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STEPS TOO LITTLE, TOO LATE

Warming Signals

By Dhurjati Mukherjee

Most countries, including India, have announced various measures to reduce greenhouse gas emissions, but these are abysmally inadequate. A recent study has again rung warning bells citing serious implications it would have in various sectors, including food production, floods, droughts and other types of natural disasters.

A research by University of California, Berkeley has observed that a rise in temperature may have catalysed about 59,300 suicides in India over three-and-a-half decades. When temperatures are above 20 C, a one degree rise on a single day during the monsoon season can on an average be accompanied by over 70 suicides over the normal rate. The study, published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, also found that an increase in the growing season rainfall by 1 cm is associated with a decrease of about 8 suicides per million.   

Such prediction of rise in temperature is nothing new as was confirmed way back in 2015 by the Indian Institute of Tropical Meteorology (IITM), Pune. Apparently, scientists along those from France and US, warned temperatures in the country are to rise by 20C by the middle of the century but this may become a reality much earlier, at least in some parts of India, and by 3.50 to 40 C by the end of the century. These were based on scientific and mathematical formulas used in tandem to predict the future climate pattern. One such model suggested temperatures could rise by as much as 60 C by end century.  

Even a UN report stated: “The INDCs have the capacity of limiting the forecast temperature rise to around 2.7 degree Celsius by 2100, by no means enough but a lower than the estimated four, five or more degrees of warming projected by many prior to the INDCs”. Additionally, the world would just have nearly 250 giga tonne (Gt) of carbon dioxide for development work beyond 2030. This is certain to hit poor and developing countries of Asia and Africa the most as these would not be in a position to peak their emission by 2030.

Remember, the fourth IPCC report on climate change had much earlier pointed that a temperature rise above 2 degrees Celsius from 1990 levels might not be ecologically sustainable. The upper bound on temperature increase translates into upper bound on greenhouse gas emissions and the resultant effects that were outlined include:                      extreme weather conditions in most parts of the world; shifting wind and rainfall patterns making dry areas drier and wet areas wetter; acceleration of  emission rates of CO2 due to industrialization, increased energy consumption, unsustainable agricultural practices and,                course, population growth; more hurricanes and floods forming now than a century ago, threatening millions of people along the world’s coastlines, specially in the Third World;                     ocean variability and glacier melting causing sea level rise resulting in inundation in areas nearer to the sea; killing of coral reefs faster, causing them to disappear twice as fast as rainforests on land; and deforestation and other forms of habitat destruction, pollution and poaching affecting animals, plants and of course human beings.

Most of these predictions have become a reality now. The floods and droughts in the country have been causes of deep concern. However, various measures are being taken at the national level, the most important being the government’s resolve to expand solar power in a massive way and make it affordable. Over the past two years, coal use increased by just 2.2 per cent, a sharp fall from the previous ten years when average annual growth was over 6 per cent, as per recent findings of Greenpeace Energy desk.

Meanwhile, India has committed to produce 40 per cent of its electricity from non fossil sources of energy by 2030 under the Paris accord. It is, therefore, planning to scale up targets for renewable energy capacity from 30 GW by 2016-17 to 175 GW by 2021-22. It is quite evident that renewable are booming in the country due to increasingly cost competitiveness of solar and wind installations.

Recently, a Supreme Court bench restrained manufacturers of firecrackers and similar other substances from using substances like lithium, antimony, mercury, arsenic and lead aimed at checking air and noise pollution that have been increasing over the years in big cities.

Lithium, as is well known, is a metal used to impart red colour to fireworks and antimony to create glitter effects. Similarly, lead oxide is used to provide a special crackling effect which, if inhaled in high concentration, could cause damage to the nervous system. This is one of the many measures being taken by the authorities in tackling pollution.

The problem of controlling pollution in a high density population country is indeed quite challenging more so because a major section are impoverished. Thus, health consciousness is very poor and while in the western world has full proof preventive medicine standards these are completely unknown in our country, even among the middle class.  

Another significant order of the apex court has been imposition of 100 per cent penalty for illegal extraction of iron ore and manganese ore in Odisha since 2001 and pay compensation of Rs 17.576. It rejected the plea of the Centre and SC appointed Central Empowered Committee that only 30 per cent value of the mineral be recovered from the companies. This order would henceforth stop mining without environmental clearance. It is also significant that the court suggested setting up an expert committee under a retired judge to identify the lapses and the spread of environmental pollution.

Such steps are no doubt laudable but, the measures adopted in most countries are far from adequate. As such, the prediction of increase in warming levels and attendant effects of floods and droughts is destined to have a severe effect on humans. Mention may also be made of a report of the Asian Development Bank released in July this year that found 13 of the top cities with the highest projected flood losses from 2005 to 2050 in the Asia Pacific region and include Kolkata, Chennai, Mumbai and Surat.      

In such a scenario, the future looks quite challenging. Managing climate change involves exhaustive exploration and discovery of organisational potential, business processes and options for greenhouse gas abatement through research and development. Though the Indian government pledged that it would never allow the country’s per capita emissions to exceed the average per capita emissions of industrialised countries, this needs to be strictly adhered to by the country as also China and other emerging economies. 

Special efforts have to be made to identify and check climate change impacts on human health, water resources, coastal areas and agriculture as this is vital for a large segment of the country’s population. Innovative efforts are needed in areas such as dryland farming, soil conservation methodologies, watershed management as also other agricultural technologies so that farm production is not hampered. In fact, it is time for all governments in the Asia Pacific region, including India, to become more serious about the impending fall-out of the warming catastrophe and evolve strategies for effective promotion and implementation in specific areas that could counter the threat. —INFA

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