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It is estimated that over 62 million people in South Asia may be forced to migrate by 2050 due to slow-onset climate disasters like sea-level rise, water stress, ecosystem loss and drought. In 2018, nearly 14 million people in India migrated due to these events, and the number is expected to treble if current nationally determined contributions are not enhanced.
Dr. Kalandi Charan Pradhan is an Assistant Professor in the discipline of Economics at the School of Humanities and Social Sciences, Indian Institute of Technology Indore. His research interests include climate change, migration studies, development economics, sustainable development and applied econometrics.
In an interview conducted over email, Pradhan talks about the relationship between climate change and migration, states in India particularly vulnerable to it, and what the government can do to reduce it.
Prasanta Patri (PP): Can you throw some light on where India stands today with respect to climate change?
Kalandi Pradhan (KP): As per Govt of India’s climate change assessment report, it is evident that due to greenhouse gas emissions India’s average temperature has increased sharply by 0.7 degrees Celsius in the period from 1901-2020; it is further projected to rise by around 4.4 degree Celsius by the end of 2100. This rising temperature will have an adverse impact on various dimensions such as food, water, energy security, agriculture productivity, public health etc.
PP: Is climate change forcing people to migrate? If yes, how?
KP: India being a developing country – the majority of the people depend on internal/international migration for their substantial livelihood strategies. According to the 2011 census survey, around 450 million internal migrants were enumerated, which was around 37 per cent of the total population.
Although there are many factors such as socioeconomic and demographic factors that induce labour migration, climate change plays a major role to drive temporary labour migration in recent periods through the agriculture channel. For example, erratic and inadequate rainfall causes low productivity in agriculture that leads to output loss and loss of employment opportunities in rural India.
Therefore, directly or indirectly, climate change is forcing people to migrate and to work in the nearest city or outside of the states as a temporary migrant. Loss of agricultural output, loss of livestock and damages of durable assets due to events induced by climate change is also causing a lot of migration.
PP: How many people in India are displaced due to climate change and extreme climatic events?
KP: Unfortunately, climate-related migration data is not adequately available for India. However, some sources have highlighted around 1.4 crore people displaced resulting from climate risk such as natural disasters, floods, drought, cyclone etc. in India. Nevertheless, some primary studies/ surveys have been conducted to establish the relationship between climate change and labour migration in India.
PP: Which regions in the country stand at particular risk due to climate change? and what are some of the groups that are more vulnerable?
KP: Based on the National Climate Vulnerability Assessment report, India, the regions most susceptible to climate risk are Odisha, Jharkhand, Arunachal Pradesh, West Bengal, Mizoram, Assam, Bihar and Chhattisgarh. The different rounds of NSSO and Census data also corroborate the same.
The people in the country that are most vulnerable to the risks posed by climate change are those that depend on climate-sensitive sectors, such as agriculture and forests for their livelihoods.
PP: What legal frameworks apply to environmentally induced population movement?
KP: This is a very interesting as well as an emerging question to raise in the Indian context. We don’t have substantial evidence regarding the sharp increase in population movement due to climate change. Although in some states like Bangladesh and Maldives, hundreds of millions of people have been displaced for a long, due to sea-level rise and land degradation caused by global warming. They (climate change-induced migrants) are presently known as refugees; yet they don’t obtain any benefit under international laws today, even if they are not able to fulfil minimum conditions to be treated as refugees
PP: Is India paying enough attention to the issue of climate migration
KP: Not adequately.
PP: What are the areas/issues the government should particularly be focusing on with respect to it?
KP: As far as the Indian context is concerned, population moment/displacement due to climate change (sea-level rise and land degradation) change has been taking place in a few places in coastal states like the Sundarban region of West Bengal, Kerala and Gujarat etc. Therefore, the government must pay attention and take some major steps as follows: