Climatic Change

, Volume 147, Issue 1–2, pp 195–209 | Cite as

Groundwater depletion limits the scope for adaptation to increased rainfall variability in India

  • Ram FishmanEmail author


Recent studies have found that increasing intra-seasonal precipitation variability will lead to substantial reductions in rice production in India by 2050, independently of the effect of rising temperatures. However, these projections do not account for the possibility of adaptations, of which the expansion of irrigation is the primary candidate. Using historical data on irrigation, rice yields, and precipitation, I show that irrigated locations experience much lower damages from increasing precipitation variability, suggesting that the expansion of irrigation could protect Indian agriculture from this future threat. However, accounting for physical water availability shows that under current irrigation practices, sustainable use of irrigation water can mitigate less than a tenth of the climate change impact. Moreover, if India continues to deplete its groundwater resources, the impacts of increased variability are likely to increase by half.


Agriculture Climate change Rainfall variability Adaptation Irrigation Water Resources 



I thank Upmanu Lall, Jeffrey Sachs, Wolfram Schlenker, Jesse Anttila-Hughes, David Blakeslee, Brian Dillon, Solomon Hsiang, Chandra Kiran Krishnamurti, Gordon McCord, and Kyle Meng for helpful suggestions and comments. I also thank David Blakeslee and Naresh Devineni for sharing data. This work was supported in part by the Harvard Sustainability Science Program and the Columbia Water Center.

Supplementary material

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© Springer Science+Business Media B.V., part of Springer Nature 2018

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Department of Public PolicyTel Aviv UniversityTel AvivIsrael
  2. 2.Department of EconomicsGeorge Washington UniversityWashingtonUSA

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