Climate change: prognosis gets worse

Climate change

A new study on climate change has forecast a much more dire scenario for the world than those painted by most earlier studies, and it is especially relevant for India. The study, made by an American research organisation, Climate Central, has predicted that by 2050, large parts of Mumbai and the low-lying areas of Kolkata and Chennai may be under water due to a rise in sea level. Many islands and cities elsewhere in the country and the world will also face a watery disaster. Over 36 million Indians will face the threat of annual flooding by then, and the numbers are many times more than previous estimates. Estimates of the impact of climate change go up because new facts keep coming up while preventive and mitigating actions have not been taken and the time window for such actions is fast closing.  

The main reason for the rise in sea level is the thermal expansion of water and the melting of glaciers due to the rise in global temperatures. The effects will include coastal flooding, higher storm surges and displacement of population. Most of the world’s biggest cities are coastal inhabitations and are economic powerhouses, with huge populations. The adverse impact of climate change on the lives and economies will be on a scale not seen in recorded history. The disruptions in coastal cities will affect other cities in a connected world. The devastation can well be imagined because the world’s cities will be home to half the global population and will account for more than 75% of world GDP. Migration of people from danger zones to less vulnerable places will itself create major problems, including social and political conflict. The world is not yet ready for the idea of climate refugees, but it will have to cope with the problem at many levels. 

According to some scientists, even if there is a sharp drop in greenhouse gas emissions, there may not be much impact on the rising sea levels in the next few decades. That means that preventive and mitigating strategies will have to receive urgent attention, but they won’t be enough. All coastal cities will have to invest in climate resilience, strengthen natural defences like mangroves and go in for infrastructure and housing that can better withstand extreme weather events. Since the poorest people will be affected most, policies and strategies will have to focus on them. Though the problem is global, most solutions will be local. But there is no sign that we have started thinking in these directions. Even if a plan is there, where will the huge resources to implement it come from?

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