Food, Water, Disease Crises For Nations Like India If Global Warming Not Quickly Contained: UN Report

Written by Bhasker Tripathi | Published on: October 9, 2018
New Delhi: If India wishes to avoid the water, food and health crises and intensifying natural disasters caused by a global temperature rise of more than 1.5 deg C, it will have to collaborate with a radical international effort to cut carbon emissions by 58% by 2030.

Water crisis

This and other strong actions -- reducing coal usage for energy production by 78% and ensuring that 60% of electricity supply comes from renewables -- are essential to limit the environmental impact of human activities that have pushed up the global temperature by 1 degree C above the pre-industrial levels (before 1800s), according to the latest report of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC).

At the current rate, global warming will reach 1.5 deg C by 2040, said the report. This red line will emerge quicker and with more widespread effects than previously predicted for a 2-deg-C rise.

“The time is not very far when we will experience the climate impacts of our own choices and actions,” said Aromar Revi, founding director of the Indian Institute for Human Settlements (IIHS), Bengarulu and coordinating lead author of the IPCC’s report, released on October 8, 2018.

With 1-deg-C rise in global warming, India has experienced extreme weather events such as floods in Kerala, wildfires in Uttarakhand and heat waves in the north and east, demonstrating its vulnerability. About 600 million Indians are at risk from the fallout of a rise in global mean temperature.

Further rise in temperatures will worsen food and water availability and lead to more vector-borne diseases in countries like India, as per the IPCC report, which summarised the prospects and benefits of limiting mean global temperature rise to 1.5 deg C. Past and ongoing emissions have caused current global temperature to rise and continue rising by 0.2 deg C per decade.

The strict action recommended by climate change scientists comes as grim news for India, as we reported on October 7, 2018. India is the world’s third largest carbon polluter and second largest coal consumer and about 15 million households (as on October 7, 2018) still do not get any electricity.

“The IPCC text sends out a clear signal that we need to radically reduce coal use,” said Tim Buckley, director of energy finance studies at the Institute for Energy Economics and Financial Analysis, Sydney. “It means there is no space for new coal and it means governments have to start replacing their existing coal plants with renewables.”

The stated mitigation ambitions of nations until 2030 are simply not enough, as per the report’s findings. Even if they are fulfilled there will be global warming of about 3°C by 2100, with warming continuing afterwards. The more demanding pathways suggested in the IPCC report to limit global warming to 1.5 deg C could help slow down the rise in ocean levels, reduce the number of extreme warm days and save several species from extinction by 2100.

“We have little time left to make large shifts in the way our economy is run, society and the governance functions,” said Revi. “Limiting global warming to 1.5 deg C operationally means that we have to transform four big systems: our energy and industrial systems that produce much of the greenhouse gases, agricultural and forests systems, and our cities that concentrate much of the risk, but provide opportunities for transformatory change.”

To enable this, we need to change our frame of governance, rework the way projects are financed, build the institutional capacity to do this at all levels, from villages and municipalities, through states, to all the way up to the national level, he added.

What the world can save by limiting temperature rise to 1.5 deg C
Several drastic natural events caused by global warming can be limited, both in gravity and frequency, if the temperature rise is limited at 1.5 deg C and not 2 dec C, the earlier limit set by the Paris Agreement of 2015. Some benefits are:  

Fewer extreme warm days on land: Extreme hot days in mid-latitudes (including India) will get warmer by upto around 3 deg C if global warming is limited to 1.5 deg C, about a degree less than the 4 deg C rise that will come with the 2 deg C scenario. The number of hot days is projected to increase in most land regions, with highest increases in tropical countries such as India.

Limited rise in sea levels: Projections suggest that a 1.5 deg C rise will raise the mean global sea level by 0.26-0.77 meter by 2100, about 0.1 meter less than the rise that could result in the 2 deg C scenario.  

“A reduction of 0.1 meter in global sea level rise implies that up to 10 million fewer people would be exposed to related risks, based on the population in the year 2010 and assuming no adaptation,” said the report.  It amplifies the exposure of small islands, low-lying coastal areas and deltas to increased saltwater intrusion, flooding and damage to infrastructure.

Double the number of species saved: Of the 105,000 species studied by the report, 9.6% of insects, 8% of plants and 4% of vertebrates are projected to lose over half their climatically determined geographic range if global warming is limited to 1.5 deg C. But under the 2 deg C scenario, double the numbers -- 18% of insects, 16% of plants and 8% of vertebrates -- will lose their homes.

Less water stress: Limiting global warming to 1.5 deg C can reduce the number of people who will be exposed to water stress caused by climate change by up to 50%, with considerable regional variability, as per the report.

Fewer vector-borne diseases: Any increase in global warming can affect human health, as per the report. Lower risks are projected at 1.5 deg C than at 2 deg C for heat-related morbidity and mortality. Risks from some vector-borne diseases, such as malaria and dengue fever, are projected to increase with warming in the 1.5- 2 deg C range.

Lower reduction in crop yields: Limiting global warming to 1.5 deg C will result in smaller net reductions in the yield of maize, rice, wheat, and other cereal crops, particularly in sub- Saharan Africa, Southeast Asia, and Central and South America. It will also result in net reductions in the loss of nutrition in rice and wheat which is affected by carbon dioxide (CO2) levels.

Lower impact on livestock: Livestock will be affected everywhere in the world by rising temperatures depending on the extent of changes in feed quality, spread of diseases, and water resource availability, as per projections. This damage can be curbed by limiting global warming further. This gives India special cause for worry -- it is home to one of the largest livestock populations (12% ) in the world.

What it takes to limit global warming further
After reviewing dozens of scenarios, IPCC scientists have concluded that limiting global warming to 1.5 deg C with no or limited overshoot will require huge, ambitious global shifts in energy and land use.

The removal of carbon dioxide from the atmosphere is essential in all scenarios. Its emissions will have to be reduced by 58% (relative to 2010) over 12 years to 2030, 60% of electricity supply will have to come from renewables and there has to be a 78% reduction in coal usage for primary energy, as mentioned earlier. These conditions constitute a model scenario (P1) wherein social, business, and technological innovations result in lower energy demands upto 2050 even as living standards rise, especially in developing nations. A downsized energy system enables rapid decarbonisation of energy supply while afforestation is the only option considered for carbon dioxide removal.

Scenario P1 does not require carbon capture and storage (CCS) techniques -- the capture of CO2 from the atmosphere followed by its dumping in storages under soil or ocean -- to achieve net zero emissions by the year 2100.

The other extreme scenario is the energy and resource-intensive P4 wherein economic growth and globalisation will lead to the widespread adoption of lifestyles that require high levels of greenhouse gas emissions. This will be caused by high demand for transportation fuels and high consumption of livestock products.

Under this scenario, about 1,218 Gigaton of CO2 (GtCO2) from the atmosphere will have to be eliminated by CCS technologies along with the extensive use of bioenergy. Under P4, by 2030, CO2 emissions will be 4% more than 2010 levels, 25% of electricity supply will come from renewables and there will be a 59% reduction in coal usage for primary energy.

Why the world needs cleaner industrial systems
In pathways strictly limiting global warming to 1.5 deg C, CO2 emissions from industry are projected to see a 75–90% cut in 2050 from 2010 levels; if the goal is scaled down to 2 deg C,  emissions will have to see a 50–80% cut.

Electricity’s share of energy demand in buildings would have to be about 55–75% in 2050 to limit global warming to 1.5 deg C, compared to 50–70% for 2 deg C. In the transport sector, the share of low-emission energy used would rise from less than 5% in 2020 to under approximately 35–65% in 2050 if the world is to consider a 1.5 dec C global warming scenario. For a 2-deg-C warming, this increase would be 25–45%.

(Tripathi is a principal correspondent with IndiaSpend.)

Courtesy: India Spend