As Secretary Kerry Heads To India, Deadly Floods Demonstrate The Urgency Of Climate Change

A monsoon triggers flooding in India. (Credit: AFP/Getty Images)

While the monsoon season brought relief to drought-stricken farmers across India this week, extreme flooding killed nearly 150 people and displaced thousands in Northern India. At the same time, a new World Bank report released yesterday finds that the drought and flooding whipsawing that India experiences will become more frequent and extreme with climate change — causing more displacement, loss of life, and potentially trapping millions into poverty in the coming decades.

Secretary of State John Kerry’s upcoming trip to India next week provides an opportunity to strengthen cooperation between our two countries in response to these dramatic and devastating changes.

The monsoon season is a long-awaited and celebrated time in India, determining the crop output and economic stability of the 70 percent of Indians who either directly or indirectly depend on farming for their livelihoods. Farming makes up nearly 15 percent of the country’s $1.83 trillion GDP, making drought a huge threat to the overall economy. The Indian Space Research Organization found that 68 percent of India is prone to droughts, with a third categorized as “chronically drought prone.”

Last August, India was in the midst of its second drought in four years, with rainfall 20 percent below average nationwide and 70 percent below average in other states like Punjab. Many experts believe the drought was a factor in the July 2012 blackout that left over 600 million Indians without power. Low rainfall led farmers to irrigate crops with water pumps, drawing more electricity from the grid than usual.

Considering these factors, this year’s monsoon coming one month ahead of schedule was welcome news in parched areas across India. But the extreme flooding in the Northern states demonstrated why India is considered one of the most vulnerable countries in the world to climate change. The flooding left over 71,000 pilgrims stranded in the state of Uttarakhand and thousands of others displaced and missing across the region. Dozens of buildings and bridges collapsed under water pressure and landslides stranded hundreds. An Indian Army team of over 5,500 is leading rescue operations and Prime Minister Manmohan Singh announced a $170 million aid package for the state of Uttarakhand on Wednesday.

Droughts, floods, more intense heatwaves, sea-level rise, stronger cyclones and storm surges — this is the new climate reality for India’s 1.2 billion people. Climate change will undoubtedly impact the economy with shifting drought and monsoon patterns and create complex environmental, humanitarian, and security challenges in India.

In a recent report, the Center for American Progress examines the nexus of climate change, migration, and security in South Asia. The video below from this report explains how climate change will impact existing tensions with migration in Northeast India.

While India is starting to prepare, the daunting breadth of climate impacts the country faces will require forward-thinking, innovative adaptation and resiliency measures.

Next week, Secretary of State John Kerry heads to India, already promising to put climate change at the top of his agenda. The U.S. should take this opportunity to strengthen our existing bilateral relationship through enhanced cooperation on climate change resilience.

A good model for Kerry would be to take the template of our existing bilateral agreement on clean energy with India, which has proved to be the strongest point of climate related cooperation between our two countries. The U.S.-India Partnership to Advance Clean Energy (PACE) has put $125 million toward a U.S.-India Joint Clean Energy Research and Development Center, $20 million toward collaboration on deployment, and mobilized more than $1.7 billion in public and private resources for clean energy projects in India. Cleaner energy sources will help prevent 100,000 deaths in India from coal-fired power plant pollution each year.

A similarly structured venue for cooperation on climate change resilience, focused on strengthening response and recovery to events such as this week’s deadly floods, would be ideal. The U.S. and India are already working together through the Indian Ministry of Earth Sciences and the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration to enhance monsoon forecasting. As with the PACE programs, the focus could be on building joint capacity from Indian and U.S. public and private institutions for research that would benefit both countries. While the disruption of the Indian monsoon cycle amply demonstrates the need for better forecasting and response capacity in India, the same need exists in the United States.

There are strong indications that such a move would be welcome In India. A recent Yale-Shakti Foundation poll found that only 7 percent of Indian respondents knew “a lot” about global warming — but when it was explained to them, 72 percent believed global warming was happening and 56 percent believed it was caused by human activity. What the Indian public is apparently responding to is changes in weather events and the new unpredictability of monsoons.

Source: Yale-Shakti Foundation poll

Source: Yale-Shakti Foundation poll

Yesterday, President Obama described our future if the world failed to address climate change:

The grim alternative affects all nations — more severe storms, more famine and floods, new waves of refugees, coastlines that vanish, oceans that rise. This is the future we must avert. This is the global threat of our time.

India and other regions of the world are already acutely experiencing this climate reality. The time to act is now.

19 Responses to As Secretary Kerry Heads To India, Deadly Floods Demonstrate The Urgency Of Climate Change

  1. prokaryotes says:

    Developing situation

    Canada Alberta Calgary Floods June 20, 2013

    Live stream link in the descriptions Flood is stronger than 2005, gas line ruptured, resources under stress, mandatory evacuation Calgary area under way…

  2. mememine69 says:

    Science can end this costly debate instantly just by saying their crisis WILL happen instead of “MIGHT” happen.

    Sorry to disappoint you remaining fear mongering climate blame believers but in 28 years of research not one single scientific paper has ever said any crisis was unavoidable or eventual or inevitable as they say
    comet hits are. They only agree it might happen not will happen and find us one single IPCC warning not swimming in “maybes” and “could bes”. Yes, science does agree that it could be a crisis and if “could” igood enough for you doomers to condemn your own kids to a CO2 hell, you just hated humanity itself and never did love the planet.

    Did Bush issue CO2 death threats to billions of helpless children?

  3. prokaryotes says:

    This study has been released today by the Climate Impact Research Institute in Potsdam, Germany

    Ups-and-downs of Indian monsoon rainfall likely to increase under warming

  4. prokaryotes says:

    Another perspective:

    Deadly Floods Demonstrate The Urgency For Climate Action

    More Delay -> More unstable States -> Less chance for Climate Progress

    Where we’re going there will be certainly not the business utopia waiting for today’s 0.1% or whoever delays. No climate action is just plain stupid no matter from which angle you judge.

  5. Merrelyn Emery says:

    The current unpredictability of the monsoons is a dramatic illustration of destabilization. It has been pouring in NW Australia and it’s supposed to be the dry, ME

  6. Colorado Bob says:

    The region has received 385 millimeters of rainfall, much higher than the average of 71 millimeters seen in previous years, according to the Indian Meteorological Department.

  7. Colorado Bob says:

    Floods devastate Lourdes pilgrim site

    Flooding last October cost an estimated 1.3 million euros ($A1.9 million) of damage but the clean-up operation this time will be significantly more expensive, according to Thierry Castillo, who is in charge of the Lourdes diocese’s economic affairs. “We will need the support of everyone,” he told AFP.

  8. Colorado Bob says:

    Other parts of France have been hit by torrential rain or hail which have caused significant damage to some crops, notably vines in the area of the Loire valley where Vouvray sparkling wine is made.

    Xavier Beulin, the president of farmers’ organisation FNSEA, estimated the damage at up to half a billion euros.

    “It could be as high as that because there are nearly 300,000 hectares that have been destroyed,” Mr Beulin said.

  9. Colorado Bob says:

    Banff broke its 24hr rainfall record this morning, recording 53.6 mm of rain. The previous record was 53.1 mm set on June 13, 1948. But more rain was forecast for Thursday into Friday.

    An incredible 142 mm of rain fell in Livingstone.

    Environment Canada said that the foothills could expect another 30 to 50 mm on Thursday with another possible 50 to 100 mm on Friday.

  10. prokaryotes says:

    So many reports of extreme flooding recently…

  11. Mulga Mumblebrain says:

    And this is just the beginning.

  12. Mulga Mumblebrain says:

    There’s the rub. The Collapse feeds on itself, being multiform, ie ecological catastrophes, resource depletion, economic implosion and geo-political rancour, and synergistic. Indeed without an heroic global effort unprecedented in human history (but not impossible) we have already certainly passed numerous tipping-points and hidden points of no return. In retrospect they will appear brutally plain.

  13. Vine says:

    The world people have to wake up and realize the once in a hundred year flood is becoming the once a year flood. The billions of dollars required by world governments to repair flood damage is minor, compared to the huge loss of life and climate refugees we are going to see.

  14. Superman1 says:

    Of the end!

  15. Spike says:

    One of the western European storms filmed hitting Switzerland here;

  16. Stephen W says:

    Extraordinary. In Switzerland!

    The BBC reports says “Meteorologists say that large amounts of snow melting suddenly in the Alps followed by a rapid return to cooler weather are responsible for the freak storm”. This is par for the course for the BBC who then always fail to at least attempt to find out what might be the reason for “large amounts of snow melting suddenly” or a “rapid return to cooler weather”. It is classic BBC weather event reporting that they only look one level back to the direct preceding events but never link them together or analyse them in a larger context.

    Mind you, reading their report of our recent Met Office’s get together to discuss why Britain’s weather is going crazy the general conclusion is seems to be that it’s something to do with a warmer Atlantic. No idea why that’s happening of course though.

  17. Mulga Mumblebrain says:

    Precisely, Stephen. The BBC is a thoroughly typical Rightwing propaganda operation, so climate destabilisation is verboten, or is only mentioned to be debunked or laughed at as a ‘water-melon’ conspiracy. The Government operated ABC in Australia is exactly the same, but, with luck, the coming Tony ‘Climate Change is Crap’ Abbott regime, will follow the lead of their fellow neo-fascists in Greece and simply euthanase the joint.