Project at a glance

  • 7% – Current contribution of India to overall CO2 emissions globally
  • 2030 – When India’s CO2 emissions are expected to double over 2012 levels
  • 2300 – Number of locations within India where there will be projections of climate change impacts
  • $13,800 – Income threshold at which average Indians start to invest most heavily in cooling technology
  • 50% – Regions in India that will be in the high energy-use category by 2080

Weather and climate—the overall distribution of weather over time—shape the Indian economy. Temperature and precipitation affect diverse outcomes such as agricultural yields, human health, labor productivity, energy consumption, crime, and conflict. While the risks from global climate change in the coming century are pertinent across India’s economic sectors, weather shocks also pose clear and present dangers, as exemplified by the recent heat wave that has claimed over 2,500 Indian lives (Kopp et al., 2015). In turn, the future of the Earth’s atmosphere will be determined in large part by the growth trajectory of the Indian economy, which is expected to become one of the world’s largest emitters of Greenhouse Gases by the middle of this century.

Why this study

To address such present-day exigencies and the risks to the Indian population and economy in the future, this project aims at developing an empirical analysis of climate change and weather risks in India. This analysis will build upon a multi-year research agenda from the Climate Impact Lab that has developed cutting-edge methods for analysing climate risks and climate change adaptation opportunities for the entire globe.

India is one of the countries that are most vulnerable to climate change. Spurred by the impacts of recent heat waves, droughts, and floods, as well as  growing international pressure, India’s Prime Minister Narendra Modi recently urged the nation to take leadership in tackling the “pressing global problem” of climate change through mitigating actions like investment in renewable energy.

However, at present, policy decisions regarding both long-term mitigation and adaptation and near-term responses to weather shocks are made based on incomplete and speculative estimates of damages. Without better information, policy design and business investments cannot comprehensively take into account the role of climate — both today and in the coming decades.

Approach

This project employs and expands the empirical methodologies used in research papers on the United States economy (Hsiang et al. 2017) to one of the most populous and emerging economic powers. India, much like the United States, benefits from a rigorous research on climate impacts to build this project. However, a few gaps remain. Already assembled data allows researchers to address a number of these gaps.

Using the below-mentioned methods, this project will map out economy-wide current climate risks in India in high spatial detail, and also project future risks due to climate change, taking adaptation and its costs into account.

The study  will examine mortality outcomes in India in two ways. Firstly, it, we will report the sensitivity to heat from a contemporary analysis of heat and mortality in India. This will show places that are currently sensitive to high and low temperatures in India, and could inform an early warning system in cases of extreme heat. These results are based on a global analysis that uses data from nearly 40 countries, including India, to identify how people adapt to different environments, and how they invest in protection from exposure.

Secondly, the study will use data on the evolution of incomes and climate at hyper-local scales in India to project future sensitivities and impacts of changing temperatures on mortality. This means that for a range of pathways that the world’s emissions and future climate might evolve, the results will show the toll on human health in each year of the 21st century, all at local scales.

Expected outcomes

This method of analyzing climate risk will serve as a powerful tool to inform policymakers about where and how to direct resources to cope with extreme weather, where to invest to adapt to climate change in the future, and how much of that risk can be mitigated by adopting policies to reduce greenhouse gases today.

Energy is one of the most useful inputs for society to adapt to changing climates. In a simple example that is very relevant to India, air conditioner use has been shown to be effective at reducing the impacts of higher temperatures. Research from the United States and a handful of other countries has shown that energy demand for cooling increases on hot days. However, little research has been done in countries with income per capita levels similar to those of India. This research demonstrates that at such income levels, the demand for both heating and cooling is low. Our research shows that as India crosses an income threshold in the next decades, the demand for energy will increase dramatically, and so will the energy use for cooling on the hottest days. This has implications not only for the incomes and welfare of the Indian population individually, but also major implications for policy-makers who are designing the energy infrastructure of the coming century.