By Ruchika Agarwal:
As of October 2016, India is one of the 62 countries that has ratified the Paris Agreement that set a goal for all 175 of its signatories to ensure that global average temperatures don’t rise more than 2°C and efforts must primarily be directed towards limiting the temperature increase to 1.5°C.
India is the second most populous nation on the planet with 1.2 billion people. We are extremely vulnerable to the effects of climate change due to our low adaptive capabilities. Half a degree Celsius, in that case, would make a lot of difference.
India has already experienced drastic changes in climate patterns. The country has seen a decline in annual rainfall, increase in the frequency of heavy rainfall and the number of droughts.
Heavy rainfall patterns have major consequences. With 40 million hectares of land vulnerable to floods, India is the second most flood distressed nation and accounts for 1/5th of the global flood related deaths every year. In 2005, 5000 people lost their lives in the floods in Maharashtra, in what is known to be one of the worst floods in Indian history.
At the same time, evidence shows that parts of South Asia has seen an increase in the number of droughts and faces drier climates. In 2015, the fifth deadliest heat wave in history resulted in the death of over 2500 people. In 1987 and 2002–2003, more than half of India’s cultivable area was impacted, resulting in a drastic drop in crop output due to severe droughts. The output of rice is currently 6% lower (75 million tonnes in absolute terms) than it would have been with regular climate patterns.
These were a consequence of global average temperatures rising by a massive 1ºC above pre-industrial levels, as recorded by NASA in 2015. And India needs to take appropriate actions as the temperature continues to rise at a really fast pace.
60 percent of India’s crop yield is rain-fed and is highly vulnerable to climate-induced erratic precipitation patterns. And decreasing food security will lead to significant health problems, and it will not be the only woe India will face.
Regions with cooler temperatures that do not face outbreaks of malaria or other vector-borne diseases will become more vulnerable to them as overall temperature rises.
According to World Bank estimates, if the temperature goes 2ºC above pre-industrial levels, India’s main sources for irrigation – the basins of the Indus, Ganges and Brahmaputra will reduce even further to a point where it’ll impact food adequacy for almost 63 million people.
Two of the most densely populated urban areas in India – Mumbai and Kolkata will be drastically affected due to the rise in sea levels. The two cities are also ‘potential impact hotspots’ prone to intense tropical cyclones, extreme river floods, erratic precipitation and soaring temperatures.
If we prevent global average temperatures from rising 2°C above pre-industrial levels, we can prevent severe climate-related disasters from happening.
According to a two-year UNFCCC review, the difference between 1.5°C and 2°C, however, negligible it may seem, is actually massive. The Structured Expert Dialogue (SED) that conducted the review came to the conclusion that the increase of 2°C is “too warm for many vulnerable systems” and advised to “avoid embarking on a pathway that unnecessarily excludes a warming limit below 2°C.”
Another study conducted by the European Geosciences Union in April 2016 further verified the ‘Half a degree’ scare stating that a jump from 1.5°C to 2°C would increase the frequency of rainstorms, the duration for which heat waves last and an increase in sea levels.
The fate of 1.2 billion people of India, also lies in that 0.5°C difference.
Current climate change patterns have already been fatal. Several scientific reports and reviews show that for vulnerable and low adaptive countries, like India, the situation will increasingly become direr as the world approaches the 2°C mark. If India has to survive, we must try to save ourselves by adopting more eco-friendly lifestyles. It really is high time.