Climate Change Will Destroy Communities And Economies: Dr Arunabha Ghosh

Dr Arunabha Ghosh, says that climate change will not just cause adverse climate conditions, but will result in entire communities and economies being adversely impacted.

Climate change will not just amplify extreme weather events caused due to increasing sea levels and temperatures, but also severely impact communities and economies across the world.

The Sixth Assessment Report of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change has said that human influence has warmed the atmosphere, ocean, and land. Continued global warming is projected to further intensify the global water cycle, including its variability and global monsoon precipitation.

Dr Arunabha Ghosh, Founder-CEO, Council on Energy, Environment and Water (CEEW) says that climate change caused due to increased pollution will not just cause adverse climate conditions, but will result in entire communities and economies being adversely impacted.

"It (climate change) is not about whether you are feeling warmer. A hot tropical country like India, heat stress becomes very very critical. And that basically means that we are looking at, say, millions of jobs that are required to be performed outside in the heat --- will get affected. By 2030 in India alone, we will have a severe loss of the jobs that are possible in the open, which has an economic impact," Dr Ghosh told BOOM.

"If I were a millionaire in Malibu in California, my home may get flooded because of the physical risk. But I have my own economic insurance cushion. I can rely on the emergency services to show up. When you are talking of a fishing community on the coast of Odisha, the story becomes very different," Dr Ghosh added.

Extreme weather conditions are also reversing climate trends in many regions across India, according to Dr Ghosh, leading to a crippling of administrative response to adverse weather event.

"40 percent of our districts are now showing signs of being flood-prone to drought prone or vice versa. So, when you are building up your own resilience or building up administrative capacity, what capacity are you building? Are you building capacity to fight floods in a drought prone area, are you building capacity to deal with drought in a traditionally flood prone area. These things make us therefore more vulnerable in the combination of the physical, the economic and the administrative," Dr Ghosh said.

Edited excerpts of the interview follow

There has been a lot of excitement, if that is the word, over the new report that has come from the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change. So who are these guys?

Dr Arunabha Ghosh: The Intergovernmental Panel for Climate Change was formed in the late 1980s. Since the early 1990s, it has been providing the scientific basis for the discussions that we have been having on climate change. It is basically a network of thousands of climate scientists who could be scientists in the sort of natural or physical climate space, or they could be also social scientists looking at the economic or the social impact of climate change, even technologists looking at the ways of getting out of the challenges that we are facing.

What they do is periodically, every 6-7 years they bring these assessment reports that look at the physical signs of climate change, the impact, and the ways to mitigate or adapt to this challenge. What they do is scan thousands of the latest peer reviewed research and then they try to provide for policy makers their best understanding or their best advice on how to move forward.

What new data points are there in the sixth IPCC report?

AB: So, the first thing that is new is: with each new report you get more and more scientific confidence in what you are saying and this one has come out very strongly, effectively saying, that there is no doubt now that the temperature rises that we are experiencing are because of anthropogenic or human induced climate change.

It is because of the emissions that we are putting forward. Of the 0.19 centigrade of warming that has already happened compared to the pre-industrial era, only .01 centigrade (point zero one) is because of natural causes. That is the one thing.

The second thing that has become very clear from this report is through what is called attribution science, we are able to get a better sense of not just the long-term changes in the climate but also how a particular event be exacerbated or likely because of climate change. So there is a lot around that attribution science.

The third thing that is new here is the analysis with regards to the carbon space that is available because with each assessment we are looking at how much more emission are there in the atmosphere, and now to stay within, say one point five degree Celsius of warming you basically have a carbon space of only up to 300-500 gigatonnes that is available, of carbon dioxide.

So, these are all ways in which, I would call the narrowing of the margin of error has become more evident. That we do not have any time now to waste, and we do not have any time now to doubt

How does one try and project the findings as a lay person?

AB: This is a very important question as most of us as human beings will say even on a daily basis we experience these shifts in temperature. I live in the National Capital Region (NCR); we have temperature variations of 30-40 degrees over the course of the year. I think jokes aside, it is important to understand that this is an average change in temperature, in global surface temperatures. So, now how does this actually impact the lay person?

It affects us through the associated impact. It is not about whether you are feeling warmer. A hot tropical country like India, heat stress becomes very very critical. And that basically means that we are looking at, say, millions of jobs that are required to be performed outside in the heat --- will get affected. By 2030 in India alone, we will have a severe loss of the jobs that are possible in the open, which has an economic impact.

Another way this impacts is the extreme weather events--between 1990 and now, India itself has faced more than 300 extreme events which have cost more than 5.6 lakh crores in terms of losses and this is just the past. The future is going to get worse.

The third way in which this impacts us is what I would call the tertiary impacts. So, how do vector borne diseases become more prominent? How does your basic infrastructure become less effective? So, if your bridges get destroyed by extreme climate events and so forth, then you are facing a compounded problem of the economic and social costs that you are enduring. That is this daily engagement that we have with not just weather variation, but a systemic change in the way we run our lives.

You have described how vulnerable India is. Is India likely to be or is it more vulnerable than many other countries including the developed countries?

AB: What is vulnerability? It is the function of the physical climate risk, your economic conditions as an individual, or a community and the administrative capacity to respond. So, obviously if I were a millionaire in Malibu in California, my home may get flooded because of the physical risk. But I have my own economic insurance cushion. I can rely on the emergency services to show up. When you are talking of the fishing community on the coast of Odisha, the story becomes very different.

What we have already seen is, already three quarters of India's districts, are now, what could be considered, hotspots for extreme climate events. What is more worrying, at least for me, is that 40% of our districts are now showing signs of being flood-prone to drought prone or vice versa.

So, when you are building up your own resilience or building up administrative capacity, what capacity are you building? Are you building capacity to fight floods in a drought prone area, are you building capacity to deal with drought in a traditionally flood prone area. These things make us therefore more vulnerable in the combination of the physical, the economic and the administrative.

The rich countries have obviously contributed to this and are continuing to contribute. Your own data shows that they are continuing to emit more than what they had committed to reduce. How do you see the role of the rich countries versus countries like India in improving or finding a solution?

AB: I think it is very evident that the rich countries have nowhere come close to reducing emissions that they have themselves promised to do. Put together all rich countries have emitted about 25 giga tonnes, extra, between 2008 and 2020 than what they were permitted. And this extra 25 giga tonnes is effectively nine years of India's emissions or half the world's emission in a single year.

So, when we look to the future and as I mentioned earlier, we have a narrowing carbon space, it is that carbon space that has been eaten up by this extra 25 giga tonnes and of course everything else that they have emitted.

So I think the most important thing that have to do right now is on one hand become far more aggressive in terms of their own emissions reduction plans and secondly aim for net negative emissions. Negative emissions is you are sucking carbon out of the atmosphere and sequestering it in trees or wherever and thereby opening up a little bit of the carbon space for the others. And as I have always argued, that doesn't give all of us in the developing countries an unmitigated right to pollute. We also have to get on to a cleaner pathway as it is in our own interest. It is we who are suffering.

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