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Mapping India’s Climate Vulnerability

A District-Level Assessment

Abinash Mohanty and Shreya Wadhawan
October 2021 | Risks & Adaptation

 
 
 
 

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Agriculture and allied sectors contribute around 16.5 per cent to India’s GDP and employs nearly half of the country’s workforce (PRSIndia 2020). A massive amount of crop residue (~683 million tonnes) is generated during crop production in the net sown area of 140 million hectares across the country. While farmers use crop residue as animal fodder and for roof thatching, a significant portion (178 million tonnes) is left unused ever year (TIFAC and IARI 2018). Further, the unhealthy practice of on-farm burning of agricultural residue to clear land for the next crop, primarily in the north-western states of India, contributes to alarming levels of air pollution in the Indo-Gangetic plains. Farmers in Punjab, where 20 million tonnes of paddy residue is generated every year during the Kharif season (Ministry of Agriculture & Farmers Welfare 2018), face an unenviable task of clearing this residue in a short window of 15–20 days. This reduced timeframe is an offshoot of the Punjab Preservation of Subsoil Act (2009), implemented to save groundwater by mandatorily postponing the transplanting of paddy from April–May to beyond 10 June (Jain 2019). In 2018, 65 per cent of paddy residue (nearly 13 million tonnes) was set on fire in the fields of Punjab, choking the air in the entire Indo-Gangetic plains (Ministry of Agriculture & Farmers Welfare 2018). The System of Air Quality and Weather Forecasting And Research (SAFAR) under the Ministry of Earth Sciences (MoES) estimated that paddy stubble burning in Punjab and Haryana contributed 40–45 per cent to Delhi’s air pollution during peak burning days in 2019 (Press Trust of India 2019). The courts have come down heavily on stubble burning, forcing the state and central governments to initiate measures to clamp down this practice in Punjab, Haryana and Uttar Pradesh. One such effort was through the New and Renewable Sources of Energy (NRSE) policy 2019, wherein the Punjab government encourages setting up of biomass power generation units and production of biofuels (bio-compressed natural gas [CNG], bio-ethanol, and bio-diesel) using biomass (mainly rice straw) as feedstock. As of September 2020, Punjab has 11 operational biomass power plants, with an aggregate capacity of 97.5 MW, in which 0.88 million tonnes of paddy straw are consumed annually (Chaba 2020b). In 2018, the central government reported that 1.10 million tonnes of paddy residue (5.5 per cent of total residue generated) were used in various ex-situ methods such as in paper/cardboard mill and biomass power projects (Ministry of Agriculture & Farmers Welfare 2018).

Execcutive Summary

Agriculture and allied sectors contribute around 16.5 per cent to India’s GDP and employs nearly half of the country’s workforce (PRSIndia 2020). A massive amount of crop residue (~683 million tonnes) is generated during crop production in the net sown area of 140 million hectares across the country. While farmers use crop residue as animal fodder and for roof thatching, a significant portion (178 million tonnes) is left unused ever year (TIFAC and IARI 2018). Further, the unhealthy practice of on-farm burning of agricultural residue to clear land for the next crop, primarily in the north-western states of India, contributes to alarming levels of air pollution in the Indo-Gangetic plains. Farmers in Punjab, where 20 million tonnes of paddy residue is generated every year during the Kharif season (Ministry of Agriculture & Farmers Welfare 2018), face an unenviable task of clearing this residue in a short window of 15–20 days. This reduced timeframe is an offshoot

of the Punjab Preservation of Subsoil Act (2009), implemented to save groundwater by mandatorily postponing the transplanting of paddy from April–May to beyond 10 June (Jain 2019). In 2018, 65 per cent of paddy residue (nearly 13 million tonnes) was set on fire in the fields of Punjab, choking the air in the entire Indo-Gangetic plains (Ministry of Agriculture & Farmers Welfare 2018). The System of Air Quality and Weather Forecasting And Research (SAFAR) under the Ministry of Earth Sciences (MoES) estimated that paddy stubble burning in Punjab and Haryana contributed 40–45 per cent to Delhi’s air pollution during peak burning days in 2019 (Press Trust of India 2019). The courts have come down heavily on stubble burning, forcing the state and central governments to initiate measures to clamp down this practice in Punjab, Haryana and Uttar Pradesh. One such effort was through the New and Renewable Sources of Energy (NRSE) policy 2019, wherein the Punjab government encourages setting up of biomass power generation units and production of biofuels (bio-compressed natural gas [CNG], bio-ethanol, and bio-diesel) using biomass (mainly rice straw) as feedstock. As of September 2020, Punjab has 11 operational biomass power plants, with an aggregate capacity of 97.5 MW, in which 0.88 million tonnes of paddy straw are consumed annually (Chaba 2020b). In 2018, the central government reported that 1.10 million tonnes of paddy residue (5.5 per cent of total residue generated) were used in various ex-situ methods such as in paper/cardboard mill and biomass power projects (Ministry of Agriculture & Farmers Welfare 2018).

 
 
 
 
 
 

Source: Authors’ analysis

Material property, Rectangle, Font

North-eastern and eastern zones of India are highly exposed to extreme flood events

A surge in extreme events has been observed across India after 2005. Our sensitivity analysis shows that this is primarily triggered by landscape disruptions. Various studies have confirmed the impact of landscape changes on the incidence of extreme events (UNEP 2009). Other factors, such as the urban heat island effect, land subsidence, and microclimate changes, are also triggering the intensification of extreme events in India. Table below shows how individual regions are affected by each component of vulnerability.

Source: Authors’ analysis

Rectangle

Southern-zone is the most vulnerable to all three hydro-met disasters

We find that the southern and western regions are the most vulnerable to extreme droughts and are affected year on year. These regions are predominantly affected by agricultural droughts. Since the 2000s, the northern, eastern, and central zones have been moderately vulnerable and are predominantly affected by meteorological and agricultural droughts. The north-eastern region is least vulnerable to extreme drought events.

Our composite indexing suggests that more than 59 per cent of districts located in the eastern zone are highly vulnerable to extreme cyclone events. In the western zone, more than 41 per cent of districts are cyclone hotspots. Our analysis shows that the western coast has become increasingly vulnerable to cyclones in the last decade (2010–2019). India’s northern and north-eastern zones face very few extreme cyclone events and are therefore less vulnerable. The central zone is the only zone in India with no hotspots for extreme cyclone events.

Increased drought-like conditions across India trigger the cyclogenesis process by which depressions turn into deep depressions, and deep depressions into cyclonic storms across the rapidly warming Indian Ocean. Since these cyclones are accompanied by floods, several districts across the eastern and western coasts are vulnerable to all three extremes. This makes mitigation and adaptation in these regions a daunting task. Table below enumerates zone-wise vulnerability to extreme hydro-met disasters.

As per our analysis, 27 of 35 states and UTs are highly vulnerable to extreme hydro-met disasters and their compounded impacts (Figure below). Our analysis suggests that India’s western and central zones are more vulnerable to drought-like conditions and their compounding impacts. The northern and north-eastern zones are more vulnerable to extreme flood events and their compounding impacts. Meanwhile, India’s eastern and southern zones are highly vulnerable to extreme cyclonic events and their impacts. The eastern and southern zones are also becoming extremely prone to cyclones, floods, and droughts combined.

Mapping India’s vulnerability: key findings

 

In an increasingly volatile climate landscape, hyper-local strategies can minimise impacts and avert or reduce loss and damage. The CVI intends to evaluate the vulnerability of Indian districts in a comparable unified matrix and identify the major landscape and socio-economic drivers of vulnerability. This will enable communities to map, plan and adapt against the climate extremes.

With less than a decade left to step up climate actions, our policies need a razor-sharp focus to curtail the compounded impacts of climate extremes. Principles of risk assessment should be at the core of India’s climate risk mitigation strategy. Identifying risk is the first and foremost step to building climate-proofed economies and societies that embrace climate-resilient pathways. Based on our analysis, we make the following recommendations:

1. Develop a high-resolution Climate Risk Atlas (CRA) to map critical vulnerabilities at the district level and better identify, assess, and project chronic and acute risks such as extreme climate events, heat and water stress, crop loss, vector-borne diseases and biodiversity collapse. A CRA can also support coastal monitoring and forecasting, which are indispensable given the rapid intensification of cyclones and other extreme events.

2. Establish a centralised climate-risk commission to coordinate the environmental de-risking mission (Ghosh 2021).

3. Undertake climate-sensitivity-led landscape restoration focused on rehabilitating, restoring, and reintegrating natural ecosystems as part of the developmental process.

4. Integrate climate risk profiling with infrastructure planning to increase adaptive capacity.

5. Provide for climate risk-interlinked adaptation financing by creating innovative CVI-based financing instruments that integrate climate risks for an effective risk transfer mechanism.

India urgently needs national and sub-national strategies to climate-proof its population and economic growth. If a 1.5°C warmer future climate is inevitable, we must brace for its impacts and ensure that we have the means to build back better and faster when disaster strikes. If we fail, we could set our development story back by decades.

Building India’s climate resilience



 

Citation:

Chaturvedi, Vaibhav. 2021. Peaking and Net-Zero for India’s Energy Sector CO2 Emissions: An Analytical Exposition. New Delhi: Council on Energy, Environment and Water.

Vaibhav is an economist who leads The Council's work on Low-Carbon Pathways. His research focuses on energy and climate change mitigation policy issues, especially those impacting India, within the integrated assessment modelling framework of the Global Change Assessment Model (GCAM).

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