As climate change becomes more palpable, it’s time for us to take appropriate actions post the commitments made in the Paris deal. We need to drop the status quo-ist mindset
The effects of climate change are no longer knocking at our doors but have entered our homes, unsettling normal life and particularly destroying planet earth’s very fibre and fabric of life — natural resources. With heat wave conditions ravaging north and western parts of the country, maximum temperatures went as high as 48°C in the national capital. Churu in Rajasthan saw temperatures soaring to 50°C in June. Breaking its previous record of 50.2°C recorded in May 2016, this year the desert city recorded temperatures as high as 50.8°C.
In fact, it has become an annual affair for several parts of the country to experience the summer crisis of rising temperatures, which brings along with it drought and severe water scarcity problems. This year, India experienced its worst monsoon since 2014 with only 17 per cent of the districts receiving excess rain while 51 per cent was deficient in showers, as on July 17. The southwest monsoon, which has had an erratic run this year, is now making up for the losses. It is now covering the length and breath of the country — running 10-15 days behind schedule. Overall, India had a deficit of 19 per cent rainfall as on July 23 with north-west, central and peninsular India, each recording 21 per cent deficiency.
The vagaries of climate change are there for all to see throughout the year. While in Chennai, locals were praying for some rain, on the other hand, Mumbaikars were reeling under a deluge. Other weather-related events such as floods and cyclones, too, have become a yearly phenomenon. The frequency and severity of these calamities is increasing.
A late start to the monsoon and deficient rainfall this year have both impacted the farm sector. This has led to delayed sowing of crops such as rice, soybean and corn. As of June 14, farmers had planted kharif crops across 8.22 million hectares, down nine per cent from the year-ago figure, according to data from the Agriculture Ministry. The problem is further complicated by the fact that most such crops have limited sowing period. Besides having immediate impact and long-term effect on the farm economy, extreme events like droughts, floods and landslides result in the loss of lives and cause great financial hardship to individuals and communities.
India is among those countries that are most vulnerable to climate change. Many factors, both natural and human, have made the fight against climate change more real, be it the melting of the Himalayan glaciers, the depletion of the ozone layer and erratic monsoon.
Many countries around the world, especially in Europe, have adopted a “wartime footing” strategy to address the existential threat of climate change. The French National Assembly recently declared a “climate emergency.” The Britain Parliament was the first in the world to do so. Others like Australia and Ireland followed suit.
The very purpose of “climate emergency” is to take radical steps to obtain “zero carbon emission” by 2050 by way of taking short and long-term steps towards mobilisation of resources so as to prevent deterioration of the environment. So far, over 740 local Governments in 16 countries have declared a “climate emergency.”
Last year, the UN had warned that we have just 12 years left to limit the climate change catastrophe. In view of the lurking danger, let us examine the seriousness of the climate threat so that it does not undermine our efforts towards the ultimate goal of ending poverty. As far as India’s commitment to the Paris deal is concerned, it is well on the trajectory to achieve two of its three commitments. India had promised to reduce its emissions intensity — greenhouse gas emissions per unit of GDP — by 33 to 35 per cent below 2005 levels by 2030. It had also promised to ensure that at least 40 per cent of its energy in 2030 would be generated from non-fossil fuel sources, like solar, wind or bio-fuels. In addition, it had said it would rapidly increase its forest cover so that an additional carbon sink equivalent to 2.5 to 3 billion tonnes of carbon dioxide is created by the year 2030.
However, India had asserted that its achievements will depend on the international financial and technology transfer as well as capacity-building support from the developed nations. During the Katowice Climate Change conference, India asserted that it is well on course in achieving its Paris commitments.
All said and done, at the international level, our planners have to brush up for just glib-talking to taking action on war footing. Rising temperatures, erratic monsoon as also natural calamities such as storms and cyclones cannot be handled by routine measures. India’s small industrial town of Aurangabad made headlines in 2010 when it ordered 150 Mercedes Benz cars at one go worth Rs 65 crore. This year, too, it was in the news for an unprecedented demand of water tanks during May and June. Prosperity and material wealth are of no use if people do not get access to basic drinking water services. In Uttarakhand, people from hilly areas are migrating towards plain districts due the lack of sub-surface drinking water.
The country, therefore, needs to take radical steps to identify locations, which can be declared as areas of “climate emergency.” Take the case of the Delhi-NCR region, which along with the many climate change-related problems battle other issues like pollution and straw burning, is a fit case to be declared as a “climate emergency” zone. Air quality remains poor, the Yamuna river stretch remains highly polluted and now the capital city is also witnessing a rise in average ozone levels.
The Modi 2.0 Government recently formed the “Jal Shakti” Ministry and launched a countrywide water conservation scheme focussing on 256 districts with the lowest availability of groundwater. To tackle climate change, a climate action strategy is needed. First, a list of “climate emergency” hotspots must be prepared for focussed implementation of programmes on climate change.
Second, on the policy front, one important decision that has been causing severe pressure on resources is population explosion. Unless focussed attempts are made to control the demographic dividend, goals such as poverty eradication, developmental as well as climate mitigation will remain a pipedream. Population control, therefore, is at the core of climate change mitigation programmes. It’s high time to formulate a legislation to control population after broad political consensus.
Third, water management should focus on river basin treatment, drought and flash floods. All water management programmes must help regulate and tap precipitation and run off and channel it to recharge the aquifer, village ponds and lakes. Each drop of water must be conserved. A research conducted by the Central Water Commission and the Indian Space Research Organisation, which was kept under wraps since 2017 but released recently argued that India may be stressed for water, but it does not suffer from water scarcity.
Fourth, keep forest fires under control. On this front, State Governments pay mere lip service. Forest fires are low killers of water, soil and forests and must be declared as a national emergency.
In a nutshell, we need to face the daunting task of keeping climate change under control with innovative living. And for this, the status quo-ist mindset must go. Is the environment ministry prepared to tackle climate change emergency? Does it have sufficient funds, qualified man power and tools to tackle it?
(The writer is a former civil servant)
Writer: VK Bahuguna