India: combustible mix

There was an HSBC report out last year arguing how India was the country most vulnerable to climate change. Earlier a UN commissioned report pointed at climate change as one of the great drivers of the Arab spring.

Both the Middle East and India combine climate change effects on agriculture with unsustainable population growth. It is an explosive mix and economists cannot possibly assume that India will under these circumstances grow into a notable geopolitical factor without a solution to all climate related issues.

India is facing a combination of climate change issues: drought, unpredictable monsoons and coastal flooding. Most of the population of Mumbai and other coastal cities face flooding. Delhi often suffers from a toxic cloud of smog that kills thousands each year. In 2015, a quarter of the world’s undernourished population resides in India and 44% of children are underweight. Meanwhile growth is king, farmland is being sacrificed to urban development and deforestation (14 million acres of forest is lost each year).

The Arab spring was powered by climate change and population growth: loss of arable land lead to a rapidly growing urban population largely of unemployed youths who had their ambitions thwarted by corrupt officials. Additionally in Syria, divisions between ethnic and religious groups were and are actively stoked by politicians. The result is that more than half of the population is a refugee, almost half of those fled the country. I don’t think that scenario will play out in India to such a scale but the mix of factors driving conflict all are in place.

One of the great things about India though are the values stressing peace, cooperation and harmony. Triggers sufficient to cause real upheaval are and were present. So far though there is no wider combusion and the world must hope that India maintains its cool. But it certainly can’t continue the way it is doing now.