KOLKATA: More than 50% people living in Kolkata and its suburbs — a staggering count of 12 million — will be flooded out of their homes if the upcoming climate summit in Paris fails to evolve an action plan to limit global warming to 2 degrees Celsius, says a worldwide survey. This will put Kolkata at the heart of one of the biggest climate refugee challenges as inundation of Bangladesh will force millions across the border.
This terrifying scenario may happen as early as 200 years from now. What’s worse, even if the world pledges to limit global warming to 2 degrees Celsius, 24% of people living in Kolkata and its suburbs — some 5.6 million — will still be driven homeless.
The 195-nation UN climate summit will be held in Paris between November 30 and December 11. This study is a wake-up call for the world.
The report — ‘Mapping Choices, Carbon, Climate and Rising Seas Our Global Legacy’ — was published by recently Climate Central, a non-profit organization that analyzes and reports on climate science. The study by Benjamin H Strauss, Scott Kulp and Anders Levermann says carbon emission causing 4 degrees Celsius warming could trigger enough sea level rise to submerge areas that are home to 470-760 million people globally.
As many as 12 million people in Kolkata will lose their homes in case of 4 degrees warming. Even a 2-degree rise will drive 5.6 million homeless. The study is based on 2010 population estimates, which puts the head count in Kolkata and its suburbs at 23 million.
Earlier, studies had predicted that while low-lying areas along the Hooghly will be vulnerable to tidal upsurge, exposed areas near Maidan and south Kolkata will be hit hard by cyclones.
Kolkata is going to be one of the worst affected, but neighbouring Howrah and Haldia will be nearly obliterated. As many as 96% of the population of Haldia and 60% in Howrah might lose their homes in the 4 degrees scenario. Among the other Indian cities, Mumbai is likely to be hit hard with the study predicting 10.8 million climate refugees.
“Carbon cuts resulting in the proposed international target of 2 degrees Celsius warming would reduce the risk… so that it would threaten areas now occupied by 130 million people,” it says. This might sound scary, but it’s the best case scenario. In cities such as Chittagong, Comilla and Dhaka in Bangladesh, 77%, 75% and 38% of the population might be rendered homeless due to sea level rise corresponding to the 4 degrees scenario.
“Rehabilitation will be a challenge for the administration in the days ahead because climate refugees from neighbouring Bangladesh will also head towards Bengal,” cautioned Anurag Danda, head of the climate change adaptation programme of WWF-India.
Environmental scientist Asish Ghosh recalled a study they had done with WWF-India on the impact of climate change in different wards of Kolkata. “We had invited the mayor for a discussion on the possible solutions, but didn’t get any reply from him,” he said. According to Ghosh’s study, the 150 large industrial plants lined up along the banks of the Hooghly near Kolkata account for 30% of the total industrial effluent pumped into the river.
Among all the nations, China will suffer the worst in case of a 4-degree rise since 145 million people today live on land that will be inundated . India and Bangladesh come next with 55 million and 48 million people under threat. Among the other Indian cities that will be hit are Kakinada and Machilipatnam in Andhra Pradesh, Odisha’s Puri, Tamil Nadu’s Chennai and Kerala’s Cochin.