India aspires to invest more than USD 1.5 trillion in infrastructure over the next ten years to be at par with peers like China and Japan. At the same time, it risks losing lives and livelihoods across sectors to climate change-related threats with a low probability of occurrence but potentially catastrophic consequences. An analysis by the Council on Energy, Environment and Water (CEEW) suggests that more than 75 per cent of Indian districts are extreme events hotspots. This means that building infrastructure without sufficient climate-proofing modules could contribute to the systemic collapse of our economy. As we celebrate the International Day on Disaster Risk Reduction, we must urgently rethink and reorient India's climate-proofing agenda for its infrastructure through an inclusive, people-centric approach.
The grim climate outlook we face is outlined in the latest report of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC), now in its sixth assessment cycle. The IPCC predicts that global warming is poised to breach the 1.5 degree-mark, the more ambitious of the two targets in the Paris Agreement. For perspective, the trail of devastation left worldwide by recent extreme events is the result of a mere 0.6-degree rise in global average surface temperatures above pre-industrial levels.
What does all this mean for the security of our infrastructure? Estimates suggest that India has already suffered infrastructural losses and damage to the tune of more than USD 48 billion in recent decades due to extreme climate events. A warming climate is certain to place future infrastructure investments at risk. As a result, India should make climate-proofing solutions a key component of its infrastructure planning and keep the trinity of jobs, growth and sustainability at the core of its strategy. Investing in climate-resilient and disaster-resilient infrastructure (CRI/DRI) can generate more than 650 jobs for every USD 1 million spent. Further, the World Bank estimates that such investments can fetch benefits worth more than USD 4.2 trillion. This can help avert the extent of loss and damage caused by extreme events, facilitate faster recovery, and enhance communities' resilience and adaptive capacity.
How can India climate-proof its infrastructure?
First, India should develop a climate-proof infrastructure index (CPII) that identifies chronic and acute risks, maps critical vulnerabilities, and enumerates strategies to protect its built-in and planned infrastructure. A CPII is integral to risk assessments for it can identify the degree of an infrastructure asset’s exposure to extreme climate events, help insulate investments and enhance resilience. It can also help policymakers screen proposals for new infrastructure using the lens of climate risk.
Second, India needs to rethink its infrastructure standards. A one-size-fits-all approach is no longer feasible in a rapidly changing risk landscape. Hazard-linked infrastructure development is a smarter alternative that tailors standards to the specific threats, which a region or asset is normally exposed to. For instance, a cyclone shelter home should be able to withstand wind speeds of more than 200 kmph in a hotspot district; all roads should be weather-proof; and hospitals should not be inundated during high-rainfall events.
Third, we need system innovations to improve the monitoring and evaluation of global, national, and sub-national policies on infrastructure. Doing so will help us build capacity, leverage private and public investments, develop tailor-made risk financing instruments, and better predict and prepare for adverse climate events. The India-led Coalition for Disaster Resilient Infrastructure (CDRI) has a key role to play in creating strategic, scalable and implementable system innovations.
In the run-up to COP26 and after it, India has the potential to emerge as a thought leader among emerging economies in climate resilience, which includes the climate-proofing of infrastructure. But we only have a decade left to act. The future of our growth story hinges on whether we succeed or fail.
Abinash Mohanty is a Programme Lead and Shreya Wadhawan is a Consultant at the Council on Energy, Environment and Water, an independent, not-for-profit policy research institution. Send your comments to [email protected]