A dynamic per capita impact index can help nations narrow down on particular areas where human beings are suffering the most due to climate change, the major perpetrators of it and those who are being able to adapt to it
The impact of climate change is usually seen in relation to the adverse cumulative consequences witnessed around the world in the form of rising temperatures, extreme weather events and spiralling green house gas emissions. But seldom are the consequences of climate change whittled down to the individual level to understand the specific impact it has on the quality, prosperity and health of the individual. A dynamic per capita climate change impact index can help nations narrow down on particular areas where human beings are suffering the most due to climate change. This analysis can be taken to more interesting levels when one can dissect the per capita impact of climate change on the basis of demographics such as gender, occupation, geographical location and so on.
The assessment of the cost of climate change is always generalised. However, given the scale climate change is reaching in these times it is becoming crucial to quantify the same and understand how each individual in the country is dealing with the effects of climate change. In simple terms, how many are adapting to it and more importantly how many are succumbing to it.
Another important aspect is to also find out who are the highest per capita generators of climate change in the form of nations, who are generating the maximum per capita green house gas emissions.
A well-researched study on these dimensions will yield irrefutable evidence that some people in this world are paying the price for the high levels of carbon emissions being generated by somebody else.
In fact, given that not all people in the world are equally responsible for climate change, some sections of environmental scientists are already terming this as a climate related inequality. This new aspect needs more research and studies so that the exact responsibility is fixed on the nations and people who emit more carbon per person but preach to others about how to achieve a cleaner environment. Global environmental events such as the COP25 must focus on subjects of climate-related inequality in order to provide some much-needed relief and concessions to those individuals across the world who are suffering the most due to climate change and are doing the least to precipitate it. This will help in providing some much-needed achievement for the event.
For a nation like India, the utility of a per capita impact of climate change index for the population will have immeasurable benefits. The wide spectrum of people with various levels of economic class structure continue to suffer due to a plethora of problems, some man-made and some caused by climate change. The index can help in identifying and segregating those issues and problems that have been caused due to environmental degradation and climate change.
This is crucial, because it is only when the problem and its source is identified that it can be solved. Such an index must dwell upon a wide angle of costs being paid by an individual and a family. This could be social costs, health related issues or financial costs. Based on the index, the Government can then announce more meaningful policies and schemes that can alleviate the problems of the affected people.
The Government can then provide them relief and rehabilitation against the effects of climate change. This would possibly be the first of its kind initiative in the world where a Government provided relief and aid to an individual who suffered due to carbon emissions and lost his health or livelihood and became economically-challenged.
The rehabilitation of climate change-affected people is a very important aspect of adaptation. Though fighting for reduction of green house gas emissions, carbon footprint and encouraging sustainable energy development are critical for climate change mitigation, all these measures do little for those who have already fallen victim to the devastating effects of global warming and environmental degradation. This negates the humanitarian approach, which mandates that as humans we must first care for the fallen who were unable to escape the harmful impacts of climate change and lost everything. This approach will bring back humanity into the fight against climate change.
India — given its tropical location and not being part of the usual set of nations having a traditionally high level of carbon emissions — is in an ideal position to set the ball rolling and start an exhaustive research-backed national index on the per capita impact of climate change. This can encourage other nations in the southern hemisphere to follow suit. Before long, the world will have a clear demarcation between the emitters of green house gases and those who are paying the price for it. This will alter the symmetry in inter-nation climate change-related discussions and give developing nations a much-needed moral high ground to put forth their case convincingly.
(The writer is an environmental journalist)