Climate Change Is Top Threat to India's Economy, Modi Aide Says

  • Poor monsoon rains hurting farm incomes and causing distress
  • Creating jobs among other challenges for Modi-led government

India's Sinha 'Confident' Can Meet Fiscal Deficit Goal

Climate change is the top threat to the world’s fastest growing major economy as erratic monsoon rains cause distress in a sector that employs more than half of India’s billion-plus population, the country’s junior finance minister said.

"The number one risk we face is global climate change because we are still very dependent on the monsoon," Jayant Sinha, a Harvard Business School graduate who formerly worked with McKinsey, said in an interview. "The age-old patterns are changing, which is affecting our farming and creating a lot of agricultural distress."

Prime Minister Narendra Modi is grappling with how to fight off the harmful effects of climate change while still providing jobs and electricity to a growing population. India, a nation with some of the world’s dirtiest air and 400 million people without access to electricity, is also the world’s third-biggest polluter after China and the U.S.

Modi has imported key food staples as India’s driest monsoon since 2009 left vast tracts of farmland parched and hurt output of rice, sugar and corn. More than 60 percent of India’s agriculture is rain-fed, making production highly vulnerable to rising temperatures and changes in rainfall patterns, according to a report by the Indian Council for Research on International Economic Relations.

Jobs Needed

India was the last major economy to release its emission cut plans for the latest round of United Nations-backed talks on climate change due to culminate in December in Paris.

Modi has pledged to spend 500 billion rupees over five years to expand irrigation as he seeks to help farmers improve crop yields and feed the nation’s 1.25 billion people. He also plans to install 100 gigawatts of solar capacity by 2022, up from less than 4 gigawatts now.

South Asia is more at risk than any other region to natural disasters, rising sea levels and disruptive seasonal patterns, according to the Asian Development Bank. Warmer temperatures could reduce rice production in India and Bangladesh, and water demand in India may outstrip supply by more than 40 percent, according to the report.

A 2 degree Celsius (35.6 Fahrenheit) rise in the world’s average temperatures will make India’s summer monsoon "highly unpredictable" and double the need for food imports, the World Bank said in a 2013 report. Already about 15 percent of India’s groundwater is overexploited, it said, and the financial hub of Mumbai has the world’s largest population exposed to coastal flooding.

Sinha said the other major risk was creation of jobs. India is projected to have the world’s youngest population by 2020, with 64 percent of the people in the working-age group.

"What we are very worried about is job growth because we have a lot of young people, 10-12 million people, joining the workforce every year," Sinha said. "We have to create good jobs for them."

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