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

Abstract

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.

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Notes

  1. 1.

    Food and Agriculture Organization, http://faostat3.fao.org/

  2. 2.

    Source: Agricultural Statistics at a Glance, Directorate of Economics and Statistics, Dept. of Agriculture, Govt. of India.

  3. 3.

    My analysis is focused on the effects of precipitation and I therefore omit the impacts of temperature increases from the analysis. To first order, the impacts of the shifts in the three weather indicators are linearly separable, so that the impact of temperature increases, which have been investigated in other studies, are, to first order, independent of and additional to those at the focus of the analysis.

  4. 4.

    Source: Agricultural Statistics at a Glance, Directorate of Economics and Statistics, Dept. of Agriculture, Govt. of India.

  5. 5.

    I force the resulting irrigation cover remain below 1

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Acknowledgments

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.

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Correspondence to Ram Fishman.

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Fishman, R. Groundwater depletion limits the scope for adaptation to increased rainfall variability in India. Climatic Change 147, 195–209 (2018). https://doi.org/10.1007/s10584-018-2146-x

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Keywords

  • Agriculture
  • Climate change
  • Rainfall variability
  • Adaptation
  • Irrigation
  • Water Resources