Flooding in India highlights need for climate-ready development

• July 25, 2013
flooding in india

Flooding in India, Creative Commons: Samenwerkende Hulporganisaties

More monsoon flooding in India, following the devastating floods that left nearly 6,000 missing in late June, highlights the need for development in India that will be resilient in the face of climate impacts — but not for ‘preaching’ on India’s climate action by international officials.

Monsoon flooding in the Indian state of Andhra Pradesh last week caused the evacuation of 200 villages. Water levels are now receding, but the damage and loss of life caused by this most recent flooding event shows the vulnerability of Indian infrastructure to extreme precipitation events, which may only increase with climate change.

U.S. Vice President Joe Biden addressed the Bombay Stock Exchange July 24th, speaking to the intersection of India’s need to alleviate poverty with development and the global need to address climate change.

Of course India’s first priority is and must be lifting its citizens out of poverty. But unless we can develop a sustainable path on a low-carbon path, the consequences of climate change will seriously undermine the development and growth, as well as harm the very health of the people of India.

The intersection of poverty and climate change has not escaped Indian leaders and NGOs — but as they work to ramp up their own low carbon development, many expect to see action from developed nations equivalent for their historic responsibility for present-day climate change issues.

Criticisms have been levelled at U.S. officials for making hypocritical demands of India and other developing nations on the issue of climate action.

After a visit from U.S. Secretary of State Kerry that featured such climate action demands on India, Deputy Director at the Centre for Science and Environment Chandra Bhushan wrote a piece entitled, “Please don’t preach Mr. Kerry, act at home.

[Kerry] had more to say on what others should do on climate change, and not what the U.S. should do or is doing…

The implicit message here is that India must support the U.S. and not push for principles of equity and historical responsibility for the global deal that will be finalized in 2015 in Paris. While using terms such as “global compact” and “national circumstances” in relation to the UNFCCC deal, his message to India was that the country would suffer on account of climate change and that we (Indians) must do everything on climate change.

I have no problems with his pitch for countries coming together to develop renewable energy. But I have issues with the fact that nowhere in his speech did he mention what the U.S. is doing on renewable energy or what is the renewable energy target that the U.S. has set for itself for, say 2020. The fact is that today close to 20 per cent of India’s electricity supply is from renewable sources (including hydropower). India has set itself a target for renewable energy; the U.S. has not.

If the U.S. wants a “global compact” it must show leadership by doing things at home and not preach to other countries on what they should do.

Climate change is at work in shifting global weather patterns towards increased extreme weather, including extreme precipitation events during which heavy rain (or snow) falls within a short period of time. The intense monsoonal flooding in India, as well as other recent flash flooding in Canada, Europe, the United States, and Argentina, demonstrates this larger pattern of intense and abnormal rainfall — what some climate scientists are describing as “when it rains, it pours.”

Action to mitigate the causes of climate change by cutting fossil fuel use and action to adapt to its extreme weather impacts go hand-in-hand. It may be important in the international arena, however, to distinguish between the two when demanding climate action of different parties.

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About the Author

Emily is a graduate of St. Mary's College of Maryland with a B.A. in psychology. While in school, she spent her time leading environmental and social justice campaigns. She recently worked for the Chesapeake Climate Action Network as a grassroots organizer for a moratorium on natural gas fracking in Maryland.

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