More than 300 scientists from 115 countries, forming a Nobel-winning intergovernmental panel chaired by an Indian, have made some dire, but not hopeless, pronouncements on climate change from Japan. This is the second of three reports from the United Nations panel on climate change, specifically on the effect of global warming caused by greenhouse gas emissions on people and the planet. The first had made an erroneous prediction on the melting of Himalayan glaciers that had tarnished the panelís credibility. So it has made absolutely sure this time to deliver a foolproof report on state-of-the-art studies and opinions on exactly how bad, and how remediable, the effect of climate change will be on human, animal and natural lives. The threat, it seems, had been underestimated, both of the extent of warming and of predicted rise in sea-levels. The primary threat is to food security, with declining crop yields (especially wheat and corn) leading to inflation, migration and conflict. Human security would also be impacted, owing to floods, cyclones and droughts. As always, warns the UN, the poor, in both poor and rich countries, are going to be worst affected, especially in the coastal areas, as will the tourism industry (especially seaside tourism). But the report also makes it very clear that no one is safe, and can afford to look away or press the snooze button when the alarm goes off (to paraphrase a member of the panel).
All this is a cause for urgent alarm for India, given its economic and geographical vulnerability and exposure to climate change. Calcutta and Mumbai are two among five Asian cities that will have the largest populations vulnerable to climate-change-induced coastal flooding by 2070. So, no government can afford not to take immediate action and to cooperate on a global scale, if it is to be at all accountable to its citizens in the short and the long terms. The UN report is endorsed from another direction by the World Health Organization, which has declared air pollution to be the biggest environmental health risk, killing seven million people in 2012. This too has a direct bearing on Indian cities ó rather on Indian governments, municipalities and citizens. Both adaptation and mitigation focused on immediate and drastic cuts in emission are now the only way to engage with the grim findings of these reports.