Editorial Notes

[Editorial Notes] Threats of Sea Level Rising

Climate change is often called ‘threat multiplier’ which tends to worsen the poverty, conflict and adverse effects of globalization. There are multiple effects of climate change and its entanglement with other natural and man-made problems make it a bigger challenge.
By IASToppers
November 11, 2019


  • Introduction:
  • Sea Level projections
  • Effects of sea level rise
  • What should India’s policies be?
  • Can India achieve these targets?
  • Conclusion

Threats of Sea Level Rising

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The climate change is forcing people around the world to migrate. The migration figures range from tens of millions to hundreds of millions but the accurate figure is difficult to estimate as the climate is entangled with other problems. People may move because of drought, violence, degradation of local ecosystems, war or job loss which are getting worse by the climate change.

Sea Level Rising

Sea Level projections

  • Getting accurate sea level rise (SLR) projections has always been difficult.
  • Along with expansion of warm waters and melting of glaciers, subsidence of land also increases relative SLR.


  • Models for glacier melt are not as well developed as other models that study global warming.
  • SLR projections going beyond 2050 are therefore not as accurate as those until mid-century.
  • There is broad agreement that if high emissions of greenhouse gases (GHGs) were to continue, average global SLR could be as high as two metres by the end of this century.

Effects of sea level rise

The past studies based on NASA’s Shuttle Radar Topography Mission (SRTM) database underestimated the land and people affected by SLR because tree-tops and tall buildings caused errors in SLR assessments but new study shows a total different picture.

Findings of new study by Scott Kulp and Benjamin Strauss, published in Nature Communications

  • The various effects from SLR i.e. coastal flooding, salt water intrusion into land, destruction of coastal infrastructure, communities and ecosystems will be much more than anticipated.
  • It points out that 36 million people will be annually affected by coastal flooding.
  • In Bangladesh only 42 million people will be threatened.
  • In a scenario that limits warming to 2°C above average pre-industrial temperatures then about 150 million people worldwide will be permanently below the high tide line along the coast by 2050, and by 2100, the numbers will rise to 360 million people.
  • The coastal cities such as Alexandria, Ho Chi Minh City, Basra and Shanghai are among the most vulnerable and large portions of Mumbai and Kolkata will be fully submerged by 2050.
  • About a billion people reside on land along the coast going up to an elevation of 10 metres (the low elevation coastal zone) and the bulk of them i.e. more than two thirds are below the five-metre elevation.

Asian region found to be at risk from coastal events

  • Most of the people of Asian region found to be at risk from coastal events such as people residing in countries like China, Bangladesh, India, Vietnam, Indonesia, Thailand, the Philippines and Japan.
  • There are 20 countries (13 of which are small island nations) other than Asia and Netherlands in which more than a tenth of their population are expected to reside below the high tide line by 2100, and this is with deep cuts to emissions. 

What should India’s policies be?

  • Protecting the coast through measures such as natural barriers, levees, flood barriers and even hard barriers. 
  • Stopping infrastructure construction along the coast and integrating anticipated SLR effects into coastal planning are essential.
  • Planning for retreat from the most vulnerable areas well ahead of time is essential.
  • Urban policies should integrate proposals for new migrants especially in mid-size towns.
  • The preparation with regional policies for labour, regional agreements for migration and for advance skill development is required.
  • To collaborate and build regional partnerships, the coordinated management of extreme events, advance preparation for migration into mid-size towns and better ecosystem support in the hinterland are useful ways.
  • The rights, services and policies need to be applied to all migrants since migrants in general cannot be distinguished from climate migrants. Countries like Australia are blamed for creating multiple level of migrants based on their reasons for moving and places of origin.

Can India achieve these targets?

  • It seems that these are impossible goals to set for India, but that is a short-sighted perspective.
  • India’s long history has shown that the subcontinent has always been a place that welcomes people. 
  • Investing in the rural economy, reducing unemployment, reducing poverty and improving measures for sustainability can improve people’s lives and increase their resilience and openness to “others”.


The protests across the world by people of all ages show that there is fervour for transformation to deal with the climate crisis. This is India’s historic moment to act decisively.


Mains 2020 Editorial Notes

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