“The imminent challenge is how to bring climate change issues from global and national level to state, district level issues”

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Prof N.H. Ravindranath at the inaugural Climate Change Lecture Series organised by Govt of Chhattisgarh in partnership with ACT

I am very happy to be here today to speak on the topic of “Impact of Climate Change on Forests and Biodiversity of Chhattisgarh” as I have been associated with Chhattisgarh in past as well as in recently while developing greening strategy for Naya Raipur.

Air and water are at the heart of Climate Change because oceans and rains are very critical for human survival. All the countries are facing a lot of different kinds of development challenges and problems, such as India is facing problems of poverty, food production and floods etc. and top of that we have Climate Change. While there are already a lot of challenges and problems, Climate change has added to the list and it will have impact on all spheres of life. Even rich countries would be adversely affected by Climate Change and no one would be spared.

Forest fires has become one of the biggest challenge across the world. Cases of forest fires have been reported from US, France, Germany, Australia and Indonesia. Canada witnessed one of the worst forest fires in its recorded history. In next four to five years, we don’t know what will happen to forests? People living in vicinity of forests are blaming forests for their losses and damages. The increased incidences of forest fires across the globe is due to climatic changes resulting in droughts leading to forest fires. Some people are raising doubts over climate change and increase in global mean temperature. The fact is that it is scientifically proven now and we have started feeling the change.

Unfortunately, Climate Change has remained as a global problem or at best as the national issue and has not been translated into the state and district level issue.  At the state level, Chief Ministers and senior officials do recognise Climate Change as a problem but also say that it is not the priority at the state since they have a lot other problems and challenges to address, which is also true.  Climate Change is not something that would destroy crops or forests tomorrow itself, but the changes would be seen on the decadal scale. The imminent challenge is how to bring Climate Change issue from global and national level to state, district and Panchayat level.  If you ask any farmer from any part of the country that “is the climate changing?” each one of them would agree to it.

Farmers are now unable to predict rainfall whereas earlier about till twenty years back farmers knew when and how much rain would fall. In all the states of the country, the situation is that farmers are of the view that climate is changing, because of which farmers are unable to decide which crop to sow. In Karnataka, just recently there has been a drought which was unprecedented, in fact some parts of the state remained in drought permanently for last three to four years. Maharashtra has a similar story. Even in Chhattisgarh, there have been a lot of rain but that has happened at the wrong time. Even less rainfall at the right time is more useful for agriculture and forest plantations than more rainfall at the wrong time. Too much rain initially (say in June) and no rain in the following six weeks would mean double loss to the farmers. Farmers invest a lot of money in June if there is good rainfall but later if it does not rain for next six weeks it would not only mean loss of opportunity to earn in the season but also on the investments made. On failure of crop, farmer would again have to go for another crop.

So, the big challenge is how to make the science help the farmer, fisherman, forest people and everybody? How we can help them all cope better with the Climate Change? Climate Change impacts would happen in fields, forests and coastal areas. Government of India is busy with many bigger things and then also Climate Change is a big agenda- on how to make districts and Panchayats cope with the Climate change? States need plan for Climate Change as they would have to face the challenges of migration, debt due crop failure etc. Climate change could be viewed from both the village level as well as from the international level. Unfortunately, the science is good at the national and regional level but at Panchayat level, watershed or forest division level, there aren’t good models available to help planning. At Forest Division and Watershed level we are progressing towards developing such models. Science is not good enough to say that it will rain on this day in this village. At best science, could predict rainfall say in a district with some probability. That means we must develop strategies to help farmer.

Another challenge is that we would have to ensure food production. India would have to increase its food grain production to feed the increasing population. The population of the world is about 7 billion and it is expected to be about 9 to 10 billion by 2050. It would grow fastest in the next twenty years. So, the world would have to feed 1.5 to 1.6 times more people than it is feeding now. Can we produce food and can we provide water? It looks like it would be a challenge even though Government of India may have 40-60 million tonnes of food grain reserves.

In many districts, where malnutrition in children is a big challenge, there is a problem at the state and village level. On the other hand, ground water table is decreasing, in fact more areas have been brought under ground water irrigation than surface water irrigation. In most of the villages, one may find many abandoned bore wells across the country. Farmers invest one to one and half lakhs in a bore well and after couple of years the water level is gone and so does the investment. There is huge ground water problem. On top of that, land is degrading. According to ICAR about 100 million hectares of crop land in India is facing land degradation.

Just imagine with degradation of land, soil erosion, salinity, wind erosion, ground water decline and silting of dams, would we be able to provide food grain to meet the demand of 1.3 to 1.5 billion people? There is already a crisis even now, many big cities are facing a lot of challenges such as water having to be transported from hundreds of kilometres. It is difficult to meet the present demand then how would the increase in demand be met from? On top of that we have climate change whose impact would only worsen in coming years.

Climate change, vulnerability and exposure

A study is being carried out in which it is seen how Climate Change aspects could be incorporated in designing the structures made under MGNREGA as huge investments are made to develop assets across the country.  In Rajnandgoan for example we witnessed, almost 40% increased change in rainfall is predicted which is not good for farming as no farmer wants too much or very less rainfall. By 2030, according to climate modelling being done at block level, clearly predicts that there is seventy percent likelihood of floods and increase in probability of the same. According to Paris agreement, its endeavoured to limit the rise in global mean temperature by 1.5 to 2 degrees Celsius.  It is believed that increase in temperature more than 2 degree Celsius would be catastrophic. In parts of central India, we are already witnessing increase in temperature more than that so we can imagine what will be the scenario in next 20-30 years. Some districts of Chhattisgarh are already experiencing the temperature around 49 degrees Celsius. Extreme weather events are already occurring and these are expected to increase in future.

Himalayas are generally likely to experience higher warming than rest of the country

A study undertaken some 4-5 years back by IRI, Pusa, New Delhi highlighted the impact of Climate Change on irrigated fields by 2020. The study highlights yield of rice and wheat would decline by more than 20%. These predictions have been made by India’s best agriculture scientists. Even if there is no change in rainfall, just two-degree change in temperature would have huge adverse impact on yields of both irrigated rice and irrigated wheat.

Regional impacts of climate change on crop yield – IARI, 2012

We need to understand climate change, vulnerability and exposure. Climate change involves risk of changing weather patterns including temperature, rain, patterns of cyclones, drought, floods etc. there is a risk of all of that. Hazards like droughts, floods, hurricanes cause huge losses. People living in areas such as mountains, coastal areas, desert areas are more exposed to hazards. Some people are more vulnerable than others. For example, people living in hilly areas are more vulnerable than people living in plains, people of Assam flood plains are more vulnerable than other households of the state. Vulnerability depends on capability to cope with the hazard and wherever you are. Farmers are more vulnerable than people like us who are salaried. We need to understand what determines vulnerability to floods, droughts etc.

Inter-Governmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) did a global study to assess the impact of climate change on forests. According to the study, tree mortality and associated forest dieback will occur in many regions in the next one to three decades, with forest die-back posing risks for bio-diversity of ecosystems and ecosystem services. Many species face increased extinction risk during the 21st century under the projected climate change scenario. Other pressures such as habitat modification, pollution and invasive species would compound the stress on species. It is assessed that increased severe drought together with land-use change and forest fire would cause much of the Amazon forest to transform to less-dense, drought- and fire-adapted ecosystems which would increase the risk for bio-diversity while decreasing net carbon uptake from the atmosphere.

Various studies are being carried out using various models under different climate change scenarios. Changes in vegetation is projected in many parts across the country as well as in Chhattisgarh in the period 2035-2085. Already, as the FSI data indicates, forests in Chhattisgarh have undergone quite a huge change in last one and half decade in terms of total degradation of forests from dense forests to moderately dense forests.

Vulnerability Assessment of Forest Ecosystems to Climate Change in Madhya Pradesh, which is not very different from forests of Chhattisgarh. The study assesses that present forest ecosystems and dependent communities are subjected to climate variability and climate change. There are changes in the mean variables as well as in number and frequency of extreme events. The vulnerability is expected to increase in the projected climate change scenarios. The vegetation of the state is expected to witness change and the more the temperature increased more pronounced is the change.

Model simulated impacts of projected climate change on vegetation distribution in the forests of MP

Under the study, climate change driven vulnerability of forests both under low emission (RCP4.5) and high emission (RCP8.5) scenarios in short and long-term were assessed. A district-wise vulnerability assessment under high emission (RCP8.5) scenarios for short term period was also done in which it was found that forest areas in the districts of Dewas, East Nimar, Raisen and West Nimar are extremely vulnerable in this scenario. In the same scenario in the long term, it was found that forests in the districts of Dewas, East Nimar, Raisen, Sehore, Shivpuri and West Nimar are extremely vulnerable. Similarly, in short term a vegetation shift is expected in Himachal Pradesh.

Need for adaptation

There is concrete evidence that suggests the need for change in present vegetation, since future climate will not suit existing vegetation. This will also lead to damage and loss of bio-diversity but how soon and with what the vegetation would be replaced could still not be said with surety. Forest dieback is projected to occur. Increased incidences of forest fires and pests are expected. NPP is expected to increase initially due to Co2 fertilization effect, but ultimately decline due to higher levels of warming. The climate change would have long term impacts on forest ecosystems and biodiversity, and these changes would be irreversible requiring adaptation.

Therefore, there is need to undertake adaptation measures immediately to build resilience in forest ecosystems and forest dependent communities. There is a need to develop adaptation strategies for forest which would require a lot of effort and time. The capacity of forest ecosystems to adapt to climate change can be increased by (1) reducing the other stresses operating on them (2) reducing the rate and magnitude of change (3) reducing habitat fragmentation and increasing connectivity (4) maintaining a large pool of genetic diversity (5) manipulation of disturbance regimes to keep them within desired ranges.

India has volunteered to contribute Paris agreement commitment through NDCs. Three important NDCs are: –

  • To reduce the emissions intensity of its GDP by 33 to 35 percent by 2030 from 2005 level.
  • To achieve about 40 percent cumulative electric power installed capacity from non-fossil fuel based energy resources by 2030 with the help of transfer of technology and low cost international finance (GCF).
  • To create an additional carbon sink of 2.5 to 3 billion tonnes of CO2 equivalent through additional forest and tree cover by 2030.

The graph shows GHG Emission Pathways in all AR 5 Scenarios. 


Effect of current pledges and policies on global temperature

The above graph clearly shows that even if the all present pledges and INDC commitment are honoured, which appears far from the reality, in the present emission scenario there would be a change in temperature of 3.3 to 3.9 degree centigrade. Even 1.5-degree change would bring havoc, what a 3-degree temperature change would bring is incomprehensible and presently we are least prepared for such a mean global change of temperature. Therefore, it must be understood that the present level of efforts will not be able to prevent huge changes in climate resulting in incomprehensible climatic changes and disasters.

Measures to address climate change

Climate change is already happening and with present level of emission and mitigation, it is expected that soon we will cross 20C, even if PA is fully implemented and India is able to achieve its ambitious targets it has set for itself.  Agriculture is particularly vulnerable and therefore farmers would be subjected to increased climate variability and extremes. Farmers of the state of Chhattisgarh and across the state are highly sensitive and have low adaptive capacity despite continuous efforts from the national and the state government. It is important to put in place robust assessment systems of climate change projections or impacts assessments at the regional and local level. The problem of farmers and agriculture needs to be seen in totality as there is increased incidence of land degradation, ground water decline, pests attack, high current climate variability etc. and these would/are expected to increase in future. On top of all that climate change would be additional stress.

In the emerging climate change scenario, there is increased need to protect our natural resources especially our forests. This would require undertaking the following measures: –

  • There is need for improved fire management to cope with increased frequency and intensity of forest fires, especially in deciduous forests.
  • There is need for linking of protected areas, corridors and fragmented forests to facilitate species migration under a changing climate. Activities for ecosystem restoration through climate-resilient afforestation and by reducing non-climate disturbances or stresses.
  • Regenerate degraded natural forests through natural regeneration to promote native plant species.
  • Promote natural regeneration and mixed species planting in the afforestation programmes to enable risk spreading, and increase genetic diversity
  • Anticipatory planting of tree species across latitudinal and longitudinal gradients, identification of species from warmer districts and their promotion in districts projected to become warmer.
  • Assisted migration to maintain or improve migration corridors, including active management to improve survival along the shifting vegetation especially in the transitional zones and by translocation of species.
  • Enhanced focus on research and monitoring of forest response to changing climate.
  • Initiate mainstreaming climate change in forest working plans by incorporating climate concerns to build resilience of the forest ecosystems and identify mitigation opportunities in forest management and afforestation programmes.
  • Resilience building activities in rural communities and farmers;
  • Conserve forest biodiversity, promote agro-forestry and plantation forestry on farm lands, community lands incorporating multiple tree species providing
  • Diverse livelihood opportunities from forests including economic products (fruits, seeds, etc.), apart from timber and fuelwood to build resilience among the farmers by supplementing their income and to reduce their dependence on forests.

Prof N.H. Ravindranath was the Guest Speaker at the inaugural Climate Change Lecture Series organised by Govt of Chhattisgarh in partnership with ACT. His work includes eight books on climate change, renewable energy, community forestry and biomass energy besides producing several assessment reports for the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC).

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