In 2018-19, due to extreme weather events like cyclones & floods, approximately 2400 Indian citizens had lost their precious lives according to the data of environment ministry. Presently, emissions from various industries and human activities are greatly responsible for the change in climatic conditions, thereby leading to increase in global temperature, disrupting the patterns of rainfall and also amplifying the frequency of severe weather calamities. Not a single country is immune to these events, but our country is particularly vulnerable. According to IMD (Indian Meteorological Department), such events are proliferating in frequency as well as getting more intensified. These extreme conditions may look tangible and instant impact of change in climate, but another more equally& long-term dangerous effect is increasing temperatures.
According to data released by IMD, average temperature in India have raised by 0.6 degree Celsius between 1901-10 & 2009-18. This might seem trivial at an annual level but future projections paint a serious alarming picture. The World Bank, for instance, have estimated that if such changes in climatic condition continues unhindered, then the average temperature of India might increase to 29.1 degree Celsius by the end of this century. However, vulnerability of a region depends on several factors like access to infrastructure (roads, electricity & water connections) & agricultural dependability.
As stated by the World Bank, India’s central districts are the ones which are most vulnerable to climate change because of insufficient infrastructure & being mostly agrarian. For instance, the districts’ around Vidarbha region of Maharashtra are particularly vulnerable to damage caused due to changes in climatic conditions. These districts are under severe rural distress and have also experienced the most number of suicides among the farmers in recent times. World Bank has forecasted that GDP per capita of these districts might shrink by almost 10% by the end of 2050 due to climate change.
Climate changes directly bring effects on the income level of the farmers. Any kind of changes in the climatic condition of a region or any damage caused due to the changes in climate of a region leads to a fall in the income level of the farmers. Two most critical inputs for a farmer are: i) monsoon; ii) suitable temperature. Disrupted rainfall and hotter weather hurt crop yields and subsequently their incomes. As we know unemployment rate in India is highest in last 45 years since 1972-73, the unemployment rate among rural males, in 2017-18, has also risen by four times the average for the past forty years up to 2011-12. Economic survey of 2017-18 reveals that farmers’ incomes have reduced by 4-14% for key crops due to droughts and extreme temperatures. Poorer farmers of the region with less irrigational facilities and weaker infrastructure are the ones who are most affected.
Assessing the rural picture is crucial because 70% of the Indian population still lives in rural areas and many of them falls under the low income group. In our previous article on “Economic Crisis in India”, while discussing on slump in demand, we had explained how this demand slump originates in one sector and spreads over to multiple sectors. Hence, as climate changes are affecting the incomes of the rural people, there demand for various goods are going to decline in the near future. Thus, while the industrial sector is looking towards the rural sector to increase their sales, at the same time rural people are losing their purchasing power. The high unemployment rate among the ‘rural males’ depicts that our country have zoomed in up to a plausible level of precision on the locus of low demand.
India’s agricultural sector is vulnerable to climate change. Rise in temperature tend to lower the crop yields and foster pest & weed proliferation. Change in climate may have negative consequence on irrigated crop yields across the agro-ecological regions because of rise in temperature and changes in availability of water. Those agricultural regions which are fully dependent on rainfall will receive the primary impact because of variability in rainfall and decreased number of rainy days. A survey on impact of change in climate conducted by NICRA (National Innovations in Climate Resilient Agriculture) has concluded that climate change can affect yields, especially on crops like wheat, rice & maize.
Let us now find out the reason behind the slow growth rate of rural incomes.
One reason might be the recent history of crop agriculture. In the last decade, this activity had recorded either zero or negative rate of growth in five of the ten years. In other words, there had been no growth in majority of the years. Such rate of growth in the crop agriculture has never been witnessed before by the economy since 1947.
When, due to a decline in production, fluctuations in the rate of growth are observed, there emerges a particular feature. The consumption debt that is incurred by the households in the bad crop years would be reimbursing it in the good years. This implies that even in the good years, there has not been an appreciable growth in consumption. Inconsistent agricultural production at first reduces the demand of agricultural labour and then its supply which results in greater unemployment. A decline in the rate of investment has also been observed but it might be a reflection of third-rate agricultural performance.
Climate change might have hurt the farmers most but it can affect other workers also. For instance, life becomes miserable for those workers working in construction industry especially in summer season as they have to work under the scorching heat of the sun. This high temperature drains down the energy of the workers within a few hours of work, resulting to a reduction in their productivity level. International Labour Organization has revealed that by 2030 the loss in productivity due to heat stress might be equivalent to 34 million full time job losses in India (increased from 15 million in 1995) – this would be the highest among the most populous nations of the world.
Increase in temperature combined with humidity can even be more fatal. Dean Spears, in his book “Air: pollution’ Climate Change & India’s Choice Between Policy and Pretence” that a newly born baby exposed to hot & humid environment for a week have less chances of surviving in comparison to one who faces less hostile condition.
To find a long-term solution to the unemployment problem which is the reason behind slow growth rate of the economy, government must start from addressing problems with agricultural production. Scrutinizing the last decade’s performance of crop agriculture, it is eminent that India has never witnessed something like this before. A crop-yield cycle associatedwith annual variations in rainfall was recognized a long before but presently a stagnation is being witnessed. However, just like a cyclic condition, we cannot simply expect a recovery here. Ecological factors are vastly responsible for causing stagnation in agriculture. These elements comprise land degradation involving soil erosion and fall in water table resulting in scarcity which in turn raises the cultivation cost. Most of these are directly human-made, relating to over-exploitation or abuse, like excessive use of fertilizers, of the natural resources. Then the excessive erratic rainfall caused due to change in climate scenario but entirely induced by human activities. Inefficient policy on agriculture encourages excessive use of water which exacerbates any climate change-induced monsoon variations. Hence, a deeper adaptation is crucial and much needed for efficiently dealing with these elements. A combination of resource deployment, intelligent governance and change in the behaviour of farmers are much needed.
Government Initiatives Towards Combating and Adapting to Climate Change
Climate change has become a global issue & the continuous change in climatic conditions all over the world is posing a serious threat to environment as well as society. Union minister of Environment, Forest and Climate Change – Dr. Harsh Vardhan while releasing a publication tilted “India – Spearheading Climate Solutions” revealed that “India has been one of the proactive countries in the world that has been working on multiple aspects of climate change at domestic as well as international level”. A number of clean & green development initiatives has been undertaken in the last four years at national & state level which has significantly made contributions in adapting and mitigating to climate change. Many policies & initiatives in different sectors such as e-mobility, waste management, green transportation, afforestation, renewable energy, conservation of water has been introduced to reduce the impact of change in climate. A few key government initiatives are include National Adaptation Fund on Climate Change (NAFCC), the National Action Plan on Climate Change (NAPCC),State Action Plan on Climate Change (SAPCC),Climate Change Action Programme (CCAP)International Solar Alliances (ISA), FAME Scheme – for E-mobility, PradhanMantriUjjwalaYojana for clean cooking fuel, Atal Mission for Rejuvenation & Urban Transformation (AMRUT) for Smart Cities, UJALA scheme for embracing energy efficient LED bulbs. NAPCC covers eight major missions on Sustainable Habitat, Solar, Enhanced Energy Efficiency, Sustaining the Himalayan Ecosystem, Water, Sustainable Agriculture, Green India and Strategic Knowledge on Climate Change. Similarly, varieties & cultivars tolerant to abiotic stresses are developed under research component of NICRA (National Innovations in Climate Resilient Agriculture). Climate resilient technology demonstrations are put into practice under NICRA in 151 climatically vulnerable districts.The technology demonstrations intend to improve the adaptive capacity of farmers &even to cope with climate variability in the vulnerable regions or districts for achieving climate resilient agriculture. Additionally, District Agriculture Contingency Plans have been established by ICAR-CRIDA, Hyderabad for addressing the adverse weather conditions in 648 districts in the country.
Apart from the above mentioned key initiatives, generation of 175 GW of renewable energy by the end of 2022,energy efficiency initiatives, electric vehicles, smart cities, leapfrogging from Bharat Stage -IV to Bharat Stage-VI emission norms by April 2020 etc. are some other initiatives proactively undertaken with motive of reducing the impact of climate change.
Presently, 74 GW of renewable energy is generated today out of which 25 GW comprises of solar energy. Forest & tree cover in the country have been increased by 1% since 2015. In the recently submitted Second Biennial Update Report (BUR) to UNFCCC in December 2018, it was reported that emission intensity of the country’s GDP was reduced by 21% between 2005 and 2014. The report also mentioned that the country in on the right track for achieving the climate goal for pre-2020. However, it would be more beneficial if farmer bodies and public agricultural institutes are asked to give their opinion to resuscitate the agricultural sector.