Adaptation and Mitigation
Climate change poses a global challenge and India must play a dual role in responding to the challenge as a responsible member of the international community and in its own interest. There are two dimensions in the response to global warming- mitigation and adaptation.
Mitigation: Cutting down emissions of global greenhouse gases can reduce the extent of
climate change. The universally accepted UN Framework on Climate change provides for global cooperation in this endeavour on the basis of the principle of ”common but differentiated responsibilities and respective capabilities” of each party. India must continue to fulfill its commitments under the convention by adopting development policies and measures that generate significant mitigation co-benefits at no incremental cost. By identifying and implementing such “win-win” measures, we can pursue mitigation objectives without diverting resources from economic and social development priorities, including environmental priorities related to clean air, water and sanitation.
Adaptation: Since climate change is now an inevitable prospect, we must also consider how best to adapt it, so as to minimize its harmful consequences. Improved physical infrastructure can afford some protection against phenomenon associated with climate change such as floods, extreme weather events or coastal erosion. A switch to new crops, seeds or agricultural practices can moderate the impacts on agriculture of changes in temperature and water availability. Education, training and rural extension services can facilitate adaptation efforts. Improved weather and flood forecasting and better communications can assist evacuation, relief and rehabilitation. As a developing country, India’s primary effort must be in the area of adaptation.
Adaptation will be necessary to address impacts resulting from the warming which is already unavoidable due to past emissions.
agricultural sector- which is the major source of employment in India
and most other developing countries- is directly vulnerable to changes
in temperature, rainfall patterns and water availability to a much
greater degree than the industrial or services sectors. Moreover,
developing countries lack sufficient financial and technological resources
for adapting successfully to climate change. This imposes major constraints
on their ability to build the physical infrastructure required to
cope with floods or extreme weather events, or to adopt new capital
intensive agricultural practices such as drip irrigation, or to switch
over to new non-agricultural occupations. For a developing country,
rapid economic and social development is an essential requirement
for successful long-term adaptation to climate change. Development
is the best form of adaptation. For example, in the agriculture sector,
a wide variety of adaptive actions are being taken to lessen or overcome
adverse effects of climate change on agriculture. At the level of
farms, adjustments may include the introduction of later- maturing
crop varieties or species, switching cropping sequences, sowing earlier,
adjusting timing of field operations, conserving soil moisture through
right tillage methods, and improving irrigation efficiency. Some options
such as switching crop varieties may be inexpensive while others,
such as introducing irrigation (especially high-efficiency, water-conserving
technologies), involve heavy expenditure.
Adaptation vs mitigation
Adaptation is specific to each type of natural ecosystem. Mitigation of climate change refers to measures that reduce emissions through improved efficiency of energy use, reduced deforestation, a switch to non-fossil fuels, or capture of emissions underground and in oceans, vegetation and soils.
The two responses are not necessarily independent of each other. Increased use of air conditioning in order to adapt to higher temperatures, for example, may increase GHG emissions to the extent that electricity is generated using fossil fuels. Planting trees to absorb atmospheric carbon is another mitigation option, but the measure will not be as effective if trees are planted in an area where global warming is likely to raise temperatures and reduce precipitation.
Which countries should undertake these options and to what extent? Much of the carbon dioxide emissions during the industrial era have arisen from the use of fossil fuels in the industrialized countries. These countries have benefited from the use of relatively inexpensive fossil fuels in enlarging their economies and achieving a high standard of living.
On this basis, the industrialized countries need to assume leadership to reduce their own emissions and also assist developing countries such as India in reducing their emissions. Countries of the European Union, Japan and Canada have committed to reduce their emissions of six GHGs by about 7.5% under the Kyoto Protocol compared to their 1990 levels. The U.S and Australia have assumed no mandatory commitments.
The future is, however, different. As a group, the economies of developing countries and their fossil fuels consumption is growing faster than that of the more mature industrialized economies. China’s and India’s emissions will surpass those of the U.S today by 2010 and 2035 respectively. Faster growth means that capital stock is turning over faster, which offers a golden opportunity to plant seeds of low-emissions technologies whose impact will be felt for decades to come. Some adaptation and mitigation measures are being undertaken by countries already for reasons that have little to do with climate change. These are known as no-regrets measures because their benefits exceed their cost to society, excluding the benefits of avoided climate change. Most energy-efficiency measures fall in this category of mitigation options. Reducing local air pollution through the use of technology that improves combustion and reduces fuel use would also constitute a no-regrets option since it would reduce GHG emissions at no additional cost. Developing software to predict and implement measures to reduce coastal storm surges is an adaptation option that could be used to predict surges that mey be exacerbated by global warming.
Carbon emissions of an economy depend both on how efficiently energy is used by the economy, and on the mix of fuels that constitute energy supply. Standard coal is almost twice as carbon intensive per unit of energy as natural gas, and oil falls somewhere in between. A common mitigation measure to reduce carbon emissions is thus to use natural gas in place of coal and oil, and oil products in place of coal.
Future projections indicate that modern energy supply to the Indian economy will almost double by 2020. Much of this increase will come from the increased use of coal for electricity generation and industry, and petroleum products for use in transportation, captive power generation and household cooking.