Study hints at high climate change risk in India, bats for investment in resilience

  • Nine Indian states are among the top 50 most vulnerable regions, according to a recent global study that ranked 26,000 regions based on the climate vulnerability of their built-up area.
  • More than 50 provinces from China, United States and India are among the top 100 most climate vulnerable areas in the world.
  • The study proposes pricing physical climate risks, understanding the risks by the government and making frameworks for more investments in climate resilient infrastructure.

India is among the frontrunners in terms of exposure of its infrastructure to the vulnerabilities of climate change, according to a recent global physical climate risk report, prepared by the Cross Dependency Initiative (XDI). The organisation which specialises in physical climate risk analysis, assessed 2,600 regions across the world and ranked them as per their climate risks in 2050. It found that 80% of the top 50 most at-risk states and provinces in 2050 are in China, the United States or India.

The report, titled Gross Domestic Climate Risks 2023 ranked several provinces across the world by analysing 320 million assets globally and using climate models, projections, satellite images and available government data. The ranking was based on the vulnerability of these regions to eight climate change hazards which included riverine and surface flooding, coastal inundation (coastal flooding), extreme heat, forest fire, soil movement (drought-related), extreme wind and freeze thaw.

Based on the rankings, nine Indian states feature among the world’s top 50 at-risk states and provinces. These include Bihar, Uttar Pradesh, Assam, Rajasthan, Tamil Nadu, Maharashtra, Gujarat, Punjab and Kerala.

Among these, Bihar is the most vulnerable state from India ranked 22 globally, followed by Uttar Pradesh (25), Assam (28) and Rajasthan (32).

The ranking is based on aggregate damage ratio of the provinces. The damage ratio refers to the annual average loss from properties damaged by extreme weather events as a fraction of replacement cost of that property.

“High ranking for this metric reflects states, provinces and territories where a larger proportion of total built-up area will be subject to damage from climate change and extreme weather, even if the extent of that area may be small,” the report said.

The report also analysed the extent of percentage increase of damages between 1990 and 2050. Among the top nine most vulnerable states in India, Assam reported the highest percentage increase in their damages by 331 percent, followed by Bihar (141%), Uttar Pradesh (96%) and Maharashtra (81%).

A man trying to restore his house on the outskirts of Puri a day after cyclone Fani hit Odisha in 2019. Photo by Manish Kumar.

XDI is a physical climate risk and adaptation analytic institution which works with several national and international banks, investors and financial regulators and provides them data on climate vulnerabilities. “We analysed around 320 million assets worldwide through a big set of dataset. This is around 100-500 times bigger than other datasets used in such modeling. This data talks about specific time, specific region and talks about their climate risk. Investors and governments can use this to make informed decisions about their exposure to climate change when planning investments in such areas,” Karl Mallon from XDI said during the launch of the report on February 20, 2023.

XDI CEO Rohan Hamden said that the report was released keeping in mind the demand from investors for data on climate risk at sub-sovereign and regional level. The researchers claimed that this was the first kind of assessment of climate risks on the built-up areas around the globe with localised provincial-level data.

Need for finance on resilience 

Georgina Woods, spokesperson for XDI, said, during the launch of the report, “Countries need to understand their risk and move forward quickly to adaptation plans that are funded and backed by climate resilient legislations that can attract investors.” She also said that the Indian states in the top 100 in the world for damage risk all have flooding as their driving hazard for damage.

When asked how the ranking should be utilised by the governments, she told Mongabay-India, “The results of our modelling underscore the importance of pricing physical risk of climate change in financial markets, of increasing finance for global adaptation and of cooperation to prevent the worst of this damage from coming to pass. There is a significant global finance gap for adaptation, and only a small proportion of investment in infrastructure is made with climate resilience in mind. Countries and provincial governments need to engage with investors about creating climate resilient investment frameworks and undertake land use and urban planning with resilience to climate change in mind.”

The XDI team claimed that for investors, the global results demonstrate that there is no safe harbour from the impacts of climate change. “This means divestment is not an option and the only course is adaptation, resilience and mitigation action to prevent worsening climate change,” Woods said.

Other international studies also hint at lesser investments in climate resilient infrastructure. A December 2022 report by the Climate Policy Initiative (CPI) found that for every $1 spent on “climate resilient infrastructure”, $87 was spent on infrastructure projects that didn’t integrate any climate resilience principles. The study batted for more investments in climate resilient infrastructure to reduce deaths and economic losses. CPI’s Global Landscape of Climate Finance also suggested that globally more 90 percent of climate finance are earmarked for mitigation activities like on renewable energy, low carbon transport, agriculture and waste management while investments on adaptation and resilience are significantly lower.

Rajashree Padmanabhi from CPI told Mongabay-India majority of the adaptation finance was channelled via public actors such as multilateral and national development finance institutions, and private actors need to do more.

“There is definitely an imbalance in global investments when it comes to mitigation, adaptation and resilience. There needs to be a push of more funds towards resilience and adaptation. The Article 2.1(c) of the Paris Agreement also states that all financial flows should be aligned with a low carbon and climate resilient development pathways. In that case, the investments that we are making should incorporate climate-resilience. We spend trillions of dollars in infrastructure investments every year. Urgent investments in resilient infrastructure will prevent deaths, reduce the lock-in of climate vulnerability, and avoid economic losses in the decades to come,” she said.

A man walks through Uppada beach in Andhra Pradesh. This village has witnessed severe coastal erosion in the past few years. Photo by Manish Kumar/Mongabay.

Georgina Woods from XDI however said that as far as India is concerned its central bank, Reserve Bank of India (RBI), has started taking steps towards climate risk disclosures. “The transfer of climate change risks on the government at one point can become intolerable and the government may not be able to meet all of these costs. There are a great number of investors who want to invest in climate resilience projects. They need a framework for the same. We need national adaptation plans and government frameworks to enable climate resilience infra by the private sector,” she said.

The RBI last year published besides surveying the Indian commercial banks against climate risks also sought suggestions to bring regulations on governing climate risk framework. The Indian federal government last year while talking about climate finance told the Parliament that it launched Coalition for Disaster Resilient Infrastructure (CDRI) which encourages the concept of resilience in the new and existing infrastructure against climate and disaster risks.  CDRI is the result of international partnership of national governments, United Nations agencies, banks, financing institutions, academia and others. It was launched during the UN Climate Action Summit in September 2019.


Banner image: House near the sea beach at Ramayapatna in Odisha broken by the strong tidal waves from the Bay of Bengal. Photo by Manish Kumar/Mongabay.

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