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India slips two places in human index, climate change will hit it harder: UN

India has dropped to rank 128-a fall of two places — among 177 countries in this year’s report on the Human Development Index despite a marginal gain in HDI value.

| New Delhi |
November 28, 2007 3:45:06 am

India has dropped to rank 128-a fall of two places — among 177 countries in this year’s report on the Human Development Index despite a marginal gain in HDI value. The UNDP’s Human Development Report released today states that climate change may actually reverse the trend of a steady linear progress in health, education and poverty reduction seen in the last few decades, especially in India with a “large human development deficit”.

The HDI is the measure of life expectancy, literacy, education, standard of living and well-being for countries worldwide. India’s value this year, based on 2005 data, is 0.619 — in 2006, India ranked 126 out of 177 countries with a value of 0.611 which was based on 2004 data.

Despite the gain in HDI value, the ranking fell because other countries have done better. India’s gains have come from updated GDP per capita and the more recent gross enrolment data — both are higher in 2005. Gross Enrolment Ratio for primary, secondary and tertiary education has gone up from 62% to 63.8%.

This year’s report calls for huge investments from rich coun-tries to cut emissions within the next decade not just in their countries but to finance low carbon growth in developing countries.

“While India is a high-growth economy, the benefits have been unequally shared and there is a large human development backlog. Around 28 per cent of the population, some 320 million people live below the poverty line and three quarters of the poor in rural areas¿ superimposing incremental climate change risks on this large human development deficit would compromise the ambition of inclusive growth set out in India’s Eleventh Five Year Plan,” warns the report.

Called ‘Fighting Climate Change: Human solidarity in a divided world’, the report attempts to explain what climate change means for the world’s 2.6 billion who survive on less than two dollars a day.

“We wanted to bring a distinctive human development analytical framework to the problem, and what came out of the analysis is that we are dealing with a systemic threat to development to which there is no obvious historical precedent and no parallel,” lead author Kevin Watkins told The Indian Express ahead of the report’s release.

The Millennium Development Goals on health, education and sanitation may actually begin to get reversed. The report illustrates this through a number of examples: Indian women, during a flood in the 1970s, were 19 per cent less likely to have attended primary school.

Climate shocks like droughts and floods have resulted in grave setbacks in nutritional status, especially of women. Studies quoted in the report show that periods of low consumption and rising food prices, following such extreme events, are strongly associated with deaths among girls than boys.

Even within India, it is an inequitable world: research in Indian villages in the 1990s found that even slight variations in rainfall timing could reduce farm profits for the poorest quartile of respondents by one-third while having a negligible impact on profitability for the richest quartile.

Climate disasters between 2000 and 2004 affected 262 million people, 98 per cent of them in the developing world. The poor are often forced to sell productive assets or save on food, health and education, creating “life-long cycles of disadvantage.”

The report states that a temperature rise of between 3 and 4 degrees Celsius would displace 340 million people through flooding and droughts. Retreating glaciers would cut off drinking water from as many as 1.8 billion people.

Though India’s carbon footprint is 15 times less than that of the US, when climate disasters strike, it is the poor here who will be affected. People in countries like India have begun adapting in their own way: Partnerships between communities and local governments in states such as Andhra Pradesh and Gujarat for watershed development have been showcased as examples of what can be achieved.

Meanwhile, those on the margins, have already begun adapting, with or without outside help. In West Bengal , women living in the Ganges delta have begun constructing elevated bamboo platforms to take refuge during the monsoons. In Maharashtra, farmers have begun coping with increased exposure to drought by investing in watershed development.

“Successful adaptation planning has the potential to avert economy-wide losses,” states the report.

Coming days before the make-or-break conference in Bali on climate change, the message this report sends out is that the world has less than a decade to change course. Dangerous climate change, it warns, will be unavoidable if in the next 15 years emissions follow the same trend as in the past 15 years.

To avoid a catastrophic impact, says the report, the rise in global temperature must be limited to 2 degrees Celsius. To do that, the world needs to spend 1.6 per cent of global economic output annually through 2030 to stabilise the carbon stock. Rich countries, the biggest carbon emitters, should lead the way and cut emissions at least 30 per cent by 2020 and 80 per cent by 2050. Developing nations should cut emissions 20 per cent by 2050, states the report.

Cuts in developing countries have to be funded by the rich. “You can’t go to a country like India from the European Union — in India we have 400 million people without access to electricity and a carbon footprint which is one-twelfth of that in the European Union. For developing countries it will only be possible to mitigate if rich countries create the financial and technological incentives for that to happen,” said Watkins.

The report recommends a series of measures, including improved energy efficiency for appliances and cars, taxes or caps on emissions, and the ability to trade allowances to emit more.

The report calls for a Climate Change Mitigation Facility which will be an annual financing mechanism with 15-20 billion US dollars per annum for transfer of low-carbon technologies. The mechanism would, in some cases, provide guarantees and leverage for private capital investment in low-carbon technologies.

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