The Spectre of Climate Change is looming large

Amit Chanda

The world Community after prolonged negotiations had come to the conclusion that limiting the global average temperatures to within 2°C from pre-industrial times, a reference to the period between 1850 and 1900,is the only way in which lives in Earth can continue to persist.This objective was chosen because scientific research, as has been confirmed by the assessments of Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC), suggests that any rise in temperature beyond 2°C as compared to pre-industrial times could yield “irreversible” and “catastrophic” consequences. It was in 2015, at the Paris Climate Conference, that the global community made a pact to pursue efforts to limit warming to within 1.5°C —half a degree below the previous target of 2°C. It was so decided because the predicted impact if the world became warmer by 2°C could potentially threaten the very existence of some of the small island states.

However, the "Special report" released by IPCC recently, reveals some chilling findings.According to IPCC's assessment, global warming is likely to reach 1.5°C between 2030 and 2052, if it continues to rise at the current rate. The planet, according to the report, has already warmed up by about1°C as compared to the pre-industrial age temperatures. The window of opportunity to take action is, therefore, very small and closing fast.

Climate change is, therefore, a ticking bomb counting down to 2052, the zero year after which even a half degree increase in global temperature will lead to searing heat waves, rising sea levels, heavy rainfall, droughts, floods and other extreme weather conditions that will lower agricultural yield, cause food and water scarcities and push millions into poverty.

India's Vulnerability:
Recent extreme weather events, such as floods in Kerala, wildfires in Uttarakhand and heat waves in the north and the east, have demonstrated how vulnerable India is to climate change. Such events, which cause widespread destruction and impact the availability of food and water, are likely to become more frequent and intense in India if the rise in temperature continues unchecked.

Increasing heat wave episodes: If there are no changes in the current emissions and environment policies, India’s average annual temperatures are expected to rise by 1.5-3°Cby 2050. This in turn would exacerbate the frequency of severe heat waves in India.

Water crisis: The other effects of a 2°Crise in the global mean temperature over India could be on the availability of water. The annual runoff in the Ganga river basin is expected to decrease by about 20 per cent and this could worsen the current water crisis.

Lower living standards: By 2050, rising temperatures and changing monsoon rainfall patterns could cost India 2.8% of its GDP and could lower the living standards for nearly 600 million people living in "hotspots" — areas vulnerable to changes in average temperature and rainfall.Chhattisgarh and Madhya Pradesh are predicted to be India's top two climate hot spot states by 2050.

Way Ahead:
The unprecedented flooding in Kerala, drought in Cape Town and searing heat waves in Europe are signs that climate change is already happening.Limiting warming to 1.5°C by making green changes in energy consumption, land and water use and transportation can help mitigate the potential damage to an extent. This, however, requires a strong political will, which thus far seems half-hearted. Perhaps it is time for a people’s revolution to jolt the powerful out of their lethargy. The need of the hour is to make climate and the environment an election issue; and only vote to power those who grasp the gravity of the situation, and the need for urgency in climate adaptation policies.

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