India faced with the onslaught of rising temperature

2020 was one of the warmest years in India despite La Nina which typically has a cooling effect on global temperatures.(Image: Tumisu, Pixabay)
2020 was one of the warmest years in India despite La Nina which typically has a cooling effect on global temperatures.(Image: Tumisu, Pixabay)

On January 4, 2021, the India Meteorological Department (IMD) released a report titled The Statement on Climate of India During 2020, which states that 2020 is the eighth hottest year in India since 1901. The country's average temperature has risen by 0.62oC.

Both the decades of this century, 2001-2010 and 2011-2020, have been recorded as the hottest decades ever. The average temperature of the country increased by 0.23oC during the decade 2001-2010 and 0.34oC during the decade 2011-2020.

According to a report by the US National Oceanic and Atmospheric Agency (NOAA), every decade since 1970 has been warmer than the preceding decade. Twelve of the 15 hottest years from 1901 to 2020 have been in the 21st century between 2006 and 2020.

Recording of weather data in India dates back to 1901 and records show that the first five warmest years of this century were 2016 (0.71oC), 2009 (0.55oC), 2017 (0.54oC), 2010 (0.53oC) and 2015 (0.42oC). Along with the rise in the average temperature of the country in 2020, the average maximum (day) and minimum (night) temperatures have also increased. The average maximum temperature rose to 0.99oC while the minimum temperature rose to 0.24oC.

The average temperature for 2020 has increased by 0.29oC based on the average temperature of 1981-2010. Although the average temperature in 2020 is much lower than in 2016, which has been the hottest year on record, this rise in the average temperature of 2020 is very worrying.

According to the IMD, the temperature has been above average for 10 months of 2020, except March and June. The average temperature exceeded the normal during September by 0.72oC (warmest September), August by 0.58oC (second warmest August), October by 0.9oC (third warmest October), July by 0.56oC (fifth warmest July) and December by 0.39oC (seventh warmest) since 1901.

With the continuous rise in average temperature, the incidents of natural calamities like heavy rains, floods, landslides, storms, lightning strikes, hot and cold waves are also increasing rapidly in the country. These natural calamities have claimed 1565 lives in the country in 2020. Of these, 815 deaths were due to storms and lightning and 600 people were affected by heavy rains and floods. Most of the lightning deaths were recorded in the states of Bihar and Uttar Pradesh.

The average temperature increase in 2020 is just 0.29oC, which is much lower than the 2016 temperature rise of 0.71oC, but it points out to a very worrying future as 2016 was the year of El-Nino, while 2020 is the La-Nina year. El-Nino and La-Nina are two natural phenomena related to the sea surface temperature of the Pacific Ocean.

Among the other factors, both these phenomena have a profound effect on the earth's average temperature. During the El-Nino years, sea surface temperature of the Pacific Ocean is above average, leading to increased rainfall and drought in countries such as India, Indonesia, Australia and South America. This causes El-Nino to increase the average temperature of the earth, while La-Nina year lowers the average temperature of the earth as well as the regions mentioned above. But, the worry is that in the year 2020, the average temperature in India has gone up.

In 2020, due to COVID-19 most businesses were closed in all countries around the world leading to a significant decrease in the emission of greenhouse gases from transportation, industries, institutions and the like.

Despite the nominal emission of greenhouse gases that contribute a larger share to global warming during the lockdown in 2020, an increase in temperature means that the effect of already existing gases in the atmosphere will continue to be felt even after their zero-emission.

In India, even above average rainfall from monsoons in 2020 has failed to control the temperature rise. The main reasons for the rise in average temperature in the country are our economic growth model and indiscriminate deforestation.

According to the Forest Survey of India's The State of Forest Report 2019 forest cover has increased by 0.13% over 2017, but according to the Global Forest Watch, India’s forest cover has declined by 3.3% between 2001 to 2019, which has released 153 metric tonnes of carbon dioxide into the atmosphere.

According to the Ministry of Environment, Forest and Climate Change (MoEF&CC) 6,944,608 trees have been cut down during the period 2016-2019. According to Wetland International, a Non-Governmental Organisation, one-third of India's wetlands have been depleted in the last four decades.

Thus, rapidly depleting ecosystems are releasing enormous amounts of carbon dioxide and other greenhouse gases into the atmosphere. The amount of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere on December 27, 2019, was 412.80 ppm which increased to 415.09 ppm on the same day in 2020 despite COVID-19.

According to NOAA data, the concentration of carbon dioxide was 280 ppm before the industrial revolution. NOAA considers 350 ppm of the concentration of carbon dioxide as a safe limit. Scientists have warned for more than a decade that concentration of more than 450 ppm risks triggering extreme weather events and the temperature rises as high as 2oC, beyond which the effects of global warming are likely to become catastrophic and irreversible.

With the temperature rise, our country is facing more and more natural disasters every year than the preceding year. According to a report released by the Council on Energy, Environment and Water of India on December 10, 2020, 75oC of the country's districts, which make up of the country's half population, have been hit hard by natural disasters due to climate change.

According to a World Meteorological Organisation report titled The State of the Global Climate 2020, the earth's temperature rose 1.2oC from January to October 2020 after the industrial revolution.

According to the Paris Climate Agreement, the safe limit of increase in temperature is1.5oC. Given all these reports that point towards an increasing number of natural disasters in the country and the severity of their impact, concrete planning and expeditious action should be taken. The government is turning a blind eye to the phenomena and has not promised to increase carbon emission cuts in 2019 at international conferences. The so-called development of the country is taking place without paying attention to environmental issues. Further, concessions are being made in environmental regulations.

Given the rise in average temperature in the country, the government should generate the required energy from natural sources instead of giving grants to coal-fired power generation projects. The means of public transport should be improved. Instead of claiming an increase in forest area through manipulation practical efforts are needed.

Efforts should be directed towards the protection of natural wetlands and wild vegetation in the coastal areas instead of enacting new laws in the name of economic development. This would help protect the natural vegetation and the people living there from natural disasters. Like New Zealand, the government should declare a climate emergency to protect our people from natural disasters.

 

Dr Gurinder Kaur is Professor, Department of Geography, Punjabi University, Patiala as well as Visiting Professor, IMPRI.

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