Relevance: Fighting climate change in light of new revelations made by the IPCC report.
Synopsis: Climate change-induced extreme weather events are already happening, and some have started to happen. India needs to adapt to this reality. Detailing few such events in India and steps that can be taken at policy level.
The climate has changed forever and will remain so for centuries, if not a few thousand years into the future. Human-caused carbon dioxide emissions are responsible for it, and our current mitigation strategies are insufficient to stop it from changing further. The global mean temperature will cross the 1.5 °C limit in the current decade or next, and the 2 °C mark during 2040–2060.
Changes that have occurred
In the above context, following are some irreversible climate change and extreme weather events in India, that have already set in and are going to intensify further.
1]. Warming of tropical ocean: Since the 1950s, the tropical ocean has been warming faster than other regions, with the tropical Indian Ocean warming even faster than the rest of the tropical ocean basins. This has already put immense pressure on the Indian subcontinent, particularly the coastal regions.
- Sea level rise: Water expands and increases in volume with the heat, contributing to the sea level rise along the Indian coast.
- Intensification of monsoon: The monsoon and the cyclones source their moisture and energy from the warm waters of the Indian Ocean, and they have intensified. With the rapid ocean warming, we see a threefold rise in extreme rains causing floods across India—while the total monsoon rainfall has declined in some regions.
- Increased frequency of cyclones: Cyclones in the Arabian Sea increased by more than 50%, with very severe cyclones increasing by 150%.
2]. Compound events: The recent IPCC reports also warn us about multiple extremes overlapping. These compound events are already happening in India. With cyclones Tauktae and Yaas in May 2021, we witnessed storm surges to the height of 5 m and above, pushing water on to the land. The storm surge flooding over the coast was aggravated by the heavy rains from the cyclones and a background rising sea level.
3]. Impact on rural India: During the Maharashtra floods in July 2021, the India Meteorological Department recorded 1,074 mm of rain at the Mahabaleshwar hill station in just two days. This station has been monitoring rainfall for over a century, and the recent rains broke all-time records. All that water ran down the hills causing landslides and overflowing the rivers, thereby flooding the downstream towns, killing more than 200 people.
4]. Migration of communities: Climate hazards are also leading to the migration of marginal agricultural communities from northern states of India to the Indian megacities like Mumbai that are facing bigger threats due to climate change.
What needs to be done?
- Curbing emissions is essential so that we don’t accelerate climate change further
- We need urgent measures to evaluate and adapt to the increased risk due to intense cyclones, floods, and heatwaves in the near future.
- Identify local challenges: While climate change is global, the challenges are always local. The IPCC reports provide only a large-scale assessment, and it is our task to identify the local challenges and disaster-proof those regions where the risk and vulnerability are the highest.
- Empowering citizen-science networks: Sometimes citizen science networks can help, where government agencies cannot reach. There are several examples from Kerala and Maharashtra where citizen networks are monitoring the rains, rivers and landslides, and sending flood alerts to people in vulnerable areas. This can work beautifully with the assistance of scientists, engineers, and government bodies. Evidence shows that this has saved lives. We need to empower and make every district of India climate-equipped.