Many parts of the world have been marred by extreme weather events in the last few weeks. Turbulent rains have caused massive floods in Central China and Europe; historic heat waves of 120 Fahrenheit (49 Celsius) blew through western Canada; tropical heat affected Finland and Ireland; wildfires broke out in the Siberian Tundra with the temperature soaring to 100.4 Fahrenheit while the west United States and Brazil too experienced gigantic wildfires as well as drought.
According to news published in the Reuters , over the next two weeks, the scientists with the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) will finalise the first installment of its sixth Assessment Report, which will update the established science around greenhouse gas emissions and projections for future warming and its impacts. Government representatives are also taking part in the virtual two-week meeting. The report will expand on the last such IPCC Report in 2013 by focusing more on extreme weather and regional impacts.
India too had its share of such startling events. India’s western coastal states of Maharashtra and Goa along with the Himalayan region of Himachal Pradesh and Uttarakhand have witnessed a spate of extreme weather events. Hundreds of people lost their lives owing to deadly floods, cloud bursts and landslides. Tens of thousands of people have been evacuated since July 22, with record-breaking rainfall being reported along parts of the Western coast.
According to the Relief and Rehabilitation Department, in Maharashtra, about 229,074 people have been evacuated from the flood-hit areas. A total of 164 deaths have been reported till July 26 and 25,564 animals have died; 46 people were injured and 100 are still missing. About 1028 villages have been affected, out of which Raigad district is the worst affected, followed by Ratnagiri and Satara districts.
Meanwhile, Himachal Pradesh reported a landslide on July 25, killing 9 and leaving several injured. Uttarakhand has been reporting a series of landslides ever since the beginning of the month.
Scientists world over have been unanimous in declaring these occurrences as a result of human caused climate change. Those in India have already warned that monsoon rains would increase further with the rise in global temperature. “Not even halfway through the season and we have already achieved the seasonal rainfall target in India. Climate change is the reality of the moment. Monsoon has become erratic and we are witnessing a sea change in the monsoon season pattern which was once considered to be the most stable,” said G P Sharma, President at Meteorology and Climate Change, Skymet Weather.
Irregular pattern of weather events have caught the India Meteorological Department (IMD) on the wrong foot as the officials had to issue a clarification on the department's inaccurate forecast on arrival of monsoon in Delhi. “It is no longer a domain of weather experts and requires a multidisciplinary or multi-specialty focus, which needs integration among all the stakeholders,” Sharma
According to a recent study by Potsdam Institute for Climate Impact Research, ‘Climate change is making Indian monsoon seasons more chaotic’, for every degree Celsius of warming, monsoon rainfalls will likely increase by about 5%. Global warming is increasing the monsoon rainfall in India even more than previously thought. It is dominating the monsoon dynamics of the 21st century. Climate change is leading to unpredictable weather extremes and their serious consequences.
A more chaotic monsoon season poses a threat to the agriculture and economy in the region. Mahesh Palawat, vice president , Meteorology and Climate Change, Skymet Weather, added, “July usually receives the most rains in the four-month long Southwest Monsoon season. We had expected heavy rains across Maharashtra, but not the series of extreme weather conditions.”
He said, we are in the thick of climate change and the results are in front of us. Deforestation and rapid urbanisation coupled with the fragile nature of Western Ghats led to landslides and massive destructions.
He explained the link between temperature rise and rainfall by saying the warming of the atmosphere increases the capacity of air to hold moisture, which leads to formation of intense cumulonimbus (cloud forming a towering mass with a flat base at fairly low altitude) clouds or vertically developed clouds, bringing some incessant downpour over the region. Besides, when the atmosphere is unstable, these clouds keep regenerating, triggering incessant rainfall.
Talking about the weather patterns in the Himalayan region, Palawat further said, “Weather becomes more sensitive in the hilly region, as mountains respond to the weather more quickly. As reiterated earlier, with the development of cumulonimbus clouds in the absence of strong upper air winds, they do not tend to travel very long or we can say they are trapped. These clouds then deplete all the water over a certain area which is called a cloud burst.”
He was of the view that deforestation and continued construction of infrastructure like hydropower plants, roads, hotels, and houses etc. have led to loosening of soil, resulting in frequent landslides even with the slightest of rains. And given the fact that Himalayan ranges are ecologically fragile, the smallest impact of climate change can lead to fatal events in mountainous terrains, he said.
The IPCC’s fifth Assessment Report cycle concluded that human influence on the climate system is “clear”. Since then, literature on attribution - the sub-field of climate science that looks at how (and by how much) human activities lead to climate change - has significantly expanded. Today, scientists are more certain than ever that climate change is caused by us. A recent study finds that humans have caused all of the warming observed since the pre-industrial period, leaving no room for debate as to why the climate is changing. Since AR5, there has also been an increased focus on regional impacts, with scientists improving their models and understanding of what global climate change impacts will look like on a regional scale.
Cost of Inaction is Higher
India, one of the world’s fastest growing economies with over a billion population, is at the brink of grave consequences if global warming and climate change continue to go unchecked. Apart from natural disasters, the economic cost of these disasters is pinching a developing economy even more. With various studies predicting more extremely wet years, the threat looms large over people’s well-being, economy, agriculture and food system.
There has been consensus among the communities of environmentalists, scientists and other related stakeholders to develop and implement action plans at several stages involving communities on ground before it is too late. “We are experiencing these extreme weather events not only in India but in parts of Europe and China as well. We have been seeing horrific images of devastation in China and Germany, which show that climate change is here and now. It is no longer a developing country’s problem alone, but it is now hitting the industrialised nations such as Germany, Belgium, and the Netherlands. IPCC scientists have been warning about these issues since the past couple of years.
The latest IPCC report on Oceans and Cryosphere (SROCC) gives us a detailed account of how global warming is leading to a warming of oceans and how the monsoon patterns are changing rapidly.
“The Indian subcontinent’s monsoon system has drastically changed due to global warming. You either have a long spell of drought or heavy downpour. This is going to be the new normal. Indian cities, towns and villages need urgent plans for adaptation,” said Dr Anjal Prakash, research director and adjunct associate professor, Bharti Institute of Public Policy, Indian School of Business and lead author in the 6th Assessment report of IPCC.
He said, “A special focus must be on building climate resilient infrastructure and risk management plans as these growing extreme events will impact lives as well as our economies. Secondly, India should lead the global south in galvanising countries towards a green growth model and to keep the planet’s temperature below 1.5 degree Celsius.” He added, “It is possible to balance between, people, profit, and the planet.”
Seema Sharma is a Chandigarh based freelance journalist who tweets @seema_env . Views expressed are personal.