Devanathan Parthasarathy, Convener, IDP in Climate Studies, Indian Institute of Technology, Bombay, spoke to BE’s Ellora De on climate change and its prevention.
Q. What possible measures can India take to tackle the problem of increase in anthropogenic greenhouse gas concentrations?
A. We need to reduce dependence on fossil fuels, encourage a shift from private to public modes of transport, create more carbon sinks through aggressive afforestation programmes, and discourage energy inefficient buildings and architecture. Enhanced energy efficiency across the board in all sectors, and shifting to less energy intensive activities or cleaner fuels is essential.
Q. India has seen an estimated 4,620 deaths caused by heat waves, according to data published by the Ministry of Earth Sciences. How can technology help to control this issue?
A. There are several measures that can and have been used for minimising heat wave related fatalities and morbidity. These include: a) better warning systems and awareness campaigns for avoiding outdoor and strenuous activities during heat waves; b) providing for greater green shade, in the form of tree cover in urban and rural areas; and c) reducing exposure to heat waves of specially vulnerable groups such as the elderly, children, homeless population, and workers who carry out work in the outdoors.
Q. Many scientists noted that rising temperatures are causing Himalayan glaciers to melt, which provide water to some of India's biggest rivers. This is affecting the amount of water flowing into them annually. How can India face this challenge?
A. This is more of a global issue, and cannot be solely addressed by India. The Himalayas are a transboundary region, and global warming and climate change contribute to melting of the glaciers. However science can help by better understanding localised and regional factors contributing to melting of the glaciers, and by more accurately mapping the regions likely to be more at risk of hazards due to flooding and changes in river flows. We also need better hydrological management, and more effective communication between meteorologists and hydrologists. Afforestation in the Himalayas, preventing deforestation, and avoiding dam building activities in the Himalayan region will also help prevent or control the melting of glaciers.
Q. Rising sea levels, changes in ocean acidity, extended droughts, and stronger tropical storms, are the other phenomena observed worldwide in recent years as the result of world-wide increase in temperature. How is India prepared for these impacts?
A. India has prepared a National Action Plan on climate change, and has also set up a number of national missions to address different challenges and risks from climate change. However, there is very little action in terms of plans and strategies, and little implementation of these plans; the National Mission on Strategic Knowledge for Climate Change has produced some knowledge which can be used for planning and strategizing to minimize adverse impacts from climate change and global warming. However, much more research is required with greater funding and translation of this knowledge into action plans is equally needed. India´s coasts are woefully underprepared to deal with exposure to emerging risks, and rampant violation and amendment to environment protection laws are exacerbating these risks; central and state governments do not show seriousness in either implementing existing laws, or in addressing these risks. Many infrastructure, coastal development, and urban development plans and projects show little or no awareness to climate impacts and risks. The state and central governments also need to firm up better strategies and decentralised adaptation plans for different sectors - agriculture; industry, transport, energy, water, health, forestry, fisheries etc. This requires greater institutional capacity as well as knowledge and skill upgradation among government officials.