India and Global Warming
Prakash Kini | 31 Mar 2008

Like the rest of the world, India is getting warmer. Malvika Kaul spots the first signs of climate change and how they will affect the country's future IMAGINE, a hot Bangalore, flooded Rajasthan and dry Kerala.

Imagine again, green leaves in autumn, very wet summers and warm winters. Stunted Himalayas and a dry Ganges. Cocooned in our ignorance, most of us can only imagine. But for climate change experts in India, the nightmare has begun. They see a menacing Indian climate ahead, induced by rapid global warming, deforestation and urbanisation.

By 2050, India will be at least 3 degrees celsius hotter, many of its rivers would have dried up, floods and droughts would be regular, cyclones more intense and there will be severe water and food shortage.

The threat is real. Dr Anand L. Koppar, Director, Metereological Centre, Bangalore, can already see a pattern: "Bangalore is already 0.7 degrees warmer than it was in the 70s. The summer temperatures now exceed 36 degrees in the city." Take Delhi, whose winter months, like London, are shrinking.

For the last three years, the London winter has been arriving three days late, and this time it has come with heavy rains and floods. In Delhi last year, winters arrived by late October. This year they made a very hesitant appearance only in the third week of November.

The comparisons may appear very unfair and the predictions too farfetched. But both, world scientists and Indian experts, see a method in this maze of climate change. World over, climate-related disasters have doubled in the last 10 years.

The frequency of severe weather has increased too in the 1960s there were 16 major climate-related disasters. In the 1990s, there were 70. The World Meteorological Organisation warns that average global temperatures are rising rapidly.

The 1990s were the warmest in the last 100 years. The Second Assessment Report of Global Climate Change predicted average mean warming of upto 3.5 degrees due to the increasing greenhouse gas emissions. But in the final draft of the third assessment report, these figures have been corrected to 4.5-5 degrees. Why? Because the earlier reports did not consider the offsetting effects of sulphate particles like cloud formation which prevent radiation going out of the atmosphere.

Neither did the experts include the warming effects of soot particles and mineral dust on the atmosphere. The first and very evident signs of global warming in India are the receding glaciers. The Gangotri glacier which feeds rivers like the Ganges has already lost one-third of its 15 mile length in the last 50 years. It loses 18 metres every year.

Pindari glacier, a favourite with trekkers, melts over 130 metres every year. The Chota Shigri glacier in Himachal Pradesh loses 6 metres annually. The International Commission for Snow and Ice warns that by 2035, most glaciers in India would have melted. Another indication of global warming is high variability in rainfall. Before the 90s, floods in Haryana and Punjab and the arid Rajasthan were unheard of.

But Murari Lal, from the Intergovernmental Panel for Climate Change, says that while the average rainfall of the country remains unchanged, several aberrations have surfaced. "Monsoon trends between 1991-99 indicate there have been dramatic shifts in some states. There has been an increase of 40-80 per cent rainfall in states like Haryana, Punjab and even Delhi. And, of late, we have been experiencing floods in Rajasthan." The otherwise heavy rainfall states of Kerala and the North-East have shown a consistent drop in volume. "Excess rainfall is more every year.

In the last decade, of the 30 meteorological sub-divisions, 20 registered excess rainfall. These are serious abnormalities." In the future, winter rainfall will decline, causing droughts in summers. And as most of the country depends on monsoon for agriculture, the catastrophic effects on food production are evident. "When we did a simulated study of rice yield, we got some disturbing data.

The yield would be substantially less in the next 50 years because of rapid warming. To a country whose economy is totally dependent on the weather, any climate abnormalities will spell doom." "Climate change is a complex issue and right now we do not have tangible evidence," says Sujata Gupta, Dean of Policy Analysis Division, Tata Energy Research Institute. "But when the changes occur they would be irreversible. For, greenhouse gases have a natural capacity to trap heat and reside in the atmosphere for over 100 years. Even a small methane molecule survives for 12 long years. And CFCs live forever." But how does developing India face this crisis?

Though India does not emit even 5 per cent of the greenhouse gases at the moment, it is already paying for the sins of industrialised nations, especially the US and Japan. Developed countries are responsible for almost 80 per cent of the world's greenhouse gases, though 90 per cent of the disasters take place in countries like India. "At the Kyoto Protocol in 1997, the rich countries agreed to a measly 5 per cent cut in emission of greenhouse gases by 2012. Actually they should be cutting it down at least by 90 per cent," says Lal. This conflict may continue even after the Conference of the Parties to the Framework Congress on Climate Change recently held at The Hague. Whatever the outcome, India would have to soon decide how to prevent damage to its climate. "Clean development mechanism and technology transfer are some of the answers. But who is concerned?" laments Lal.