Don't let bad climate rain on the economy

On Monday, the India Meteorological Department announced that 2023 was the second-warmest year since scientific record-keeping of weather parameters started in 1901. The annual mean land surface air temperature over India averaged 0.65° C above the long-term average for the 1981-2010 period, slightly lower than 0.71° C in 2016. Globally, 2023 was the warmest year on record, according to the World Meteorological Organisation (WMO). The impacts of warming – floods, excessive and uneven rainfall, cyclones, and droughts – were seen worldwide. Given that El Nino conditions are expected to prevail through April-June, this year could record further temperature increases.

Last year, India witnessed a series of extreme weather events, the last one being in Tamil Nadu in December. Chennai and some other districts saw intense flooding after Cyclone Michaung hit on December 4. While there was above-normal rainfall, the city’s development trajectory that deprioritises its legacy blue-green infrastructure is equally responsible for the large-scale destruction.

Shifting to low-carbon development pathways is critical. But it may not be enough. There must be a laser focus on adaptation measures and adequate funding to build climate resilience into the system. RBI estimates adaptation costs to be about Rs 85.6 lakh crore (at 2011-12 prices) by 2030. Building without due regard for climate constraints and impacts will mean throwing good money down the drain and hurting the economy sooner than we think.


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