A large majority of surveyed people or 85% in India have reported that they have personally experienced the effects of global warming, and this number has gone up by 11 percentage points since 2021-’22, a new report by the Yale Program on Climate Change Communication shows. Further, about one in three of the 2,178 respondents (34%) said that they have either already moved or considered moving because of weather-related disasters such as extreme heat, drought, sea-level rise and flooding.

India is experiencing a sweltering summer with maximum temperature crossing 50 degrees Celsius in some parts of the country. Global warming caused by humans is advancing at 0.26 degrees Celsius per decade – the highest rate since records began. Human-induced warming has risen to 1.19 degrees Celsius over the past decade (2014-2023), an increase from the 1.14 degrees Celsius seen during 2013-2022.

The recent general elections were held in this scorching summer. Climate change and environmental concerns did make it to the manifestos of India’s two largest parties this election season although environmental issues did not dictate the discourse. This, while new research shows Indians being concerned about the effects of climate change on their lives and livelihoods.

Climate change worry

Climate change-induced migration has been a concern for South Asia and research shows that climate change is either directly displacing people or accentuating their hardship resulting in distress migration.

Rivers eroding banks in Bangladesh, flooding in Pakistan and India, melting glaciers in Nepal, rising seas in India and Bangladesh, periods of unusually dry months followed by heavier than normal rains on rice and tea estates in Sri Lanka, or cyclones and inhospitable temperatures across all countries are contributing to climate-induced migration.

Further, 45 million people could be displaced in India by 2050 due to slow-onset impacts such as the ones mentioned above if climate pledges and targets are not met, the December 2020 report by Climate Action Network, South Asia had stated.

This is also reflected in the Yale study which found that large majorities of people in India are worried about various environmental hazards including agricultural pests and diseases (87%), extinction of plant and animal species (86%), severe heat waves (85%), droughts and water shortages (85%), severe air pollution (85%), famines and food shortages (83%), severe cyclones (76%), and severe floods (71%). And many people believe these effects will only increase.

This report is based on findings from a nationally representative survey of adults in India conducted by the Yale Program on Climate Change Communication and the Centre for Voting Opinion & Trends in Election Research (CVoter). The survey recorded the responses of 2,178 adults between September and November last year. The respondents included a diverse mix of people on grounds of gender, age, literacy, income, caste and region.

About one in three people in India, as we said, reported that they have either already moved or considered moving because of weather-related disasters such as extreme heat, droughts, sea-level rise, flooding, or others. This includes 14% who said they have already moved and 20% who said they have considered moving to a different village, town or city.

This is not surprising when most people believe it will take them a long time to recover from the effects of say, a flood or drought.

Surveyors found that 75% of the respondents said it would take their household several months or more to recover from a severe flood, and 85% said it would take several months or more to recover from a severe drought.

Migration takes many forms in India and climate change-induced migration is one. For example, the uncertainty of life and livelihoods has been forcing many to migrate from Assam’s temporary silt islands due to recurrent floods in the Brahmaputra river.

Central India’s water-stressed Bundelkhand region had water availability and migration as core issues this election season, as every election. People often migrate for lack of work in their villages and work in brick kilns despite climate change-induced extreme heat, we reported from Uttar Pradesh.

“India is already experiencing climate impacts, from record heatwaves to severe floods to stronger storms,” said Anthony Leiserowitz of Yale University. “While many in India still do not know much about global warming, they overwhelmingly think the climate is changing and are worried about it.”

Researchers who interviewed people from over 1,000 households from Uttar Pradesh, Madhya Pradesh and Rajasthan had found that more than two-thirds of households pointed to drought as a reason they migrated to seek work elsewhere, almost a quarter listed flooding and nearly 10% listed hailstorms.

In 2019, India had the highest number of people displaced internally due to disasters at around 5 million, the Global Report on Internal Displacement 2020 found. This is “the highest figure in the world and the result of a combination of increasing hazard intensity, high population exposure and high levels of social and economic vulnerability”, the report said.

Climate change-induced disasters, displacement, and migration increase the burden on women considerably. When a male member of the family migrates, women are burdened with the dual responsibility of agriculture and unpaid care of family members. As families migrate, they also end their link with the land.

The Indian government has already committed to becoming carbon neutral by 2070 and has ambitious near-term climate pledges for 2030. Most respondents agreed with the Indian government’s climate goals but believed the government needs to do much more.

The survey showed that 85% of people said transitioning from coal to wind and solar energy to produce electricity will reduce air pollution, and 82% said doing so would reduce global warming. However, 61% said doing so will increase unemployment in India, 58% said it will cause electricity outages and 57% said it will increase electricity prices.

Nearly 80% respondents said that the government of India should be doing either “much more” (61%) or “more” (16%) to address global warming. The percentage of people who want the government to do much more is 15 percentage points higher than in 2021-’22. By contrast, only 10% said that the government is currently doing the right amount to address global warming, and 9% said the government should be doing either less to address the issue.

India’s per capita coal emissions have increased by 29% in the past seven years, even though it is not in the list of the world’s topmost emitters. Union environment minister Bhupender Yadav, after taking charge of the ministry once again on June 11, told mediapersons that the government is “taking environment and development together” and that the government would continue to emphasise on Mission Lifestyle for Environment which emphasises people’s climate-positive behaviour.

This article first appeared on IndiaSpend, a data-driven and public-interest journalism non-profit.