Climate change, a crisis on our doorstep

P Anima | Updated on July 18, 2020

Pelting down: The frequency of extreme rainfall events — exceeding 150mm per day — increased by about 75 per cent during 1950–2015   -  K MURALI KUMAR

Rising temperatures and droughts; warming oceans and mountains — the future’s dire warns ‘The Assessment of Climate Change Over Indian Region’, a report published recently

* The report is published by the Ministry of Earth Sciences

* The average temperature in India is expected to inch up by nearly 4.4 degree Celsius by the end of the century

* The Hindu Kush Himalayan region is also warming

The warnings are dire; the predictions bleak. From the Hindu Kush Himalayas in the north all the way to the central Indo-Gangetic plains, the Western Ghats and the Indian Ocean in the south, human-induced climate change has left wounds that are projected to worsen in the course of the 21st century.

Rising temperatures and sea levels, extreme rainfall events and droughts, and a warming ocean are set to deepen the climate crisis in the country, warns a report released by the government.

The Assessment of Climate Change Over Indian Region — published by the ministry of earth sciences (MoES) last month — states that severe summers will be the norm in the future as the average temperature in India is expected to inch up by nearly 4.4 degree Celsius by the end of the century if the present emission rates continue unchecked. The warmest day will grow warmer by 4.7 degree Celsius, while, on the coldest night, the temperature will dip further by 5.5 degree Celsius. The number of warm days and cold nights will increase, too.

The spiking temperatures have not spared the Hindu Kush Himalayan region either. “The Hindu Kush Himalayas (HKH) experienced a temperature rise of about 1.3°C during 1951–2014. Several areas of HKH have experienced a declining trend in snowfall and also retreat of glaciers in recent decades,” the report points out.

The frequency of heat waves across India is also projected to be 3-4 times higher by the end of the century. Rainfall patterns across the Western Ghats and Central India have altered with the monsoon rain growing weaker — it declined by around 6 per cent from 1951 to 2015. On the other hand, instances of local, high-intensity rainfall are on the rise.

The report records changes in rainfall patterns over Central India. “The frequency of daily precipitation extremes with rainfall intensities exceeding 150mm per day increased by about 75% during 1950–2015,” it says.

The coasts are not clear either. The rise of sea levels in the North Indian Ocean has accelerated in recent years and is expected to creep up by 300mm by the turn of the century.

If the report reads like a catalogue of disasters waiting to happen, the experts who put it together state in no uncertain terms that there is compelling scientific evidence that human activities have influenced these changes in regional climate. Modelled after the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) assessment reports published by the United Nations, the report takes stock of climate change in the regional context, bringing in a perspective missed out in global assessment reports.

Countries such as the US bring out climate change assessment reports every five years, points out R Krishnan, director of the Centre for Climate Change Research at the Indian Institute of Tropical Meteorology, Pune, and an editor of the report.

“The geography of the region is unique. We have the Himalayas, the landmass and the Indian Ocean; then we have the strongest monsoon in the world,” Krishnan observes. The changes happening in each of these regions and phenomena have to be understood in the regional context, he notes. “For instance, the precipitation processes that occur are very different in different regions; what is happening in the Western Ghats will be different from what’s happening on the Myanmar coast. The attempt is to understand how climate change is affecting the regions,” Krishnan adds.

Ulka Kelkar, director of climate programme at the Bengaluru-based World Resources Institute, considers the report significant on two counts. “Unlike the IPCC global report, this is a comprehensive assessment of changes in India. The monsoon, for instance, is an important characteristic for us,” Kelkar says.

The report, she adds, underlines the maturing of climate study models and capacities in the country. More scientists are studying climate change and many more institutions are invested in the science behind the phenomenon today than they were a decade or two ago. “The last such report was the 4x4 assessment of 2010 from the ministry of environment, forest and climate change, which studied the climate health of four vulnerable regions — the Himalayas, Western Ghats, coastal area and the North-East,” she says.

Unlike the IPCC reports, the MoES assessment keeps its focus on the science of climate change, steering away from suggesting mitigation measures or dealing with the impact on human economic systems. Kelkar points out that the IPCC is divided into three working groups, with the first group focussed on science, while the impact and mitigation measures are tackled by the other groups.

“This report corresponds to the work of IPCC’s working group I, which assesses the science from observations and evidence available so far and then makes predictions. But it is an important basis from which we can infer the likely impacts and prepare for mitigation,” she adds.

The report is the first in a series expected to be brought out every few years to assess the changing climate scenarios in the region. “This is an emerging science and the process of building a scientific capability to understand it is important,” Krishnan observes.

P Anima

Published on July 16, 2020

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