Heed the warning

The findings of the latest scientific review report on global warming prepared by the United Nations Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) paints a scary picture of the ramifications of a spike in temperature. It has, therefore, rightly called for redoubling the effort to limit the rise in temperature to 1.5 degrees Celsius above the pre-industrial levels as mooted in the 2015 Paris agreement on climate change. Though the fallout of global warming would cut across the world, India and its adjoining regions are projected to be the worst victims of it. The report points to more intense heat waves in India and Pakistan than the one in 2015, which killed over 2,500 people. It specifically mentions that Kolkata and Karachi could expect annual conditions equivalent to their deadly 2015 heat waves. The most affected areas in India would be megacities, coastal areas, high mountains and small island regions. 

Disquietingly, the frequent freakish weather shocks linked with climate change are anticipated to heighten farmers’ distress by adversely affecting farm productivity. Kharif crop yields are predicted to fall by 4 per cent at 1.5 degrees Celsius temperature increase, and by 12.8 per cent if warming grows by 2 degrees. A similar impact on rabi output is reckoned at 4.7 per cent and 7 per cent, respectively.

The report points out that the global mean temperature has already risen 1 degree above the pre-industrial era and could surge beyond 1.5 degrees between 2030 and 2052. A rise of this level would increase, deepen and spread the impacts much wider. The consequences could manifest in terms of greater frequency, intensity and amount of heavy precipitation as also worst droughts. Besides, outbreaks of vector-borne diseases, such as malaria and dengue, would shoot up, causing overall deterioration in human productivity and escalation in poverty. The most disconcerting conclusion is that the burden of global warming would fall disproportionately on the poor who are incapable to withstand it, though they are not responsible for the problem.

The need, according to the report, is to slash the man-triggered carbon dioxide (CO2) emissions by about 45 per cent from 2010 levels by 2030. However, the chances of emission cuts of this order are remote as the developed countries, which are capable of — and should actually be — cutting down emissions, are unwilling to do so and the developing countries find such action beyond their means even if they put in an extra effort. India is no exception, though it runs one of the world’s largest renewable energy programmes. The US, the world’s biggest polluter and the most reluctant participant in the Paris climate deal, as also the oil-rich Saudi Arabia, have already aired their disagreement with the conclusions of the IPCC’s report.

Nevertheless, experts feel that climate mitigation effort can at best delay the disaster by averting further damage to the environment; it cannot reverse it in foreseeable future. The greenhouse gases that have already accumulated in the atmosphere can remain there for decades, if not centuries, despite higher sequestration through forests and other carbon sinks. The IPCC report is categorical that the CO2 capturing technologies are still unproven on a large scale. Adaptation to global warming is, therefore, as imperative as mitigation of climate change.