Climate change's adverse impact on earth has become a household subject. Countries across the world are facing the fury of these changes in some form or other – be it drought or storm, be it spread of diseases caused by extreme weather condition or loss of farm yield.
What is climate change?
Climate is commonly thought of as the expected weather conditions at a given location over a specified time and can be measured by given geographic scales by parameters such as average temperatures, average number of rainy days, number of storms and the frequency of droughts. Climate change refers to changes in these statistics over years, decades, or even centuries.
Climate change and global warming are two different things. Global warming is considered to be the main cause of climate change. As the planet’s temperature increases more than it would increase naturally, the climate varies and behaves differently.
Earth’s temperature is rising
Scientists have been collecting data of earth’s surface temperature since 1880. Temperatures are recorded at several thousands of locations today, both on the land and over the oceans. A number of research groups, including the NASA Goddard Institute for Space Studies, Britain’s Hadley Centre for Climate Change, the Japan Meteorological Agency, and NOAA’s National Climate Data Center have used these raw measurements to produce records of long-term global surface temperature change.
These analyses all show that earth’s average surface temperature has increased by more than 1.4 degrees F (0.8 degrees C) over the past 100 years, with much of this increase taking place over the past 35 years. A temperature change of 1.4 degrees F apparently may not look much if one thinks about daily or seasonal fluctuation, but it is a significant change when it is a permanent increase, averaged across the entire planet.
The situation seems to have worsened further post 2016, the hottest year since records have been kept, and reaching 0.99 degrees C above the mid-twentieth century mean. Global temperatures are on course for a 3-5 degrees C rise this century, far overshooting a global target of limiting the increase to 2 degrees C (3.6F) or less, the UN World Meteorological Organization said last November.
At the 2015 Paris Climate Conference, the countries of the world pledged to work to limit the rise of temperature to 2 degrees Celsius above pre-industrial levels and to work further to limit the temperature increase to 1.5 degrees C; a step that required a radical reduction in the use of the fossil fuels that are the primary cause of global warming.
It now seems a daunting task to meet the target of 1.5 degrees C temperature of earth’s surface. A 2018 report by the Inter-governmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) said that this would involve bringing CO2 emissions down by 45% by 2030 from 2010 levels. Beyond 2 degree C, the earth’s non-linear feedback loops and tipping points, such as melting sea-ice and the release of reserves of methane in permafrost and sea beds, become very difficult to predict. The fear is that they could lock us into major and potentially irreversible changes, and trigger runaway climate change – a scenario commonly referred to as ‘Hothouse Earth’, the report warned.
The report calls for a root-and-branch detoxifying of human behaviour while insisting that the situation is not unassailable. Food waste for instance which accounts for 9% of global greenhouse gas emissions, could be slashed. The world currently throws away a third of all food that is produced. In richer nations more than a half of food produced goes to waste.
The report makes a strong case for a rapid drawdown in greenhouse gas emissions and pesticide use to improve air and water quality. This will be a difficult task given the lack of international agreement for the environment issues those which were agreed upon in the 2015 Paris accord.
The rise in global temperature and in turn, climatic changes have a huge impact on the environment. The Global Environment Outlook (GEO) 2019 published last March and considered as the most comprehensive and rigorous assessment of the state of the environment by the United Nations (UN) in the last five years has warned that damage to the planet is so dire during this period that people’s health will be increasingly threatened unless urgent action is taken.
That is, the latest UN study has made official the dreadful effect of climate change on human health and has even roughly quantified the possible impact. The report suggests that about a fourth of all premature deaths and diseases worldwide are due to manmade pollution and environmental damages. It warns that deadly emissions, chemicals polluting drinking water, and the accelerating destruction of ecosystems crucial to the livelihoods of billions of people are driving a worldwide epidemic that hampers the global economy.
The greenhouse gas emissions continue to rise amid a preponderance of droughts, floods and super storms made worse by climbing sea levels, there is a growing political consensus that climate change poses a future risk to billions. The poor environmental conditions cause approximately 25% of global disease and mortality and resulted in around 9 million deaths in 2015 alone. Due to lack of access to clean drinking supplies, 1.4 million people die each year from preventable diseases such as diarrhea and parasites linked to pathogen-riddled water and poor sanitation.
The chemicals pumped into the seas cause potentially multi-generational adverse health effects, and land degradation through mega-farming and deforestation occurs in areas of earth home to 3.2 billion people. In addition, air pollution causes 6-7 million early deaths annually.
Studies by the Indian Agricultural Research Institute (IARI) found that increases in temperature (by about 2 degrees C) would reduce potential grain yields in most places. Regions with higher potential productivity (such as northern India) would be relatively less impacted by climate change than areas with lower potential productivity. Climate change is also predicted to lead to boundary changes in areas suitable for growing certain crops.
In India, it is observed that the annual mean temperature has increased at the rate of 0.42 degrees C. Indian agriculture system is based upon south-west and north-east monsoon. Almost 80% of the total precipitation comes from south-west monsoon in India. Any fluctuations and uncertainties in long range rainfall pattern may affect the agriculture sector and also lead to increase in the frequency of drought and floods at regional scale. A significant increasing trend in rainfall was reported along the west coast, north Andhra Pradesh and north west India while a significant decreasing trend was observed over parts of Gujarat, Madhya Pradesh and adjoining area, Kerala and northeast India.
Climate change could reduce India’s GDP growth and depress living standards as average annual temperatures are expected to rise by 1-2% over three decades, a World Bank report said. If no measures are taken, average temperatures in India are predicted to increase by 1.5-3 degrees C, said the World Bank report titled 'South Asia's Hotspots: The Impact of Temperature and Precipitation Changes on Living Standards.'
"Rising temperatures and changing monsoon rainfall patterns from climate change could cost India 2.8% of GDP and depress the living standards of nearly half the country's population by 2050," the report said.
The World Bank’s findings have largely been supported by India’s own research. Studies by World Resources Institute (WRI) India shows that with 2 degrees to 3 degrees C rise in temperature, Indian farmers may lose 9% to 25% of their net revenues, which may lower the country’s GDP by 1.8% to 3.4%.
Even if preventive measures are taken along the lines of those recommended by the Paris climate change agreement of 2015, India's average annual temperatures are expected to rise by 1-2 degrees Celsius by 2050, the report said.
According to this report almost half of South Asia's population, including India, now lives in the "vulnerable areas" and will suffer from declining living standards that could be attributed to falling agricultural yields, lower labour productivity or related health impacts. About 600 million people in India now live in locations that could either become moderate or severe hotspots of climate change by 2050.
The report suggested that to partially neutralise the negative impact of climatic change on economic activities, India should emphasise on enhancing educational attainment, reducing water stress, and improving job opportunities in the non-agricultural sectors.
Way back in June, 2008 when the country was in the midst of an erratic monsoon condition, India announced its National Action Plan on Climate Change (NAPCC). India was then one of the 10-odd countries in the world to have a consolidated policy instrument to tackle climate change.
However, ten years later, and with the monsoon being even more erratic, there is no clarity on how NAPCC has fared. Worse, India has become even more vulnerable to climate change. According to the Global Climate Risk Index of 2018, published by German Watch, a non-profit working on North-South equity and preservation of livelihoods, India is the 12th most vulnerable country to climate change impacts. Every year, it witnesses an average of 3,570 deaths attributable to climate-related events, and the cost of climate change impact it will pay is projected to run into trillions of dollars in the near future.
This is despite the fact that India has taken some positive actions, including its major emphasis on renewable power through its 100 GW solar mission and its total 175 GW renewable mission. India could well be one of the few countries that achieved its (self-declared) climate action targets under the Paris Agreement by 2030.
India framed its Greenhouse Gas (GHG) programme in 2015 led by World Resources Institute India, Confederation of India Industry (CII) and The Energy and Resources Institute (TERI) to measure and manage greenhouse gas emissions. The programme builds comprehensive measurement and management strategies to reduce emissions and drive more profitable, competitive and sustainable businesses and organisations in India.
However, a more proactive plan is required to manage the contribution of coal power in such a manner that India advances its peak GHG emissions by a decade from 2025 to 2035. At the same time, a more comprehensive approach is required to make India’s rapid urbanisation more environmentally friendly through energy efficient buildings and mass transportation systems.