Kashmir Images: As the rise in temperature, by 4 degrees Celsius, by the next decade is considered inevitable, it is time to prepare for the fallout.The fact that India faces multiple environmental crisis’s was highlighted by the government’s report on the impact of global warming across the country. The report, soon to be submitted to the UN, predicts as much as a 4 degree rise in maximum temperatures in some parts of Kutch and Rajasthan by the next decade. A clear need therefore exists to seriously consider effective mitigation measures for the anticipated effects of climate change as India will be severely impacted by it. Several sections of the Indian populace will not be able to buffer themselves from the disastrous effects of global warming. With close economic ties to natural resources and climate sensitive sectors such as agriculture, water and forestry, India is slated to face a major threat.
Photo Source (Left): Purdue
The economic, social and ecological price of the climate change will be massive. It is in the backdrop of this looming threat that the country needs to look at out of box solutions to combat the menace. Climate change is now widely regarded as one of the most serious challenges the world faces, with consequences that go far beyond the effects on the environment. It has been proved that there is a strong link between human activity and climate change. Ever since the industrial revolution began 150 years ago, manmade activities have significantly increased the levels of green house gases in the atmosphere. The atmospheric concentrations of carbon dioxide, methane and nitrous oxide have grown by 31%, 15% and 17% respectively between 1750 and 2000. These gases trap heat from the earth’s surface keeping the planet warm and consequently raising surface temperatures.
The proportion of the world population affected by weather disasters have doubled between 1975 and 20001. Since the environment is not restricted to boundaries of different countries, it might well mean that no country or individual will escape the effects of such climate catastrophe if we go on the same path of increasing our green house gas emissions year after year. Global warming is increasing day by day due to excessive burning of fossil fuels, deforestation and increased industrialization. It is a matter of grave concern. Agreed that economy must grow, but at the same time ecology has to be protected and the harmful effects of carbon emissions have to be negated. So far, little has been done to use renewable resources of energy.
It is high time India promotes environment friendly economic development. Tackling climate change should be a national priority. It would be prudent to make relentless efforts to cut carbon emissions as the country’s survival depends on adopting clean technologies. The need of the hour is to accelerate wind and solar energy projects as thermal power plants are known to cause cancer.
With changes in key climate variable like temperature, precipitation and humidity, crucial sectors like agriculture and rural development are likely to be affected in a major way. The possible consequences of global warming are already being felt with the observation of extreme temperature events like heat waves and cold snaps that have increased both in intensity and duration. We are now experiencing weird weather phenomenon with natural calamities and extreme weather events like droughts, floods and cyclones occurring more frequently.
India, with 1/6th of the world’s population can no longer afford to maintain its present laidback attitude. With the government report highlighting climate change threat that will lead to floods or water scarcity, there is no time to lose. Changes in temperature and rainfall patterns are going to impact agriculture, forestry, wild life and human health in a big way. With the onset of climatic fluctuations it could disrupt our monsoon cycles, throwing agriculture completely out of gear, leading to wide spread drought and hunger. This could be especially disastrous for a country where 50% of the agriculture sector still depends on the monsoon.
The rise in temperature will alter local environment in important ways. This will bring great hardship to people across the country by its catastrophe consequences on water resources, power and biodiversity. Higher temperatures would also mean that Himalayan glaciers and snow packs which are the lifeline for a large number of people would get depleted at a faster rate. Experts estimate that the Gangotri glaciers in Himalaya’s are receding at a speed of about 30 meters a year. If warming continues, there will be risk of devastating floods every year in some parts of the country whereas other parts may reel under severe drought.
Warmer temperatures could also lead to the migration of Alpine forests to higher elevation which has already been reported from Uttaranchal. Rise in sea surface temperatures would automatically influence the migration of fish from warmer to cooler waters, thus dramatically reversing the fortunes of fishing communities in Southern states. Climate change may also adversely impact the flow patterns of Himalayan rivers thus bringing in great devastation as best exemplified by the changing course of Kosi river in Bihar which affected more than 3 million people. Thus it goes without saying that reducing vulnerability to the impacts of climate change is essential. Also, imperative is the need for moving beyond rhetoric and get our act together. Infact, we cannot afford the worst predictions of the recent report on climate change to come true.
More than anything, what we need to consider is that in our greed for higher GDP growth, we are overexploiting our natural resources. Obviously, consequences of climate change are yet to sink in at the grassroots level. The fact that we may have to live with water scarcity is not yet fully understood. Traditional water resources are drying up while river waters have been polluted. One of the major issues is the imbalance in irrigation patterns and techniques as a result of populist subsidies. Farmers are pumping out groundwater excessively thus further lowering the water table, which is already at an alarming level. According to a study based on NASA satellite images, Punjab Haryana and Rajasthan have lost about 109 cubic kilometers of groundwater between 2002 and 2008 despite normal rainfall. At the same time, irrigation infrastructure is inadequate. This directly impacts the agriculture sector which is already plagued by low yields and poor storage facilities.
With the world running out of fresh water, water is turning out to be next oil yet; little is done to conserve water. Water storage facilities are woefully inadequate. Rainwater harvesting and other water management practices are hardly popular. All this despite that fact that 70% of the population still depends on the agriculture sector for its livelihood. The need of the hour is to build better irrigation infrastructure, set up more water treatment plants, replenish groundwater resources and levy taxes to save water and discourage its wastage.
To bridge the vast gap between knowledge and action, we first need to recognize that climate change impacts as an immediate concern and not just a future one. It may take place gradually over a period of time with the impacts building on slowly. But this does not mean that we should wait and see. If things turn out worse than anticipated, the option of undoing past action is not available. So we have no time to lose. It is imperative to step up our efforts to mitigate climate change now.
Climate change is already beginning to transform life on earth. But we still need air, water and safe places to live. If we didn’t act now, our lands and waters will alter rapidly leaving our future generations with a very different world.
By: Sunita Vakil: firstname.lastname@example.org
Started in year 2010, ‘Climate Himalaya’ initiative has been working on the mountain and climate related issues in the Himalayan region of South Asia. In the last two years this knowledge sharing portal has become one of the important references for the governments, research institutions, civil society groups and international agencies, those have work and interest in Himalayas. The Climate Himalaya team innovates on knowledge sharing, capacity building and climatic adaptation aspects in its focus countries like Bhutan, India, Nepal and Pakistan. Climate Himalaya’s thematic areas of work are mountain ecosystem, water, forest and livelihood. Read>>