Over 800 million people, or half the population in South Asia could see their living standards worsen by 2050 due to climate change, says an ominous new study by the World Bank.
The study, ‘South Asia’s Hotspots’, which focuses on all six countries in South Asia, finds that average temperatures in the region have increased in the last sixty years and will continue rising. Additionally, rainfall is becoming more erratic: some areas will experience more droughts, others more rain.
The 800 million South Asians are at risk to see their standards of living and incomes decline as these trends cut down crop yields, make water more scarce, and push more people away from their homes to seek safer places.
The report analyses two future climate scenarios—one that is ‘climate-sensitive’, which includes collective mitigation efforts under the Paris Agreement; and one that is ‘carbon-intensive’, which assumes minimal collective action is taken. Both show rising temperatures throughout the region in coming decades, with the carbon-intensive scenario showing greater increases.
The 800 million currently live in areas that are projected to become 'moderate' to 'severe' hotspots by 2050 under the carbon-intensive scenario, with India making up 600 million of them. ‘Moderate’ hotspots are defined as areas where projected consumption spending declines by 4-8% and severe ones are where the drop exceeds 8%.
Living standards are predicted to be adversely affected by changes in average weather in four countries: Bangladesh, India, Pakistan, and Sri Lanka. In terms of GDP per capita, the report predicted changes in average weather would hit Bangladeshis living in severe hotspots the hardest among South Asians, and projected a 14.4% fall in income by 2050 for them. In comparison, the fall in income for India is predicted to be 10.0% and for Sri Lanka, 9.8% under the carbon intensive scenario.
Rising temperatures and changing monsoon rainfall patterns from climate change could cost India 2.8% of GDP and depress the living standards of nearly half the country’s population by 2050. States in the central, northern and north-western parts of India emerge as most vulnerable to changes in average temperature and precipitation. Chhattisgarh and Madhya Pradesh are predicted to be the top two climate hotspot states.
However, hilly areas in India as well as Nepal and Afghanistan may benefit from the weather changes because of their colder climates, though their extensive reliance on streams fed by melting snow would mean that higher temperatures may affect timing and availability of water resources.
Hotspots calls attention to inland areas
Importantly, most of the hotspots are in inland areas, which would be more affected than coastal and mountainous areas. Analyses of climate change focused on extreme weather events and sea-level rise have focused attention on relatively richer coastal areas. The report is a call to think about strategies targeted to hotspot inhabitants, the hidden victims of climate change, said the World Bank.
The most vulnerable would be those dependent on agriculture as their main livelihood, said World Bank economist Muthukumara Mani, one of the authors of the report.
The report notes that policies and actions must be tailored to address the specific impacts and needs based on local conditions. No single set of interventions will work in all hotspots.
Some examples are enhancing educational attainment, reducing water stress and improving opportunities in the non-agricultural sector for a country like India. The actions could reduce the impact of climate change on living standards, the report added.
The report can be found here.