The Global Climate Risk Index 2018 released at the Bonn summit shows that India is alarmingly vulnerable – resulting in many deaths and huge economic losses

Cyclones and floods are exacting a heavy toll in India (Photo by Anil Mistry)

Cyclones and floods are exacting a heavy toll in India [image by Anil Mistry]

A risk index released at the COP23 this week places India as one of the countries most vulnerable to climate change impacts. The South Asian nation ranks sixth among the most vulnerable nations in a list topped by Haiti, the poorest country in the western hemisphere. The ranks were released by the Berlin-based environmental organisation Germanwatch at the global climate summit being held in Bonn.

The Global Climate Risk Index 2018, now in its 13th edition, examines the extent that countries have been affected by the impacts of weather-related loss events such as storms, floods, and heat waves. The index looked at the most recent data available – from 2016 – as well as long-term trends — from 1997 to 2016.

The latest analysis reconfirms earlier results of the index that less developed countries are more affected than industrialised countries. The vulnerability of poorer countries is visible in the long-term index — nine of the 10 countries most affected between 1997 and 2016 are developing countries with low or lower middle income per capita.

World Map of the Global Climate Risk Index for 1997–2016 (Source: Germanwatch and Munich Re NatCatSERVICE)

World Map of the Global Climate Risk Index for 1997–2016 (Source: Germanwatch and Munich Re NatCatSERVICE)

The index may serve as a red flag for existing vulnerabilities that may further increase in regions where extreme events will become more frequent or more severe due to climate change, Germanwatch said. Some vulnerable developing countries such as India, Pakistan and Bangladesh are frequently hit by extreme events.

Extreme weather

For instance, the heat waves in South Asia persisted until the beginning of summer 2016, breaking a record of 51 degrees Celsius in Rajasthan in May 2016. More than 1,000 people died of hyperthermia or dehydration. In total, 1,800 fatalities were reported, especially in southeast India.

The persisting drought and heat waves affected over 330 million people. They were followed by an extreme monsoon season lasting from June to October in eastern, western and central India. At least 300 people died due to the heavy rainfalls and landslides; millions more were affected by washed away crops, destroyed roads or disrupted electricity and phone lines.

On December 12, 2016, cyclone Vardah, one of the deadliest cyclones ever in the Indian Ocean, made landfall in Chennai. Several people died and infrastructure was severely damaged.

The implications of a changing climate are particularly severe for India. In 2016, the country reported the highest number of deaths due to extreme weather (2,119 fatalities) and suffered losses of over INR 1.4 trillion (USD 21 billion) in property damage. This is almost 1% of India’s GDP of USD 2.5 trillion, and is almost equivalent to the country’s whole health budget.

Analysing data of from 1997 to 2016, the index report found that 524,000 people lost their lives around the world and there were financial losses to the tune of USD 3.16 trillion as a direct result of more than 11,000 extreme weather events during the 20-year period.

The risk index report, which was prepared by using the NatCatSERVICE database of the reinsurance company Munich Re and socio-economic data of the International Monetary Fund (IMF), says there is increasing evidence on the link between extreme El Niño events and global warming. The occurrence of El Niño affects the monsoon in India, which is vital for the summer cropping season. The occurrence of such events could double in the future due to climate change, the report said.

It remains to be seen how much progress the climate summit in Bonn will make to address these challenges. The 23rd Conference of Parties (COP23) aims to write the rulebook needed to implement the Paris Agreement, including the global adaptation goal and adaptation communication guidelines. A new 5-year-work plan of the Warsaw International Mechanism on Loss and Damage is likely to be adopted by the summit, which concludes on November 17. It is, however, still uncertain how loss and damage would be taken up under the Paris Agreement.

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