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A landmark new report released by the United Nation's Intergovernmental Panel on Climate (IPCC) on 9 August has pressed the red alert on global climate change and the impact it will have on communities across the world.
The report, called the Climate Change 2021: The Physical Science Basis, is the sixth such assessment report published by the IPCC since its inception in 1988. The most stark finding of the report is the fact that global temperatures are expected to rise by 1.5-2 degree celsius from the pre-industrial age in less than 20 years.
The report, being deemed as the "most important report on climate change" in this century, is the first IPCC report to predict regional effects of climate change. In this regard, some findings of the report predict almost certain disaster for India and its communities due to extreme weather events like floods, cyclones and heatwaves, spurred by climate change.
The Indian government has welcomed the report stating that it vindicated the government's stance that developed nations have contributed the most to rising global temperatures and must therefore institute faster and swifter curbs on their carbon emissions. In other words, India says that developed nations must "vacate carbon space" for developing nations.
However, it is also important to note that in terms of absolute carbon emissions, India is now number three in the world after China and USA.
Going by the predictions that the IPCC has made for the region, the country needs to hit the planning board immediately to develop effective climate mitigation and adaptation techniques. The Quint got in touch with Professor Subimal Ghosh, one of the lead authors of the IPCC report and faculty at IIT Bombay, to figure out the warning signs that the report shows for India and the steps the country must take in the next few years to minimise climate-related damage to life and livelihood.
What IPCC Predicts For India & Limitations Of The Climate Model
The IPCC report predicts that global warming will cause an increase in temperature in every part of the world. While the extent of temperature rise may vary, it is almost certain that temperatures will rise across the world, causing heatwaves in many parts.
For India, these heatwaves - being called "extreme heatwaves" due to how much hotter they will be compared to heatwaves in the past - are the first challenge.
"We have seen in the past that heatwaves cause massive damage in India. Not only do they damage crops and other forms of agriculture, but we've also seen how they severely affect human health, even causing scores of deaths across the country", says Professor Ghosh.
In this context, however, Ghosh also emphasises upon the limitations of climate models like those predicted by IPCC in the report.
"Climate models cannot project minutely region-specific phenomenon. So, for example, we can't say that Odisha will have worse heatwaves than West Bengal. But overall it can be said with high confidence that heatwaves across India will increase, based on the model we've projected for South Asia", he says.
The second area of interest in the IPCC report, for India, is the projection regarding monsoon patterns across the world, specifically Asia.
"Monsoon rainfalls are tricky to predict. IPCC's report states at the very outset that existing climate models and their regional models are poor at predicting monsoon rainfall. Monsoons are considered to be one of the world's most meteorologically complicated phenomenon. Indian monsoons even more so", explains Ghosh.
He further says that in the past, between 1950 and 2000, there was a decline in Indian monsoons. Various climate models attributed this decline to aerosol emissions. However, Ghosh says, all climate models now show that monsoon rainfall will increase in the future, not just in India but world over.
The report, however, predicts that pluvial floods - or floods caused my extreme rainfall as opposed to those caused by other factors like faulty water management techniques- are also set to increase across South Asia and India.
"Flash floods or watersheds after extreme rainfall or urban floods are examples of pluvial floods. The IPCC report predicts that such kind of floods will increase due to excess rainfall. This is also the first time that the IPCC has said stated with "medium confidence" that urbanisation leads to intensification of extreme rainfall. It has also reported that human water mismanagement may lead to increased rainfall. This is an extremely important observation for India as it is a rapidly urbanising country", said Ghosh.
For India, however, the challenge will be to not just predict excess rainfall due to erratic monsoons, but to also predict areas which will see extreme drought.
"A previous assessment by the Indian Ministry of Earth Science says with "high confidence" that projected drought will increase. However, IPCC's report differs from the Government of India's report. The IPCC report says that most global analyses are yet to predict increased drought periods across the world, including India. The report therefore states explicitly that climate models do not have any confidence in projecting drought for the South Asian region", says Ghosh.
In terms of India's mountains, the IPCC has predicted that snowcaps in the Hindukush Himalayas will show rapid thawing in the next few decades. But here again, the Indian scenario is a little complicated.
Ghosh explains that there is little research to show to what extent the melting glaciers will affect the Indian river system.
"For example, there may be a scenario where the glacier is melting at a normal pace, but at the same time the country is seeing massive rainfall. Such situational events will have differential effects on the rivers", says Ghosh.
So, What Should India Do Now?
Professor Ghosh says that there are essentially three main areas that India now needs to now work on in terms of its climate policy:
Adaptation to extreme weather events caused by climate change.
A resilience plan, especially for urban areas.
Increase climate services.
A plan for areas facing "compound climate extremes".
"For example, we saw how cities like Mumbai and Kolkata were flooded just a few days back. The immediate step for something like this would be to re-design our drainage systems to adapt to climate change projections. Similarly in places where other kinds of climate events have been predicted, infrastructure should be re-designed based on these projections", he says.
"The next step is to prepare for when the event takes place. For example, what do we do if a cyclone like Amphan hits a part of the country? The action plan that follows such an event is called a resilience plan. Most urban regions should have such a plan in place, which is essentially a list of immediate steps to be taken to bring the region back on its feet", he adds.
An important policy aspect for India to look at is also how it extends "climate services" to those most vulnerable to the impact of climate change. Climate services are essentially tools that disseminate knowledge of impending or upcoming climate events in a particular region, thereafter also educating the population on how to prepare for such an event.
"A farmer or a fisherman may know that a cyclone is coming or that drought as been predicted or that heavy rainfall has been forecasted. But they have very little knowledge on how to prepare for such a calamity which might destroy their entire livelihood. Services which address this problem are the need of the hour", says Ghosh.
The final challenge ahead of India is to safeguard those who face "compound climate extremes", a phenomenon that the IPCC report mentions.
"A compound extreme event is when one particular region faces multiple extreme weather events, like the Sundarbans in India. There maybe a time period when, say, a cyclone may have hit the region, which will be immediately followed by high tides that will break embankments and cause salt water to enter agricultural fields. This may again be immediately followed by an intense spell of rainfall", explains Ghosh.
The regions expected to experience such compound events should also have a separate resilience plan, he adds.
Finally, while India is focussing on renewable energy, a concrete plan for harnessing renewable energy is yet to be chalked out.
That apart, Ghosh also points out that India is the second highest contributor to global greening - i.e. the world's global green cover. However, most of this green cover is restricted to farmlands and not forests, as is required to contain carbon emissions.
"Forest cover should be planned in specific regions so that they can help in carbon upgrading. This will do a world of good in bringing down carbon levels not just in India's atmosphere, but world over", says Ghosh.
It may also help if India can commit a deadline to the international community on when it will revise its emission targets and achieve the global promise of zero net carbon.
Clearly, procrastination on climate policy is not something that the country or the world can afford.