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Heatwaves in India

Climate change may keep India from achieving its sustainable development goals
Katie Hill - Editor-in-Chief, My Green Pod
Indians brave the heat wave at the bank of Sangam, the confluence of Holy river Ganges , Yamuna and mythical Saraswati during the hot summer day in Prayagraj, India

Heatwaves in India are increasing in frequency, intensity and lethality, burdening public health, agriculture and other socio-economic and cultural systems.

A study published in PLOS Climate by Ramit Debnath at University of Cambridge, United Kingdom and colleagues suggests that heatwaves made more likely by climate change may impede India’s progress toward its sustainable development goals.

India’s SDGs

India has committed to achieving 17 United Nations Sustainable Development Goals (SDG), including no poverty, good health and wellbeing and decent work and economic growth.

However, current climate vulnerability assessments may not fully capture how heatwaves linked to climate change may impact SDG progress.

In order to analyse India’s climate vulnerability, and how climate change may impact SDG progress, researchers conducted an analytical evaluation of India’s heat index (HI) with its climate vulnerability index, (CVI) a composite index using various indicators to account for socioeconomic, livelihood and biophysical factors.

They accessed a publicly available dataset on state-level climate vulnerability indicators from the Indian Government’s National Data & Analytics Platform to classify severity categories.

The researchers then compared India’s progress in SDG over 20 years (2001-2021) with extreme weather-related mortality from 2001-2021.

Heatwaves slow progress

The researchers found that heatwaves have weakened SDG progress more than previously estimated and that current assessment metrics may not sufficiently capture the nuances of India’s vulnerabilities to climate change impacts.

For instance, in estimating HI, the study shows that nearly 90% of the country is in danger zone from heatwave impact.

According to CVI, around 20% of the country is highly vulnerable to climate change.

Similar effects were observed for the national capital, where HI estimates shows almost all of Delhi is threatened by severe heatwave impacts, which is not reflected in its recent state action plan for climate change.

However, this study had several limitations, for example the incongruent timeframe for CVI data (2019-2020) and heat index data (2022). Future studies should incorporate more recent data.

‘This study shows that heatwaves make more Indian states vulnerable to climate change than previously estimated with the CVI. The heatwaves in India and the Indian subcontinent become recurrent and long-lasting, it is high time that climate experts and policymakers reevaluate the metrics for assessing the country’s climate vulnerability. This offers a scope for developing a holistic vulnerability measure through international cooperation and partnership.

‘Heat waves are getting more intense in India, putting 80% of the country’s people in danger, which remains unaccounted for in its current climate vulnerability assessment. If this impact is not addressed immediately, India can slow its progress towards sustainable development goals.’


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