Climate Security in India
“There can be no genuine security if the planet is ravaged by climate change”
~ Anthony Charles Lynton
Climate: A Security Threat Multiplier?
As the geopolitical world order grapples with the havoc and chaos unleashed and exacerbated by climatic change, our lens turns towards climate security issues pertaining to India and what the domino effect of climate change would be on its national security.
Scholars have pointed toward the climate-induced insurgency of Boko Haram, which has served as a beckoning call for locals to support violence against the state. This has drawn a parallel with Central India and other ‘ecologically sensitive’ zones affected by left-wing extremism, and how climatic change can render the state weak and lead to a deterioration of social security.
Infrastructural impairment of state facilities such as nuclear plants, electricity grids, and defence establishments particularly along coastlines is a cause of concern due to their enhanced vulnerability to climatic stress. Nuclear facilities in particular are time intensive and have the capacity for causing widespread damage, as was witnessed during the Fukushima Daiichi nuclear disaster of 2011.
Interlinkages between Climate Change and National Security: The Indian Context
As the world’s most densely populated nation, India also remains susceptible to the increased spread of communicable and non-communicable diseases such as malaria and chikungunya which are slated to intensify with the onset of climate change. The visible increase in human-wildlife interaction due to the loss of natural habitats could further induce public health crises, as evident during the ongoing pandemic.
India’s ambitious pledge at the recently held COP26 Summit in Glasgow to achieve net-zero emissions targets by the year 2070 has been widely hailed as a requisite to ensure the stability of future generations. However, the watering-down of India’s climate security commitments was evidently showcased when India voted to ‘phase down’ its anti-coal commitments rather than completely phase them out. Clangs of disappointment at the failure of the COP26 summit to conceptualise impactful resolutions rung far and wide across the globe.
While India justified its policy framework as a bid to cater to the economic prosperity of the one-third of the Indian population currently oppressed by the phenomenon of poverty, the repercussions of its delay in adopting meaningful measures to tackle climate hazards would only grow costlier in terms of population and national security, alongside economic security.
As cyclonic events become a regular phenomenon in the nation, India is increasingly feeling the brunt of the economic implications of climate change. The disastrous aftermath of Cyclone Amphan, which hit parts of India in 2020, caused infrastructural damage worth $13 billion while affecting 13 million people. The cost of heat waves, erratic flash floods and cyclones are slated to decrease the agricultural productivity of districts experiencing such environmental conditions, which would reduce their GDP by 56% of those states which are in ‘climate safe zones’.
In terms of future projections, the rise in global temperatures owing to greenhouse gas emissions is projected to increase up to 4 degrees Celsius at the current pace, which would reduce India’s GDP by 13.4% by 2100. The declining agricultural productivity rates owing to the collapse of ecological zones and increasing state-based health expenditures are further slated to cost India between 3-10% of its annual gross domestic product.
On India’s national security front, the ‘accumulative’ effects of such climate disasters pose significant dangers to India’s military and security capacities. As the temperature of the Indian Ocean ascends on a gradual scale and illegal mining activities and hydroelectric operations near the Himalayas continue destabilising the landmass, the humanitarian assistance missions of the military are projected to significantly increase in the near future. The Indian military’s conduction of the Humanitarian Aid and Disaster Relief exercise under the expertise of its military personnel, while an act of goodwill towards the service of the nation, also reflects the reality of more and more personnel being pulled away from their assignment of maintaining border security, even as India continues to be embroiled in territorial spats with two of its immediate neighbours.
Meanwhile, internal law and order security concerns are also heightened in the face of increasing resource scarcity caused by ecological sensitivity to climate change. India currently ranks as the world’s ‘13th most water-stressed country in the world while the Niti Aayog index report of 2018 states that India’s lowest-performing states on the water index are home to 50% of the population. The ongoing Cauvery water dispute is a stark reminder of the threat that resource-based conflicts pose to the internal security of a nation. Analysts have also drawn comparisons to the conditions of drought in Syria which was a contributing factor to the communal riots which persist today.
Other security complications arise over political decisions on the construction of artificial arrangements such as dams over ecologically sensitive zones, as evident through China’s construction of dams in Tibet, which gives the nation strategic leverage over India’s interests. The persisting problems of climate-induced migration from Bangladesh, particularly in the northeastern states of India, have been a source of contention with regard to cultural animosity and economic occupational scarcity.
India’s strategic location in a biologically diverse region allows it to harness an environmentally sustainable modicum of power in the form of solar or wind energy which can ensure India’s progression along the ladder of environmental consciousness. However, sustainable efforts toward climate efficiency need to be ensured in the policymaking process. As reflected, climate security threats are multi-dimensional with the ability to impact all sections of society, which require multi-pronged approaches to secure the future of humanity.
Yash Vardhan Singh, ‘Climate Change: A National Security Threat Multiplier’ (IPCS, 17 March, 2020) <https://reliefweb.int/report/india/climate-change-national-security-threat-multiplier> accessed 12 June, 2022
Arjun Gargeyas, ‘Climate Change is the Biggest Threat to Indian Ocean Security’ (The Diplomat, 31 August, 2021) <https://thediplomat.com/2021/08/climate-change-is-the-biggest-threat-to-indian-ocean-security/> accessed 12 June, 2022
Mohak Gambhir, ‘Climate Change and its Implications on India’s National Security’ (2021) No. 281 Centre for Law and Welfare Studies Issue Brief <https://www.claws.in/static/IB-281_Climate-Change-and-its-Implications-on-India%E2%80%99s-National-Security.pdf> accessed 14 June, 2022
Suparna Sharma, ‘India’s Gen Z Climate Warriors’ (Al Jazeera, 19 November, 2021) <https://www.aljazeera.com/features/longform/2021/11/19/after-cop26-letdown-can-indias-gen-z-climate-warriors-prevail> accessed 15 June, 2022
Dhanasree Jayaram, ‘Climate Security in South Asia’ (2021) IPCS Policy Brief <https://www.planetarysecurityinitiative.org/news/climate-security-south-asia-why-it-matters-india> accessed 15 June, 2022
Angela Picciariello, Sarah Colenbrander, Amir Bazaz and Rathin Roy, ‘The Costs of Climate Change in India’ (2021) ODI Literature Review <https://odi.org/en/publications/the-costs-of-climate-change-in-india-a-review-of-the-climate-related-risks-facing-india-and-their-economic-and-social-costs/> accessed 15 June, 2022
Authored by Harshita Khaund
Edited by Khushi Jaiswal