According to the Statement on Climate of India During 2020, the year 2020 is the eighth hottest year in India since 1901. The country’s average temperature has risen by 0.62 degrees Celsius. The twin decades — 2001-2010 and 2011-2020 — has been marked as the hottest decades. The country’s average temperature increased by 0.23 degrees and 0.34 degrees during 2001-2010 and 2011-2020, respectively. According to a National Oceanic and Atmospheric Agency (NOAA) report by the USA, every decade since 1970 has been warmer than the preceding one. Twelve out of the 15 hottest years from 1901 to 2020 have been in the 21st century between 2006 and 2020.
India has been maintaining its weather data since 1901. Records show that the first five warmest years of this century were 2016 (0.71-degrees Celsius), 2009 (0.55-degrees Celsius), 2017 (0.54 degrees Celsius), 2010 (0.53 degrees Celsius) and 2015 (0.42-degrees Celsius). Along with the rise in the country’s average temperature in 2020, the average maximum (day) and minimum (night) temperatures have also increased. The average maximum temperature has risen to 0.99 degrees Celsius, while the minimum temperature rose to 0.24 degrees Celsius.
The average temperature for 2020 has increased by 0.29 degrees Celsius, based on the average temperature of 1981-2010. Although the average temperature in 2020 is much lower than that in 2016, which has been the hottest year on record, this rise in the average temperature of 2020 is very worrying.
According to the Indian Meteorological Department (IMD), temperature has been above average for 10 of the months of 2020, except March and June. The average temperature exceeded the normal level during September by 0.72 degree Celsius (warmest September), August by 0.58 degree Celsius (second warmest August), October by 0.95 degree Celsius (third warmest October), July by 0.56 degree Celsius (fifth warmest July) and December by 0.39 degree Celsius (seventh warmest) since 1901.
With a continuous rise in average temperature, natural calamities like heavy rains, floods, landslides, storms, lightning, and hot and cold waves are increasing rapidly in the country. These natural calamities claimed 1,565 lives in the country in 2020. Of these, 815 deaths were due to storms and lightning, and 600 people were affected by heavy rains and floods. Most of the deaths due to lightning were recorded in the states of Bihar and Uttar Pradesh.
The average temperature increase in 2020 is just 0.29 degrees Celsius, much lower than the rise in 2016. But it points out to a very worrying future as 2016 was the year of El-Nino, while 2020 is the La-Nina year. El-Nino and La-Nina are the two natural phenomena related to the sea surface temperature of the Pacific Ocean. Both phese phenomena have a profound effect on the earth’s average temperature.
During the El-Nino years, the Pacific Ocean’s sea surface temperature is above average, leading to increased rainfall and drought in India, Indonesia, Australia and South America. This causes El-Nino to increase the average temperature of the earth. At the same time, La-Nina year lowers the average temperature of the land and the regions mentioned above, but alas, the worry is that in the year 2020, India’s average temperature has gone up.
In 2020, businesses’ Covid-19-induced closure led to a significant decrease in greenhouse gas emissions from transportation, industries, institutions and the like. Despite the nominal emissions of greenhouse gases during the lockdown in 2020, an increase in temperature means the effect of existing gases in the atmosphere will continue even after zero-emission.
It has been observed that the above-average rainfall from the monsoons in 2020 has failed to control India’s increasing temperature. The main reasons for this rise are the economic growth model and indiscriminate deforestation. According to the report India State of Forest Report 2019 by Forest Survey of India, forest cover has increased by 0.13% over 2017. Still, according to the Global Forest Watch, India’s forest cover has declined by 3.3% between 2001 to 2019, which has released 153 metric tonnes of carbon dioxide into the atmosphere.
According to the Ministry of Environment, Forest and Climate Change, 6,944,608 trees have been cut down during 2016-2019. According to Wetland International, a Non-Governmental Organisation, one-third of India’s wetlands have been depleted in the last four decades. Thus, rapidly depleting ecosystems are releasing enormous amounts of carbon dioxide and other greenhouse gases into the atmosphere. The amount of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere on December 27, 2019, was 412.80 ppm, which increased to 415.09 ppm on the same day in 2020 despite partial lockdown.
According to NOAA data, the concentration of carbon dioxide was 280 ppm before the Industrial Revolution. NOAA considers 350 ppm of concentration of carbon dioxide as a safe limit. Scientists have been warning for more than a decade that a concentration of more than 450 ppm risk triggering extreme weather events and the temperature rises as high as 2 degrees Celsius, beyond which the effects of global warming are likely to become catastrophic and irreversible.
With increasing temperature, our country faces enormous natural disasters each year. Council on Energy, Environment and Water of India, in its report, states that 75% of the country’s districts, which make up for the country’s half population, have been hit hard by natural disasters due to climate change.
According to a WMO report titled ‘The State of the Global Climate 2020‘, Earth’s temperature rose by 1.2 degrees Celsius from January to October 2020 after the industrial revolution. Paris Climate Agreement stated the safe limit of increase in temperature to be 1.5 degrees Celsius. In view of all these empirical pieces of evidence, the increasing number of natural disasters and the severity of their impact, concrete planning and expeditious action should be taken.
However, our government is turning blind to these phenomena. The Indian government had not promised to increase carbon emissions cuts in 2019 at international conferences. While ignoring environmental issues, the so-called development of the country is also making efforts to make concessions in environmental regulations. Given the rise in average temperature in the country, the government should generate the required energy from natural sources instead of giving grants to coal-fired power generation projects.
The government should improve public transport and not claim an increase in forest area through manipulation. It should instead put practical efforts in this direction. It should not harm natural wetlands and wild vegetation in coastal regions by enacting new laws in the name of economic development. Protecting natural vegetation in these areas will safeguard people living there and other parts of the country from natural disasters. Climate emergencies like those declared by New Zealand is an example of climate-responsive action.
Written by: Professor, Department of Geography, Punjabi University, Patiala and Visiting Professor, IMPRI