India appears to be a creaking battleship struggling hard to come to terms with climate change. Not only has India become warmer than it was five decades ago but extreme weather events such as flooding, drought and cyclones are driving this battleship aground.
Some of the deadliest tropical cyclones in history have emanated from the Bay of Bengal triggering speculation that these could well be linked to climate change, the most recent being cyclone Phailin which lashed the Odisha coast early October.
This was preceded by heavy rainfall that struck Uttarakhand in mid-June causing rivers and glacial lakes to overflow, triggering massive landslides. This was preceded by an earthquake in Sikkim in 2011 which left several dead.
An analysis of extreme weather events caused by increasing heat hosted on the National Disaster Management Authority website, shows that extreme weather events have increased in the past three decades. The average number of extreme weather events on an annual basis has more than doubled from 140.8 in 1980-89 to 350.4 in 2000-10. The Indian Institute of Tropical Meteorology has also shown that much of India is warming.
Rising temperatures will affect tthe Indian monsoon. The Fifth UNFCCC report confirms our worst fears. The report states: ‘While monsoon winds are likely to weaken, monsoon precipitation is expected to intensify due to increase in atmospheric moisture. Monsoon may arrive earlier.
Monsoon retreat dates are likely to be delayed, resulting in the lengthening of the monsoon season.’ The report warns that greenhouse gas emissions need to stay within 800 gigatonnes of carbon equivalent but humans have already used up around 530 GtC. The remaining 270 GtC is expected to be used up in the next two decades.
India wants the atmosphere to be shared equitably. But within the country, rampant deforestation, large-scale construction of hydroelectric dams and unregulated urbanisation is worsening the situation.
Environmentalists have warned that around 76 per cent of India’s coastline is prone to cyclones and tsunamis and the main protection against these is to extend mangrove forests. The first line of defence against cyclones has been destroyed just as increasing deforestation of the Himalayas has led to a sharp increase in landslides. Another 59 per cent of the country is vulnerable to quakes while huge tracts are prone to floods.
No wonder, India remains one of the most disaster-prone countries in the world with its 1.2 billion people increasingly vulnerable to extreme weather events.
How is this creaking battleship going to be turned around? “We do not have a credible climate change policy,” pointed out Dr Ravi Chellam, an environmental biologist. Unless an environment blueprint is prepared and implemented, no amount of crying wolf is going to help.