India's Eco-Woes Worsen: Carbon Emissions Climbing, Land Degradation Increasing, Water Table Falling

mumbai skyline photo

New construction in Mumbai has expanded rapidly, photo: Deepak Gupta via flickr.

A number of reports have come out in the past few days regarding the deteriorating state of India's environment -- planting 600,000 trees for a Guinness World Record aside. The nation's aggregate carbon emissions now top Japan's, 45% of the land is degraded, groundwater levels are dropping rapidly... Here are the details:India Now World's Fourth Largest Carbon Emitter
India's per capita carbon emissions remain very low -- about 1/20th of those in the United States and probably actually below what could be extended equitably to everyone on the planet -- but multiply those by one billion-plus people and it really adds up. And they're growing at twice the world average.

All that means that India has overtaken Japan as the world's fourth-largest emitter of carbon, with emissions one-quarter those of the United States and China.

More than 60% of that comes from the energy sector. Forests soak up about 11% of emissions, Mongabay points out, and India has recently indicated that it will be undertaking reforestation efforts to expand the nation's forest cover and combat climate change.

rice planting assam photo

Degraded soil and depleting groundwater, likely to be exacerbated by climate change, threatens future agricultural productivity. Rice planting in Assam, photo: Diganta Talukdar via flickr.
Land Degradation, Species Loss Rising
The third government report on the state of India's environment paints a grim picture, the Economic Times reports: "At least 45% of India's land area is degraded due to erosion, soil acidity, alkalinity and salinity, waterlogging and wind erosion."

Furthermore, particulate air pollution is on the rise in cities, hitting 110 million people, causing public health damage costs in 2004 of about $3 billion.

Though India's biodiversity remains great, 10% of its plants and animals are threatened with extinction.

india groundwater decline photo

India groundwater image: Adapted from National Geophysical Research Institute via ScienceNOW
Unsustainable Water Use Decreasing Groundwater
If that all weren't enough, intense irrigation across a 1,200 mile wide area of northern India, Pakistan and Bangladesh is depleting groundwater supplies at a rate of 1.5-4 inches per year. And that in an area where 600 million people live.

That's the word from ScienceNOW:

The big picture of Indian groundwater comes from the Gravity Recovery and Climate Experiment (GRACE) satellite mission, launched in March 2002 as a joint effort by the U.S. National Aeronautics and Space Administration and the German Aerospace Center. Actually two satellites orbiting in tandem 220 kilometers apart, GRACE measures subtle variations in the pull of Earth's gravity by using microwaves to precisely gauge the changing distance between the two spacecraft.

The area of land surveyed is the most heavily irrigated in the world, with 50-75% or more of land equipped with irrigation from groundwater or reservoir water.

This new data shows that groundwater is being withdrawn at a rate 70% faster in the past decade than in the 1990s.

Reuters quotes Matthew Rodell from NASA's Goddard Space Flight Center on the consequences of this:

If measures are not taken soon to ensure sustainable groundwater usage, the consequences...may include a reduction of agricultural output and shortages of potable water, leading to extensive socio-economic stresses.

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