Why the staggering costs of climate change on India are much more than monetary losses

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  • India ranked fifth in the world in terms of absolute losses due to climate change.
  • India’s monetary losses stood at a fraction of costs seen by US and China.
  • The human costs on climate change on India could be much worse.
India saw $79.5 billion in economic losses between 1998 and 2017 due to climate-change disasters, ranking fifth in the world in terms of absolute monetary losses. But the country faces a far greater risk in terms of human costs and impact on development, a major UN study has warned.

According to the study by the UN Office for Disaster Risk Reduction, as a lower-middle income country, economic losses mean “crippling consequences” for future development. An alarming number of people are now internally displaced every year by extreme weather events and climate-related disasters often losing their homes and their livelihoods, the report has pointed out.

Economic disasters and poverty are closely tied. According to World Bank, the real cost to the global economy is in the tune of $520 billion per annum, with disasters putting 26 million people into poverty every year, the report noted.

Floods were the most frequent types of disaster, making up 43% of all recorded events in the past 20 years.

India has been seeing an increasing number of extreme weather events such as floods in recent years. According to a study by the India Meteorological Department, India saw 285 flooding events between 1950-2017 that killed 71,000 and drove 19 million into homelessness. The recent floods in the southern state of Kerala displaced nearly 1.5 million people.

A global problem

High income countries including the the US have fared much worse in terms of absolue economic losses partly due to high asset values and frequency of disaster events.

India’s losses in monetary terms seem only a fraction of those seen by the US and China with the US posting the biggest losses ($945 billion), double of that seen by China at $492 billion.

Globally, climate-related disasters contributed to $2.2 trillion in losses, more than two-thirds (77%) of all reported losses including other natural geophysical disasters.

The study comes in the wake of another major report by the UN earlier this week which warned of runaway climate change with disastrous consequences if global temperatures rise beyond 1.5°C. The current targets for cutting greenhouse emissions that contribute towards global warming set during the last climate accord falls significantly short and will have to be revised urgently, according to the UN.

China, the European Union and the US account for more than half of total global greenhouse emissions as of 2013, according to data from the World Resources Institute. India contributed to 6.67% of global emissions with energy from fossil fuels being the largest source.
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