Rise in sea levels a huge challenge for India’s coastal regions, says new IPCC report

Sea levels rose by 3.7 mm per year between 2006 and 2018, compared to the 1.9 mm per year between 1971 and 2006.


Published Mar 22, 2023 | 1:34 PM Updated Mar 22, 2023 | 1:34 PM

rising sea levels a challenge for India climate change

K Praveen Kumar

India should bolster its adaptation and mitigation efforts in line with the warnings issued in the latest report of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC), as the country is going to bear the devastating effects of global warming, say two prominent co-authors of the key United Nations document.

Aditi Mukherjee and Dipak Dasgupta, the Indian co-authors of the report released on Monday, 20 March, said rising sea levels are a matter of concern for the Indian subcontinent as it would affect the ecology and livelihood of millions of people living in coastal areas.

“This report (Synthesis Report of the IPCC) is a call for action for all countries, especially countries like India, which are very vulnerable to climate change given their location in the tropics. The report provides a menu of climate actions, both mitigation and adaptation actions, which India can implement based on its national circumstances,” Mukherjee told PTI in an online interview.

Urgent need to bring down emissions

According to the report, which presents a sort of urgency in implementing policies that could bring down the emissions, the world is already only a few tenths of a degree away from the global target of limiting warming to 1.5 degrees Celsius.

“Human activities, principally through emissions of greenhouse gases, have unequivocally caused global warming, with the global surface temperature reaching 1.1 C above 1850-1900 in 2011-2020. Global greenhouse gas emissions have continued to increase, with unequal historical and ongoing contributions arising from unsustainable energy use, land use and land-use change, lifestyles, and patterns of consumption and production across regions, between and within countries, and among individuals,” the report said.

As per the report’s indicators, India, with a large coastline and millions of people surviving on the revenue they earn from fisheries, has many things to worry about. With the rise in seawater level, which the report documented as 3.7 mm per year between 2006 and 2018, compared to the 1.9 mm per year between 1971 and 2006, India is facing a huge challenge.

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Sea level will rise

“We do have some of our main urban areas on the coast, and they will get impacted due to the rising sea levels. But comprehensive coastal data is not available to understand how significant that is going to be,” said Dasgupta, who is a well-known economist and a Distinguished Fellow at The Energy and Resources Institute (TERI), New Delhi.

“India, being a large country, has the resources to raise funds both for adaptation and mitigation. Our GDP, unlike that of some small island nations, does not get affected largely because of one weather event. Having said that, we should also be prepared to face multiple, cascading events and should double up our adaptation efforts,” Dasgupta added.

Mukherjee also agrees that rising sea levels are going to be a major threat to the Indian subcontinent.

“Sea level rise is a threat in low-lying coastal areas, and that would include cities like Mumbai and Kolkata. Sea level rise and tropical storm surges are leading to salinisation of coastal areas, e.g., in the Sunderbans of India. Here, protecting mangroves and investing in ecosystem-based adaptation is the need of the hour,” Mukherjee added.

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Caused due to human activity

The Synthesis Report attributes human activities as a main driver of seawater level rise. “Human influence was very likely the main driver of these increases since at least 1971. Evidence of observed changes in extremes such as heatwaves, heavy precipitation, droughts, and tropical cyclones, and, in particular, their attribution to human influence, has further strengthened,” quoted the report.

However, the scientists do agree that India’s mitigation efforts are on the right track. “India is doing the right things,” Dasgupta said.

He, however, said India has a major role to play globally and should be ready to absorb additional resources for both adaptation and mitigation funding.

The Lifestyle for Environment (LiFE), a project that was announced by Prime Minister Narendra Modi in 2021 Glasgow COP, where he also announced to achieve net-zero carbon emissions by 2070, is a step in the right direction, according to Mukherjee.

“At the heart of our current climate crisis is unsustainable consumption fuelled by fossil fuel burning. This applies not only to the wealthy of the Global North but also to the wealthy of the Global South. Initiatives like LiFE, which draw attention to the need for sustainable consumption, are the need of the hour,” she said.

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Need lifestyle changes

The IPCC report has also drawn attention to the need to make lifestyle changes to bring down emission rates.

“Many options are available for reducing emission-intensive consumption, including through behavioural and lifestyle changes, with co-benefits for societal well-being,” the report said.

The IPCC report has also asked the countries that are not among the high emitters to start acting.

“We at the IPCC are asking higher emitters to do more and those who have more resources to do more,” Dasgupta said.

Mukherjee said India’s stance at COP27 was to phase out all fossil fuels, and that is the correct stance in view of evidence from the IPCC report.

“India needs to work on just energy transitions and ensure that renewable energy is also coming up in states now dependent on coal. Right now, our transition to solar is happening in western Indian states, while the coal mines are in eastern states,” she pointed out.

Need reduced dependency on coal

Mukherjee also pressed the need for retraining the coal-based workforce and providing them with alternative livelihoods in order to ensure that renewable energy is also coming up in states now dependent on coal.

The IPCC scientists have asked everyone to act by pointing out that there is a rapidly closing window of opportunity to secure a liveable and sustainable future for all.

Rapid and far-reaching transitions across all sectors and systems are deemed necessary to achieve lesser emission levels that can ensure a liveable and sustainable future for global humanity.

“The choices and actions implemented in this decade will have impacts now and for thousands of years,” the report added.

The report has also raised red flags regarding the survival of important ecological balancers like the coral reef.

Warming beyond 2 degrees Celsius, which the report says is ‘very likely’ to happen with higher emissions, will destroy 99 percent of the coral reefs and dip 20 to 25 percent in maximum catch potential in fishing.

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