NEW DELHI, INDIA – India, one of the largest agrarian economies in the world, is deeply at risk from climate change, and could see economic losses of up to 8.7% of its gross domestic product (GDP) by 2100 if the world fails to respond to a host of climate threats, says a new Asian Development Bank (ADB) climate and economics report for South Asia.

“Agriculture provides employment and livelihood opportunities to most of India’s rural population and changes in temperature and rainfall, and an increase in floods and droughts linked to climate change, would have a devastating impact on people’s food security, incomes, and lives,” said Bindu Lohani, ADB Vice-President for Knowledge Management and Sustainable Development.

The report, titled Assessing the Costs of Climate Change and Adaptation in South Asia, predicts the six countries—Bangladesh, Bhutan, India, the Maldives, Nepal, and Sri Lanka—will see an average annual economic loss of 1.8% of their collective GDP by 2050, rising sharply to 8.8% by 2100.

Without changes to current global behavior, India would see economic losses equivalent to 1.8% of annual GDP by 2050, widening to 8.7% by the end of the century. But if mitigation and adaptation steps are taken to keep the temperature rise below 2ºC, the damage could be kept below 2% by 2100.

India is vulnerable in many areas including its economically critical agriculture sector, with the report noting that while changes in rainfall patterns are likely to benefit rice output in most northeastern states, southern states could see annual yields decline by 5% in the 2030s, 14.5% in the 2050s, and 17% in the 2080s. The country has 8,000 kilometers of coastline and nearly half the country’s 28 states could face serious consequences from a rise in the sea level, with Gujarat expected to suffer the highest level of inundation, and Maharashtra the largest number of affected people.

With glacial and snow retreat in the Himalayas, many of the semi-arid mountains, inhabited by some 170 million people, will lose some of their local springs and streams, essential to villages and livestock grazing, while higher temperatures and prolonged droughts will put immense strain on limited water resources and increase competition between the agriculture and energy sectors. Currently irrigation water accounts for 85% of total water demand and this is expected to keep rising.

The cost of climate change adaptation in South Asia will depend largely on how the global community tackles the issue, the report says, noting that if the world continues on its current path, South Asia will need to spend at least $73 billion, or an average of 0.86% of its GDP, every year between now and 2100 on adaptation measures. On the other hand, if countries act together to keep the rise in global temperatures below 2.5°C, the cost of shielding the region from the worst of the impacts would be nearly halved to around $40.6 billion, or 0.48% of GDP.

The report does not provide detailed adaptation costs on a country basis but in the energy sector it notes that a rising gap between demand and supply could see India face an annual adaptation bill of nearly $8 billion in the 2030s, rising sharply to nearly $22 billion in the 2050s.

The report also details adaptation measures that countries should consider in responding to climate threats, including the use of drought, flood and saline-resistant crop varieties, more integrated coastal zone management, increased efficiencies in the energy sector, improved disease and vector surveillance, and more protection of groundwater resources and greater use of recycled water.

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