Dr. Leena Srivastava

The impacts of global temperature increase will be more significantly felt in India because of its high population and low resilience and adaptive capabilities.

By: Staff Reporter
Dr Leena Srivastava, Vice Chancellor, TERI-SAS, speaks with G’nY on the likelihood and impacts of increasing global mean temperatures, the effects in India, the policy gaps in combating threats to the environment, and more.
Guest post

G’nY. The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change stated in a report published on October 8, 2018 that the earlier targets of keeping the global temperatures at 1.5 degree Celsius (oC) above pre-industrial levels is likely to be missed and that we are instead heading for 3o C increase. What, in your opinion, is the likelihood of this?

Dr. Leena Srivastava : As per the current expectations, global average temperature increase is likely to be higher than 3 o C. The actual target agreed to in the Paris agreement was to maintain the temperature increase to below 2 o C and make all efforts to limit it to 1.5 o C. However, the Paris Agreement has also adopted a bottom up approach to emissions mitigations with countries deciding the climate actions that they can take according to their national circumstances. These national/country-specific commitments are falling woefully short of what is needed, with countries like the USA – the largest contributor to the problem – deciding to stay away from the Paris Agreement. The Paris Agreement, however, has a provision for stock taking periodically, holding a facilitative dialogue to discuss how to bridge the gap between goals and likelihoods, and stepping up their ambition levels. The first facilitative dialogue will take place in the 2018 Conference of Parties in December in Katowice, Poland.

G’nY. Will the impacts of the 3 degree increase in global temperatures be equal in all parts of the world? Where does India stand?

Dr. Leena Srivastava : The impacts of any temperature increases beyond 1.5o C threshold, which the latest IPCC report has strongly pointed towards just a few days ago, are likely to be many and varied. But, they would definitely not be the same in all parts of the world. What we can expect to see are increases in mean temperature levels, increase in extreme events including heat waves and significant variability in monsoon patterns. These would be in addition to sea level rise, melting of glaciers and the coastal impacts from increases in ocean extreme events. For India, these impacts further translate into significant reductions in the productivity of key food grains such as rice and wheat, increase in the percentage of degraded and desertified lands, health epidemics arising out of heat conditions and increases in vector borne diseases among others.

India would feel these impacts significantly more than other countries also because of its very high population and their very low resilience and adaptive capacities. Therefore, India’s vulnerability would be significantly higher than it would have been otherwise.

G’nY. Despite warnings from scientific organisations about extreme events, India is faring poorly in terms of managing the urban environment.  Where do you think the problem lies – in the scientific departments that are unable to disseminate warnings confidently, or do you think it is with the top echelon of policy makers who are unable to see the outcome of their lopsided development processes?

Dr. Leena Srivastava : India is fortunate to have good scientific and technical capabilities in the country. Our challenge remains in not being able to ensure a more strategic approach to dealing with our vulnerability and lack of policy coherence in managing extreme events. Having said that, the scientific community can support governance responses by provided clear outcome based, science driven recommendations and tools that would make these easily usable and quickly applicable, addressing themselves to each major impact category. We need both a change in mindsets as well as a change in the institutional mechanisms to focus as much on disaster avoidance and preparedness as on disaster management. India, possibly needs to consider putting in place Sustainability Commissioners both at the national and the sub national levels with the explicit responsibility of watching out for the unintended consequences of alternative development paths. These unintended consequences could be on natural systems, human systems and on equity issues.

G’nY. In terms of climate awareness we have made considerable progress. Yet environmental clearances of large projects, or industry fulfilling the polluter’s pay policy, or even placing energy efficient machinery in private enterprises are all in the non-priority zone. Do you agree?

Dr. Leena Srivastava : India is well known to have a very strong regulatory framework for protecting the environment and indeed awareness of the term ‘climate change’ has increased substantially. We continue to fail on operationalizing the regulatory framework and on translating awareness into action. It is critically important that the common man in India wakes up to recognise that the climate and the environment are theirs to protect and nurture. Unless this demand for a clean environment and a safe planet comes from political constituencies, we are unlikely to see measurable results.

G’nY. Any other observation that you may want to share.

Dr. Leena Srivastava : The TERI School of Advanced Studies (www.terisas.ac.in) has taken upon itself the mandate of providing various learning environments that would enable our future generations to take a more systemic approach to sustainable development. Our academic programmes are therefore focussed on sustainability subjects and are inter-disciplinary in nature – giving our students a unique entry point into their careers. Similarly, the Climate Jamboree (www.climatejamboree.org) that we have organised is reaching out to the uninitiated but concerned youth to empower them to take the right actions/decisions with regard to sustainability.

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