisms and investing in better disaster preparedness alone could have saved India over Rs. 6.76 trillion (USD 89.7 billion) in the past two decades. The International Labour Organisation (ILO) projects that inaction in the face of slow-onset events like heat waves will cost India 34 million jobs by 2030.
Access to climate finance will be critical for strengthening adaptation efforts and covering loss and damage, as per the CEEW report. At the ongoing COP-26 climate talks in Glasgow, developing countries like India are expected to demand that developed countries ramp up and deliver climate finance timely. The existing commitments made by developed countries are insufficient and yet to be met.
“Combating the rising frequency and scale of extreme climate events is fiscally draining for developing countries such as India. At COP-26, developed countries must regain trust by delivering the USD 100 billion promised since 2009 and commit to stepping up climate finance over the coming decade,” said Dr Arunabha Ghosh, CEO, CEEW.
This will help developing countries to strengthen adaptation mechanisms against such extreme climate events and also accelerate the low-carbon transition.
“Further, India must collaborate with other countries to create a Global Resilience Reserve Fund, which could act as insurance against climate shocks. This would ease the fiscal pressure on the most climate-vulnerable countries, especially from the Global South. Finally, developing a Climate Risk Atlas for India would help policymakers to better identify and assess risks arising from extreme climate events,” he added.
This high-resolution Atlas (CRA) will serve as a risk-informed decision-making toolkit that can be used to map critical vulnerabilities at the district level. The dynamic micro-scale risk modelling will further quantify risks through annual and probable loss estimates using a risk-rating index for sectors. It will help build resilient geographies and sectors, emergency support and transportation, and allied sectoral infrastructure, the report stated.
“Our policymakers, industry leaders and citizens must use the district-level analysis to make effective risk-informed decisions. Climate-proofing of physical and ecosystem infrastructures should also now become a national imperative. Further, India must create a new Climate Risk Commission to coordinate the environmental de-risking mission,” said Mohanty.
“Finally, with loss and damage rising exponentially due to the climate crisis, India must demand climate finance for adaptation-based climate actions at COP-26. Enhanced climate finance can also support India-led global agencies like the Coalition for Disaster Resilient Infrastructure (CDRI) to further mainstream climate actions,” said Mohanty.
The CRC should also have regional chapters. CEEW’s analysis suggests that many areas in India are developing similar, compounding risk profiles; hence coordination for climate actions should go beyond the national and sub-national levels to include regional planning with hyper-local implementation. The CRC’s mandate should include directives for integrating national and sub-national climate plans with DRR plans by decentralising implementation.
The CEEW study also indicated that only 63% of Indian districts have a District Disaster Management Plan (DDMP). While these plans need to be updated every year, only 32% of them had updated plans until 2019. Highly vulnerable, states like Maharashtra, Tamil Nadu, Odisha, Karnataka and Gujarat have improved their respective DDMPs and climate-proofed critical infrastructures in recent years.
The CEEW study recommended that restoration of climate-sensitive landscapes will act as natural shock absorbers against extreme climate events. Further, integration of climate risk profiling with infrastructure planning is imperative for protecting the existing and planned infrastructure projects. The findings are relevant since India is considered the seventh most vulnerable country across the globe, according to the Climate Risk Index by Germanwatch.