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World Environment Day - 5 June 2008
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Climate Change Articles


The Need to Act
Kartikeya V. Sarabhai

While Climate Change is a global phenomenon, arid and semi-arid zones and coastal regions are especially vulnerable to climate change. Gujarat has semi-arid zones and a long coastline. Agriculture, coastal areas, biodiversity, human health and overall development is at stake. Scientists say that because of rising global temperatures, the already fickle weather could become more unpredictable. Western India is expected to receive higher than normal rainfall as temperatures soar. This change in the amount of rainfall and shifts in the timing will adversely affect agriculture all over the State. Agriculture in coastal states will be worst affected where agricultural land is susceptible to inundation and salinity. Also, the standing crops in these regions are likely to be damaged by frequent cyclones. The changes in soil moisture content, pests and weeds brought by climate change will affect the crops. We are already seeing the phenomena of extreme weather. Torrential rains and floods have destroyed crops in a way that was unknown in the past. Suicides by farmers whose cotton crops are destroyed by knee-deep water were unheard of in our State.

It is observed that in arid regions including Gujarat, malaria epidemics have often followed excessive rainfall. The high temperatures of summer provide favorable breeding conditions for disease causing vectors and the heavy rains that follow causes flooding and subsequently waterborne diseases. The health implications of climate change will need to be carefully monitored.

Another result of increasing temperature is the melting of polar ice caps which results in a rise in sea-level and subsequent flooding of coastal areas. Flooding of low lying coastal belts will cause damage to coastal infrastructure and property and will displace large numbers of people. Increased percolation of saltwater will affect the groundwater and thereby decrease the already strained freshwater supply. India’s Northern river system which is connected to the Himalayan glaciers will be badly hit. Rural communities of the Gangetic plains and deltas will be more vulnerable to floods. With a continuing increase in global temperatures and melting of glaciers, these rivers will during the first half of the century witness an increase in water flow followed by dropping water levels. Collapse of these river systems will result in tremendous pressure on the Indian economy and affect the whole of India.

The Gulf of Kachchh is home to unique coral reefs.  30% of the corals are estimated to have already bleached as a result of seawater warming. Corals are highly sensitive to sea water temperature and salinity. Global warming will increase the sea temperatures and the higher evaporation rate will increase the salinity of water. This along with unplanned development along the coast will cause further degeneration of this unique ecosystem. Gujarat is also home to some of the endangered species of flora and fauna. The salt marshes and mudflats of Rann of Kachchh house the largest breeding colony of the Greater Flamingo and the habitat for the Lesser Florican and the Indian Wild Ass. The rising sea levels will likely cause the submergence of these mudflats.

Gujarat has set ambitious development targets for itself. We are rapidly expanding our energy production and consumption. We both contribute to and are especially vulnerable to the impacts of climate change. The challenge is not unique to us, it is indeed global. As the UNDP report states “no issue merits urgent attention – or more immediate action. Climate change is the defining human development issue of our generation.” Gujarat in its development strategy can show leadership. Older development strategies are flawed. But we need not be imitative. We can lead and show the world what can be done. How one can achieve rapid economic and human development growth consistent with our longer term security and sustainability. This is the need of the hour. We have the intellectual strength and given our resolve, we can achieve this by effective mitigation and successful adaptation.