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With GDP, living standards hit, this will be the cost of climate change in India

World Bank report estimates how changes in temperature and monsoon patterns will affect GDP and living standards in India and region. What are the findings, and what can policymakers make of them?

Written by Sowmiya Ashok | New Delhi | Updated: June 29, 2018 1:15:50 pm
Cost of climate change in India If no measures are taken, average temperatures in India are predicted to increase by 1.5-3°C by 2050. (Express photo by Jasbir Malhi)

A World Bank report has found that rising temperatures and changing monsoon rainfall patterns from climate change could cost India 2.8% of GDP, and depress the living standards of nearly half the country’s population by 2050. The report, ‘South Asia’s Hotspots: The Impact of Temperature and Precipitation Changes on Living Standards’, has been authored by World Bank lead economist Muthukumara Mani, along with economists Sushenjit Bandyopadhyay, Shun Chonabayashi and Anil Markandya and research scientist Thomas Mosier.

What does the report look at?

It looks at six countries in South Asia and how projected changes in temperature and precipitation will affect living standards in these countries. Using annual household consumption as a proxy for living standards, the report identifies “hotspots” — districts where these changes will have a notable effect on living standards.

What has it found?

For the region, it has found that India, Bangladesh, Pakistan and Sri Lanka will be adversely affected by these changes, while Afghanistan and Nepal will benefit as they are relatively cold. Based on the rise in average temperatures over the past six decades and the projected rise, the report predicts more warming inland and less warming in coastal areas beyond 2050.

For India, it has projected that living conditions in Chhattisgarh and Madhya Pradesh will decline by more than 9%, followed by Rajasthan, Uttar Pradesh and Maharashtra. Of the top 10 most affected hotspot districts, 7 (Chandrapur, Bhandara, Gondiya, Wardha, Nagpur, Raj Nandgaon, Durg) are in Vidarbha, and the remaining 3 in Chhattisgarh and MP.

“Approximately 600 million people in India today live in locations that would become moderate or severe hotspots by 2050 under the carbon-intensive scenario,” the report states. For the overall region, it states: “Almost half of South Asia’s population now lives in areas that are projected to become moderate to severe hotspots under the carbon-intensive scenario.”

This is how South Asia could look like by 2050

What is carbon-intensive?

The report looks at two scenarios: climate-sensitive and carbon-intensive. Climate-sensitive represents a future “in which some collective action is taken to limit greenhouse gas emissions and global annual average temperatures increase 2.4°C by 2100 relative to pre-industrial levels.” “A situation in which the Paris Agreement is implemented,” says lead author Mani.

Carbon-intensive, on the other hand, represents a future in which no actions are taken to reduce emissions and global annual average temperatures increase 4.3°C by 2100 relative to pre-industrial levels.

How will such scenarios play out in India?

If no measures are taken, average temperatures in India are predicted to increase by 1.5-3°C by 2050. If preventive measures are taken along the lines of the Paris Agreement, India’s average annual temperatures are expected to rise by 1-2°C by 2050, the World Bank report states.

How does it arrive at these findings?

“It overlays climate data with extensive household level data,” says Mani, to explain how “changes in average weather will affect living standards”. To predict changes in average weather at local level, it uses weather data from global climate models. For living standards, it uses annual household consumption expenditure as a proxy, with household characteristics from country-specific household survey as control variables. All this involves a few limitations: the report does not look at aspects beyond those factors captured by GDP calculations, while the data on climate action, extrapolated from the Paris Agreement, does not capture micro-level issues in great depth.

How helpful are the findings?

They give an insight into which places will become potential hotspots in 2050. “For instance, Cox’s Bazaar in Bangladesh, which has been in the news for the influx of Rohingya refugees… It is not just a climate hotspot but also a melting social hotspot… In India, the Vidarbha region, which has been in the news for agricultural prices, is something that comes out…,” Mani says. The report states the information will be useful for designing a social welfare programme at the national level, and for determining which investments would be most needed in each community, “accounting for local socioeconomic characteristics and climate-related risks”.

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