Climate Change · Disasters

GermanWatch Report: Can India not assess its Climate Risk & Vulnerability?

The Climate Risk Index Briefing Paper “GLOBAL CLIMATE RISK INDEX 2020: Who Suffers Most from Extreme Weather Events? Weather-Related Loss Events in 2018 and 1999 to 2018” released by the Environmental Think tank German Watch[i] on Dec 4, 2019[ii] made a media splash in India[iii] since the report ranked India as fifth country  (it was 14th in 2018 report) most at risk in the context of climate change.

Indeed, it is worth taking note that maximum number of deaths (2081) and Economic losses (USD 37808 million[iv], equivalent to four times country’s annual health sector budget) due to climate change happened in 2018 in India. Both these numbers were highest among the top ten Climate Risk countries of the world in 2018. This is one of the many reports which are coming out on the occasion of 25th Conference of Parties happening in Madrid (Spain) in early December 2019.

The Climate Risk Index (CRI) report

15th edition of the report says: “The Global Climate Risk Index 2020 analyses to what extent countries and regions have been affected by impacts of weather-related loss events (storms, floods, heatwaves etc.). The most recent data available— for 2018 and from 1999 to 2018 —were taken into account.” Conveying the significance of the report, it says: “At this year’s Climate Summit in Madrid, the second review of the Warsaw International Mechanism for Loss and Damage will investigate whether the body fulfills its mandate to avert, minimise and address loss and damage and whether it is equipped to do so in the future. In that process, COP25 needs to debate the lack of climate finance to address loss and damage. Furthermore, the implementation of measures for adapting to climate change must be strengthened.”

India is ranked 3 for the period between 1999-2018 for impacts both in terms of fatalities and US$ economic loss. However, when this is converted to fatalities per lakh population, India’s rank is 55 and when economic loss figure is converted to % of GDP, the rank is 58. The rank for all the countries and parameters are given in the end both in terms of rank for 2018 and for the period 1999-2018.

Global Map showing the CRI status, German Watch report, Dec 2019

The media should have noted that the CRI (Climate Risk Index) rank, however, was only based on limited data set and that too only for the year 2018. The Briefing Paper also gives Global CRI Index 2020, which is based on the climate impacts over the latest twenty years, 1999 to 2018 in the current case, and in the top ten at risk countries of the world does not include India.

In fact, except Philippines, none of the top ten CRI ranked countries of 2018 figure in the top ten CRI 2020 countries. CRI 2020 includes three South Asian countries: Pakistan (No 5), Bangladesh (No 7) and Nepal (No 9). It also includes three other South East Asian Countries besides Philippines (No 4): Myanmar (No 2), Vietnam (No 6) and Thailand (No 8). The remaining three countries in the CRI 2020 are: Puerto Rico (part of USA), Haiti and Dominica, all island countries in American continent. So no countries from Africa or Europe figure in this top ten CRI 2020 countries.

The report also does not fully capture the impacts of climate change on people in a country like India since it basically depends on “data from the Munich Re NatCatSERVICE, which is considered worldwide as one of the most reliable and complete databases on this matter”. But to what extent this data captures the vulnerabilities of large sections of Indian population including tribals, rainfed farmers, fisherfolk families, women or coastal & mountain communities, is unclear.

Glaring Errors The German Watch paper also carries some glaring errors. For example, it mentions Kerala floods of Aug 2018 as the top climate induced event of 2018 in India. It says it that context: “Over 220 000 people had to leave their homes, 20 000 houses and 80 dams were destroyed.” This is clearly WRONG, since 80 dams were not destroyed in Kerala floods, but 80 dams were involved in the flood disaster. In fact, almost none of the dams were destroyed, except one that was damaged. The report gives reference to The Guardian report of Aug 17 2018[v], but the Guardian report did not say that 80 dams were destroyed. Thus the German Watch report has somehow got this fact glaringly wrong.

It’s also erroneous to attribute all the impacts in Kerala during the Aug 2018 floods to climate change. In fact a huge proportion of it was due to dam mismanagement as SANDRP has shown. (see, among many other articles: https://sandrp.in/2018/10/04/role-of-dams-in-keralas-2018-floods/)

At another place the report says: “Due to the drought in the southern Indian state of Tamil Nadu and empty water reservoirs, Chennai, a city with over a million inhabitants, could only be supplied with water by trucks and trains.” The first glaring error here is that Chennai population is not one million but over ten million. Secondly, trucks and trains were not the ONLY sources of water for Chennai, it continues to get water from reservoirs and other sources, though in significantly less than normal quantities. In fact, less glamourous areas, like those in Marathwada were in much worse grip of water scarcity than Chennai, but they do not find any mention in the report. The report could have possibly avoided such glaring errors if there was a peer review process involving persons from respective countries.

Why can’t India produce such annual reports? The German Watch report accepts it is not all encompassing analysis: “The CRI does not provide an all-encompassing analysis of the risks of anthropogenic climate change, but should be seen as just one analysis explaining countries’ exposure and vulnerability to climate-related risks based on the most reliable quantified data available – alongside other analyses… However, the index must not be mistaken for a comprehensive climate vulnerability scoring. It represents one important piece in the overall puzzle of climate-related impacts and the associated vulnerabilities.”

Here the question arises, why can’t India produce such annual reports narrating the climate induced events and impacts in various parts of the country? In fact, every state should be able to prepare such reports. The National Disaster Management Authority and the State Disaster Management Authorities should be able to prepare such reports. It will be much more accurate account and it will also be helpful in better mitigation and management efforts for the various vulnerable sections of the population. One hopes this should be possible soon. It will help global agencies produce more accurate depiction of climate change impacts that Indian people suffer.

The year 2019 saw much worse and wide spread floods than what India saw in 2018, the number of cyclones that has hit India this year is much larger than what happened in 2019. May be this is the right time to start such an exercise.

SANDRP (ht.sandrp@gmail.com)

END NOTES:

[i] Germanwatch is a Bonn-based independent developmental and environmental organisation. Its report is an annual publication which evaluates the climate protection performance of 56 countries and the European Union, responsible for over 90% of global greenhouse gas emissions, according to the Times of India.

[ii] https://germanwatch.org/sites/germanwatch.org/files/20-2-01e%20Global%20Climate%20Risk%20Index%202020_10.pdf

[iii] For Example: https://indianexpress.com/article/india/india-5th-most-vulnerable-country-to-climate-change-global-climate-risk-index-cop25-madrid-6151322/

https://timesofindia.indiatimes.com/city/nagpur/india-saw-worlds-highest-climate-deaths-in-2018-report/articleshow/72374119.cms

[iv] The amount is based on Purchasing Power Parity basis, which is more realistic and comparable compared to nominal value.

[v] https://www.theguardian.com/world/2018/aug/17/kerala-floods-death-toll-rescue-effort-india

2 thoughts on “GermanWatch Report: Can India not assess its Climate Risk & Vulnerability?

  1. Dear author,
    We came across your article about our Global Climate Risk Index. First of all, let me say we are grateful and honoured that you took the effort to review our index in such depths. Hence, we took the time to address some or your concerns.

    a) to what extent this data captures the vulnerabilities of large sections of Indian population including tribals, rainfed farmers, fisherfolk families, women or coastal & mountain communities, is unclear.

    Reply: We do not claim to capture these vulnerabilities comprehensively. I am happy that you included a quote from the report that points that out. Let me add another quote here: “Particularly in relative terms, poorer developing countries are hit much harder. These results emphasise the particular vulnerability of poor countries to climatic risks, despite the fact that the absolute monetary losses are much higher in richer countries. Loss of life, personal hardship and existential threats are also much more widespread in low-income countries.” I am aware that India is a middle-income county and we will adjust communication in the future. We try to be very clear about limitations. Let me just add: during our launch press conference we started by telling journalists what the index can do and where shortcomings lie even before we presented the results.

    b) Due to the drought in the southern Indian state of Tamil Nadu and empty water reservoirs, Chennai, a city with over a million inhabitants, could only be supplied with water by trucks and trains

    c) This is clearly WRONG, since 80 dams were not destroyed in Kerala floods, but 80 dams were involved in the flood disaster. In fact, almost none of the dams were destroyed, except one that was damaged.

    Reply: These errors are unacceptable! Thank you very much for pointing us to them, we will correct them as fast as possible. However, I can assure you that they do not affect the data and India’s position in the rating.

    d) It’s also erroneous to attribute all the impacts in Kerala during the Aug 2018 floods to climate change

    Reply: We do not try to do this and feel we made that clear. However, we are sorry if this impression arose. We have a separate chapter on the advances and difficulties of attribution science. Furthermore, we disclose that our index does not do any attribution. However, events that have been attributed by scientists do show in our data.

    We are constantly revising and reviewing the index and are very grateful for input. We consider the index to be a useful instrument to start discussions we feel like we succeeded after reading your article. Since we only can give a worldwide overview and our regional expertise is certainly limited we fully support your demand to have regular regional, country and local comprehensive analyses – this is true for all countries in the world as climate change affects us all.

    Great to have a discussion with you!

    Best regards,
    Maik Winges on behalf of the authors

    Like

    1. Dear Maik Winges,

      Many thanks for taking the time to read and respond to the issues we raised. Its also great that you have accepted some of the gross errors that we noticed at a quick read through. I agree with your responses about issues of vulnerabilities, attribution and also data limitations. Thanks! This is great indeed.

      Will look forward to reading your reports in future too.

      Best wishes,
      Himanshu Thakkar

      Like

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