World Environment Day (WED) is celebrated on the 5th of June every year, and is the United Nation’s principal tool for encouraging awareness and action for the protection of the environment.

First convened in 1974, it has been a flagship campaign for raising awareness on the emerging environmental issues, such as marine pollution, overpopulation, and global warming, to sustainable consumption and wildlife crime. World Environment Day has grown to become a global platform for public outreach, with the participation of over 143 countries annually.

Each year, it has a new theme that major corporations, NGOs, communities, governments and celebrities worldwide adopt to advocate environmental causes. Even though the celebrations have been organised since 1974, in 1987 the idea for rotating the centre of these activities through selecting different host countries was set in motion. The theme for 2019 is “Beat Air Pollution”. The host nation is China.

The theme for 2018 was “Beat Plastic Pollution”. The host nation was India. By choosing this theme, it is hoped that people may strive to change their everyday lives to reduce the heavy burden of plastic pollution. People should be free from the over-reliance on single-use or disposables, as these can have severe environmental consequences. We should liberate from plastics our natural places, our wildlife, and our own health. Indians had pledged to eliminate all single use of plastic by 2022.

The theme for 2017 was ‘Connecting People to Nature’ ~ in the city and on the land, from the poles to the equator. The host nation was Canada. The Global Climate Risk Index 2018 report released on 9 November 2018 has referred to India’s intense heat waves, extreme rainfall and severe floods. The country has been labelled as the sixth most vulnerable in 2016 after Haiti, Zimbabwe, Fiji, Sri Lanka and Vietnam. It faces what they call “climate risk”.

India lost more people due to the impact of climate change than any other country and suffered the third highest financial loss from extreme weather conditions in 2016, says the report. The ranking released by the Germanwatch, an independent Berlin-based development and environmental organisation, in its latest global climate risk index (CRI) said the Index put the United States in the 10th position with Taipei, Macedonia and Bolivia being the three other vulnerable countries in the list of top ten.

The Germanwatch publishes the Climate Risk Index by analysing the number of deaths per 1,00,000 inhabitants, the extent of financial losses and loss per unit of GDP of the respective countries. India was at No. 4 in terms of CRI ranking last year. Economic and population data from IMF was taken into account. The CRI indicates a level of exposure and vulnerability to extreme climatic developments.

In its analysis, only weather related events ~ storms, floods and temperature extremes (heat and cold waves) ~ were incorporated. “Geological incidents like earthquakes, volcanic eruptions or tsunamis, for which data is also available, are not relevant in this context as they do not depend on the weather and therefore are not possibly related to climate change”, the report said.

The report noted that India had in 2016 lost the maximum number of human lives (2119) and over $21 billion worth of properties. The US had suffered the maximum financial loss (over $47 billion) last year. Analysing the relevant data of the 20 years (1997-2016), the CRI report found that the world had lost 5,24,000 people and suffered financial losses to the tune of $3.16 trillion as a direct result of more than 11,000 extreme weather events during the period.

The risk index 2019 released at the annual climate summit in the Polish city of Katowice shows that countries in South Asia are among the most vulnerable globally to the impact of climate change. India has been ranked the 14th most vulnerable nation improving its standing by three places compared to the previous edition in a list topped by Puerto Rico, which was ravaged by Hurricane Maria in 2017.

Sri Lanka was in the second place after Puerto Rico. Nepal was ranked the world’s fourth most vulnerable country in this latest edition of the index, while Bangladesh was ranked ninth Comparatively low levels of per capita Green House Gases (GHG) emissions and a relatively ambitious mitigation target for 2030 give India an overall high rating in the emissions category. Sweden and Morocco were the leading countries, with the latter recording a significant expansion of renewable energy.

Eight of the G20 countries performed poorly, the report said, adding that the US and Saudi Arabia were at the bottom of the Climate Change Performance Index 2019. In 2017 alone, there were 2,726 deaths in India that were directly related to extreme weather-related developments ~ heat waves, storms, floods and drought.

India suffered an economic loss of about $13.8 billion that year, the Global Climate Risk Index 2019 stated. Between 1998 and 2017, more than 526,000 people died worldwide and there were losses of $3.47 trillion as a result of more than 11,500 extreme “weather events”, said the index report. Globally, 11,500 people died and economic damage totalled some $375 billion, it said.

“Recent storms with intensity levels never seen before have had disastrous impacts,” said David Eckstein of Germanwatch, lead author of the index. “Poor countries are hardest hit. But extreme weather events also threaten the further development of upper middle-income countries and can even overburden high-income countries.”

Massive rainfall led to floods across Nepal, Bangladesh and India, affecting more than 40 million people. As many as 200 people died in these three countries and millions were displaced throughout the region, Germanwatch said. The floods spread across the foothills of the Himalayas resulted in landslides, destroying tens of thousands of houses, vast areas of farmland and roads.

Nepal experienced flash floods and landslides in August 2017 across the southern border with India, leading to $600 million in terms of destruction. In many of the countries that were acutely affected by natural disasters in the past year, severe floods and landslides followed unusually extreme rainfall. This was the case in Sri Lanka, where exceptionally heavy rain caused extensive floods that killed 200 people and left hundreds of thousands homeless.

The risk index was crafted on the NatCatSERVICE database of the reinsurance company, Munich Re, and socio-economic data of the IMF. There is increasing evidence on the link between El Niño and global warming. The occurrence of El Niño, a warm current in the Pacific Ocean, affects the monsoon in South Asia, which is vital for the summer cropping season.

The occurrence of such events could double in future due to climate change, the report had said earlier. The Australian meteorological department has predicted that there is evidence that El Niño is developing this year, and this could have an adverse impact on Indian farming, which is already in the midst of a crisis. Farmers have already taken to the streets in protest against their plight.

(The writer is former Senior Professor, International Trade. He may be reached at [email protected])