The Threat of Climate Vulnerability
Are we really ready?
– By Rasika Nachankar
Our Earth and Humanity are facing a far bigger vulnerability than COVID-19 because of changing climate. But, are we really aware about it? Are we really building resilience to tackle this vulnerability i.e. Climate Change? This blog aims to explain climate vulnerability and the importance of climate resilience.
Don’t we fix the vulnerabilities or weaknesses of our life which we know will hurt us in the future? Yes. Of course! For example, in this COVID-19 pandemic, we went for the lockdown option even after knowing the fact that it is going to hamper our economy. Why? Because… we were aware of the truth that building resilience for this vulnerability i.e. COVID-19 is the only solution.
According to the GermanWatch’s Global Climate Risk Index 2020, about 4,95,000 people died as a result of more than 12,000 extreme weather events occurring globally with losses around US$ 3.54 trillion between year 1990 to 2018. The report also listed, Japan, Philippines, Germany, Madagascar, India are the top 5 climate-vulnerable countries respectively. Out of these 5 countries, Germany, Japan and India have suffered the most from extended periods of heat.
Climate Change is fuelling an increase in frequency and intensity of extreme weather events like Forest Fires, Floods, Heatwaves, Storms, Cyclones, Hurricanes, etc. across the globe. And vulnerability because of climate change has reached phenomenal levels and is still increasing.
What is Climate Change? Climate Change is the global phenomenon of climate transformation characterized by change in usual climate patterns of the planet (with respect to temperature, precipitation, and wind) which is especially caused by humans. To be frank, climate change has always happened on earth throughout its history. But it is the rapid rate and magnitude of climate change occurring now, because of human activities; that is threatening the human civilization. We all know that global warming is the main cause of climate change and the largest driver of global warming is the emission of greenhouse gases into the Earth’s atmosphere. Human activities like burning of fossil fuels, deforestation and harmful emissions of industrial processes are the sources of these emissions.
What does Climate Vulnerability exactly mean?
IPCC (Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change) has defined vulnerability to climate change as the degree to which a system is susceptible to, and unable to cope with adverse effects of climate change, including climate variability and extremes. Vulnerability is dependent upon three factors — character, magnitude and rate of climate change. Also, the degree of variation to which a system is exposed, its sensitivity, and its adaptive capacity.
For example, any region which has a low capacity to adapt and/or high sensitivity/exposure is more prone to climate impacts and hence a high vulnerability. As an example, people living near tropical coastal areas are highly vulnerable because of frequent flooding and Sea Level Rise and these communities also have a low capacity or provisioning to adapt. If we don’t mend our ways then in future, people, in a city like Mumbai, will have to use ‘below sea level and above sea level’ instead of ‘east or west’ to describe their owned land or house.
Is our economy vulnerable to climate change?
Yes, of course. Extreme weather events such as droughts and floods, temperature rise, sea-level rise all these have the potential to weaken the economy by damaging infrastructure, reducing labour & food productivity and increasing cost of environmental damage. Repair and rehabilitation process also costs lots of money to the government. The cyclone Amphan that tore through India’s eastern state of West Bengal alone has caused damage of 1 trillion rupees ($13 billion) to infrastructure and crops.
Climate change is impacting many sectors like agriculture, forestry, energy, human health, water resources, transportation, etc. For example, agriculture is one the sector which is more sensitive to climate change, any major or minor changes in climate will affect the agriculture productivity. Indian agriculture contributes 15% to India’s GDP and Climate Change has about 4–9% impact on Indian agriculture each year.
Climate change is affecting agricultural sectors badly like high temperature reducing the crop yield and also increasing the risk of weeds and pests. Also, heatwaves can cause extreme heat stress on crops which can limit the yields. Heavy rains and flooding are also harmful to crops and soil structure; many plants cannot survive in prolonged water-logged condition.
Now the question is, How to reduce exposure to impacts of climate change? Is there any solution?
The solution is Climate resilience! It is understood as the capacity of a social and ecological system to sustain shocks and maintain function in the face of external stresses (like flood, storms, cyclone, droughts) caused by climate change. That is, to adapt and reorganize into more desirable configurations that improve the sustainability of the system, leaving it better prepared for future climate change impacts. Climate resilience is an important component of any climate action program because climate change is global as well as a local issue.
Norway, New Zealand, Finland, Denmark, Sweden are the top 5 countries which are least climate-vulnerable on the basis of the extent of their vulnerability to climate change in combination with their readiness to improve resilience. These countries have worked on implementing ambitious climate policies, transitioning into low carbon systems, etc in order to reduce the impacts of climate change. Social, economic as well as political strategies together help us in building climate resilience. Prioritizing climate resilience has become important at all, i.e. local, national and global, levels.
So, how can we build climate resilience?
To plan climate resilience strategy firstly, it is important to understand the threats and vulnerabilities as well as possible consequences. Secondly, efforts to build climate resilience from more frequent or stronger droughts, storms, floods etc should aim to ensure that families, communities and government can manage and bounce back from them.
For example, as mentioned earlier, the agriculture sector is more sensitive to changing climate. It is important to adapt agricultural practices that can make agriculture climate-resilient such as; harvesting rainwater to help store water, adopting local crops which are tolerant to the region’s environmental conditions, choosing alternative cropping system will help to conserving water and maintaining soil productivity; educating farmers about climate-resilient agriculture practices.
Investing in building climate resilience and risk reduction will definitely be a ‘’win-win’. Climate vulnerable infrastructure is a threat to our economic growth, social well-being and environmental stability. To prevent future loss of lives and livelihood, it is a must to build resilient capacity, so that impacts of environmental damages will be reduced. COVID-19 clearly taught us the urgency and importance of building resilience, so now is the time to take correct and required actions for building climate resilience to the threat called climate change.
Rasika completed her Master’s in Environmental Science. Currently she is working as a research intern with CCP. She is interested in working in the Climate Change and Air Pollution sectors.