On Earth Day, A Warning Sign From India

As people across the globe celebrate the 40th anniversary of Earth Day, India is experiencing its second warmest temperatures for this time of year since 1901 and suffering from reduced grain outputs as a result of these rising temperatures and inadequate rainfall. Developing nations like India are the most vulnerable to the effects of climate change. This Earth Day we should acknowledge these alarming developments around the world and recognize that they are predicted to only become worse and more prevalent if we don’t take significant global action to mitigate and adapt to climate change.   

In India, impacts from climate change include changes in average temperatures, rainfall patterns and monsoon timings. These changes affect the nation’s water resources, sea-levels, and biodiversity, with implications for a wide variety of sectors, especially agriculture.

With India’s economy so closely tied to natural resources, a large portion of the population is vulnerable to the impacts of climate change. More than 56% of workers are engaged in agriculture and related sectors, according to the United Nations Development Program. Many others in India live in coastal areas and depend on fishing or tourism for their income. Also, the majority of India’s population lives in rural areas where they rely on natural resources for food, shelter, and their income.

India also depends on its annual monsoon for water and food. Last year’s monsoon proved to be significantly less plentiful than most years previous. Indian newspapers have reported that the country’s economy “cannot bear another successive year of inadequate rainfall.” Experts are predicting this year’s monsoon will be better despite prevailing El Nino conditions that contributed to the poor monsoon last year.  However, Indian communities and farmers are increasingly distressed about the changing patterns of the monsoon and food shortages.

It’s true that India has taken significant steps to set national goals and put policies in place to support a transition to clean energy technology and developing a low-carbon growth strategy. But as the Major Economies Forum – a platform for ministerial discussions on energy and climate issues – ended earlier this week with a focus on preparing for the summit on climate change in Cancun in November 2010, we need action.  The increasing temperatures and erratic monsoon in India alert us that there is a need to channel discussion into global action to support large developing economies, like India, into intensifying national action and expediting implementation of climate mitigation to drive a clean energy revolution and climate adaption to protect public health.   

(Co-Authored by Melissa Donnelly, NRDC India Initiative Intern)