Unequal Toll From Climate Change’s Effects
India has contributed little to climate change: Home to 18% of the world’s population, it has emitted just 3% of planet-warming greenhouse gases.
But India is suffering from climate change. Over the past three months, a heat wave has devastated north India and neighboring Pakistan. Temperatures surpassed 43.33 degrees Celsius.
It is so hot that overheated birds fell out of the sky in Gurgaon, India, and a historic bridge in northern Pakistan collapsed after melting snow and ice at a glacial lake released a torrent of water.
Scientists say global warming almost certainly played a role in the heat wave.
And rising temperatures stand to make unusually hotter weather more common not just in India and Pakistan but around the world, including in the U.S.
Indians have responded by staying indoors as much as possible, particularly during the afternoon hours. The government has encouraged this, pushing schools to close early and businesses to shift work schedules.
The measures have kept down deaths — with fewer than 100 recorded so far, an improvement from heat waves years ago that killed thousands.
But these measures have costs. School time is cut short, so students learn less. People do not travel to their jobs, so work is less productive. The heat kept some farmers inside and stunted harvests, so crop yields fell and global food prices increased. Social life is disrupted.
The situation could be likened to the mixed effects of COVID lockdowns: Measures for adapting to climate change can help prevent the worst health outcomes, but they come with real costs.
“We’re saving lives, but then livelihoods are lost,” said Roxy Koll, a climate scientist in India.
The geography of poor countries — many are close to the equator — is not the only reason climate change is such a burden for them. Poverty is another factor, leaving them with fewer resources to adapt.
There is a paradox to the climate crisis. Because India never fully industrialized, it has not released as many greenhouse gases as the U.S., European nations and other rich countries. But because it has not industrialized, it also has fewer resources to adapt than the richer, polluting nations.
There is a cycle here: To adapt, countries have to adopt modern technologies. But since these technologies often require planet-warming oil and coal, their use aggravates climate change and, consequently, extreme weather.
文／German Lopez 譯／李京倫