Maharashtra, Tamil Nadu in world’s top 50 regions at high risk due to climate change: report

9 Indian States feature on a “world-first” index that assesses the risk posed to built environment across the world due to extreme weather events.

Nine out of 50 regions in the world facing high climate risk to a fragile physical infrastructure fall in India, according to a new ranking released on February 20. Bihar (22nd spot), Uttar Pradesh (25th), Assam (28th), Rajasthan (32nd), Tamil Nadu (36th), Maharashtra (38th), Gujarat (48th), Punjab (50th) and Kerala (52nd) are among the most vulnerable in the country, with the index identifying the economic capital Mumbai to be at notable risk as well.

The report, titled “Gross Domestic Climate Risk”, was released on Monday by the Cross Dependency Initiative (XDI), a global organisation specialising in climate risk analysis for regions, banks and companies. The index calculated the ‘physical climate risk’ to built environments such as buildings and properties across 2,600 States and provinces globally in 2050.

Physical risk refers to vulnerability from eight climate change events: heat waves, coastal flooding (and sea level rise), extreme wind, forest fire, soil movement (or other drought-related hazards), free thaw, riverine and surface flooding. The report compared the risk across territories based on modelled projections of damage, using global climate models, local weather and environmental data.

Together, the index assigned an Aggregated Damage Ratio (ADR) to each region, which signifies the total amount of damage a region’s built environment would sustain in 2050. A high ADR signifies more peril. According to the report, Assam, Bihar and Tamil Nadu had the highest ADR among other Indian States. Assam, in particular, would witness the maximum increase of climate risk: rising up to 330% by 2050 as compared to 1990.

“This is the first time there has been a physical climate risk analysis focused exclusively on the built environment, comparing every state, province and territory in the world,” said XDI CEO Rohan Hamden in a statement on Monday. “Since extensive built infrastructure generally overlaps with high levels of economic activity and capital value it is imperative that the physical risk of climate change is appropriately understood and priced.”

“Now – for the first time – the finance industry can directly compare Mumbai, New York and Berlin using a like-for-like methodology.” The report’s modelling is conducted under the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change’s RCP 8.5 scenario – a scenario projecting high emissions, consistent with average global warming over 3 degree C above pre-industrial temperatures by the end of the century.

Overall, India, China and the U.S. — “globally significant states” — are home to 80% of the most vulnerable cities and centres of economic activity around the world. Two of China’s largest sub-national economies – Jiangsu and Shandong – top the global ranking; followed by the U.S. which has 18 regions in the top 100 list; including economically-important regions of Florida, Texas and California. Asia dominates the list largely, with 114 of the top 200 regions falling in the continent, with the mention of Pakistan, Indonesia and most South East Asian countries. “Devastating flooding between June and August 2022 affected 30% of the area of Pakistan and has partially or fully damaged more than 900,000 houses in Sindh province,” the report said.

Notably, the most damage posed to built infrastructure globally is caused by “riverine and surface flooding or flooding combined with coastal inundation”, the report pointed out. Assam has witnessed an experienced exponential increase in flood events since 2011, and it had 15 of India’s 25 districts most vulnerable to climate change, the State’s State’s Science, Technology and Climate Change Minister Keshab Mahanta told the Assembly last September. Further, 11 of the 36 districts in Maharashtra were found to be “highly vulnerable” to extreme weather events, droughts and dwindling water security, according to a 2021 report.

The Climate Risk Index in 2019, which ranked countries based on their vulnerability to fatalities and economic losses, found India to be the seventh-worst hit due to extreme weather events. Another report in 2022 by the Centre for Science and Environment found India recorded the most extreme weather events in 2022; there was a disaster on 247 out of 273 days between January 1 to September 30.

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