Climate change: India can lose land without war with China and Pakistan

Multiple scientific assessments have shown that Mumbai and Kolkata may go under the water one day if sea levels rise dangerously in the next 100 years.

 |  5-minute read |   08-07-2017
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Given recent developments, the jury may still be out on whether Pakistan or China can pose the biggest threat to India in the future. The unholy nexus between the two may be still more alarming for experts on defence and strategic affairs as a two-front war can spell disaster for the whole of South-East Asia.

Whatever their claims might be and however serious and frequent the cases of transgression may be, the armies of both Pakistan and China, at the end of the day, maintain a status quo. They are still at the other end of the Line of Control (LoC) and the Line of Actual Control (LAC).

But there is one enemy which has already started finishing off small, but important, chunks of India’s land mass - like what a termite does to wood. This adversary is working 24X7 and knows no limit.

Given the humongous size of India, this low-intensity war carried out by climate change may look miniscule to some but is threatening the survival of lakhs of people.

Sea level rise

According to the Inter-Governmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC), sea levels have risen on an annual average of 3.2 mm since 1993. An assessment done by the IPCC in 2013 predicted that sea levels would rise by almost a metre soon.

The retreat of glaciers in Antarctica has made the whole world stand up and take notice. Closer home, even the Himalayan glaciers have shown signs of retreating.

What India has lost already

In West Bengal, in the low-lying islands in Sundarbans, a UNESCO World Heritage site famed for mangroves and tiger habitat, soil erosion is so rampant due to sea level rise that islands are shrinking in size and two of them - Lohachara and Suparibhanga - have been occupied forever by the giant waters. The Sundarbans is now known globally as the land of vanishing islands.

A satellite data analysis by ISRO showed that just during one decade, the Sundarbans lost 9,900 hectares of its land mass.

In the neighbouring state of Assam, Majuli, one of the world’s largest river islands, is treading the same path. The Brahmaputra is swallowing the island gradually as Majuli, steeped in Vaishnavite culture, shrunk more than half from 1,256sqkm in 1891 to 502.21sqkm in 2004. 

Naysayers believe the island will be lost permanently in the next 2-3 decades.

The story doesn’t end here, as in other parts of West Bengal and Assam, besides Odisha and Arunachal Pradesh, villagers living along riverbanks are steadily losing their land as rivers are swelling in some places or are changing their course, leading to permanent inundation.


What’s the next target of climate change?

Multiple scientific assessments have showed that two big Indian cities – Mumbai and Kolkata – may go under the water one day if sea levels rise dangerously in the next 100 years.

According to IPCC, Kolkata, Mumbai, Dhaka, Guangzhou and Ho Chi Minh City are the five Asian cities that will by 2070 have the largest population vulnerable to climate change-induced coastal flooding.

Sundarbans is regarded as Kolkata's only shelter against coastal ingression as the islands come in between the City of Joy and the surging Bay of Bengal.

Mumbai, on the other hand, is in the red zone simply because it is dangerously close to the sea.

A report by international body Climate Central predicts that in case of a 4 degrees Celsius rise in global temperature, 55 million people could lose their houses to the sea in India. Even if the temperature rises by 2 degrees Celsius, 20 million Indians will still become climate change refugees.

Why is climate change the gravest threat?

India hopes that the Aksai Chin region, which is now under Chinese control after the 1962 War, and Pakistan-occupied-Kashmir (PoK) will become part of its map once again, but the land mass which is lost to climate change is lost permanently to mankind.

The effects of global warming-led climate change are irreversible. Sea level rise is proving how India’s map can change without a war against China or Pakistan.

The elephant in the room may turn out to be bigger than China.

India is not alone

Islands across the world, particularly in Asia, are under high risk of submergence before the next century. Due to its sheer population, Bangladesh may have the world’s largest climate change refugees if all the negative predictions come true.

Former US President Barack Obama’s most famous quote on climate change that "no challenge poses a greater threat to future generations than climate change” highlights how global warming is of greater global concern than even terrorism or the possibility of a next world war.

The Maldives, knowing well its future, has already started building artificial floating islands in the Indian Ocean. Other nations are scouting for funds to prepare themselves for climate change.

Is there hope?

A fight against climate change would still need the help of an army. With seedlings as weapons, an army, divided into small battalions, of citizen-soldiers has to start planting trees on a war-footing to save coastlines and riverbanks.

Our war propaganda should be environment education and outperforming the Paris Climate Change agreement of limiting global warming below 2 degrees Celsius. Reduction in greenhouse gases has to be one of the biggest priorities not just for India but all nations.

Under the Paris Agreement, which the US has already backed out of under Donald Trump's leadership, 194 countries are now on board to keep the rising global temperatures "well below" 2 degrees Celsius above pre-industrial levels and "endeavour to limit" them even more to 1.5 degrees Celsius.

Prime Minister Narendra Modi has, however, raised the bar for India when he said India will go above and beyond the 2015 Paris accord. Citing India's holy texts, Modi has said protecting "Mother Earth" was part of Indian culture.

Only if we act soon, can there be some hope. 

Also read: 5 climate change challenges India needs to wake up to


Nikhil Agarwal Nikhil Agarwal @nikkhill

The writer is a journalist with India Today Group and a wildlife buff.

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