Wednesday, April 8, 2009

Climate Change : The Indian perspective

Climate Change’ has become the buzzword today. Whether as the hottest topic debated in blogs and forums worldwide or as the coolest conversation-stopper at drawing rooms, ‘Climate Change’ has finally been accepted as an global problem. Even our very own political parties in India are united over the need to develop sustainable measures for tackling and mitigation of climate change.

A lot of credit for this fad goes to the aggressive stance taken by India at the Bali summit of the UN Convention on Climate Change, in December, 2007. The stalemate brought about by the nonchalance of world’s largest emitter of greenhouse gases, USA, was finally brokered by Australia. Whether it was Al Gore’s sleight of hand or the pressure brought on by Nobel Peace Prize winning Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC), or the European Union's veiled threats to boycott future US-initiated meetings, it definitely spurred a volte-face in USA’s stance, prompting it to co-operate on future climate change negotiations.

So post Bali, the ball set rolling at India, despite the global perception to the contrary. With the Prime Ministers’ Special Task Force on Climate Change and the Indian industry’s CII Mission for Sustainable Growth & Climate Change, the Indian polity has definitely risen to the occasion.
It seems like the Indian Government has finally woken up to Mr. R.K. Pachauri's warnings while he spearheaded the IPCC into a force to be reckoned with. On may recall how Mr. Pachauri had termed Climate Change as a major threat to the environment and labeled it as a ‘national security issue’.

Climate Change, essentially the domino effect of rapid industrialisation, is today a reality, that has long since touched India. The coldest record of minus five degrees at Adampur, Punjab and 'the lower winter rainfall for the Rabi crop in the Northern India', are merely a fraction of some recent climate-change chnages that have stormed the nation. In the global scenario, climate change assumes special importance in India, primarily because it is an agricultural economy dependant upon the monsoons.

A natural upshot of global warming, climate change has been visible in the marked shift in weather patterns in the past few years. Unpredictable monsoons, extreme climate conditions, increase in natural disasters, rise in sea levels and crop failures are some of the obvious impacts of climate change being felt here. With an expected general increase in surface temperature up to 4°C, it is of grave concern to us. Unless reversed, this is likely to further augment the already emerging changes in glacier advances or retreats of the Himalayas. On the one hand the Himalayan river systems draining into the Ganga river basin are dying out, on the other hand glacier melting has resulted in recurrent flooding of Yamuna and Brahmaputra rivers and rise in the sea-levels. It is a disaster, waiting to happen, as the impact will be felt on human survival, agriculture, infrastructure, forest cover, hydel power and the general economy of India.

There was a time when the villagers of Basahi in Bihar, welcomed the onset of monsoons. Theast few years, however they view it with trepidation. The rains are getting heavier and relentless with each successive year. Combined with an increased run-off from the mountain glaciers in Tibet and Nepal and consequent breach of the Budhigandak river, the Basahi village has became a victim of climate change. The villagers think fixing the river embankment is the solution. Little do they know that the heavy floods are a visible sign of a climate flux.

Another State where the impact of climate change is obvious, is Rajasthan. A State that has winessed more of drought and aridity than any other, Rajasthan has witnessed an unprecedented 2 month long flooding in its five districts, in 2007. Contrarily, the North-Eastern States of Assam, whose lush green forests owed allegience to heavy downpour almost half the year, has been fraught with dry weather since 2004.

In particular, Himachal Pradesh is facing the heat of climate change. The effects of climate transmutation are more pronounced in these mountainous regions because of their fragile ecosystems. The melt-down of glaciers is already flooding river valleys. Flash floods are becoming the order of the day. Paradoxically, the prolonged drought conditions at other times of the year, are giving rise to a serious concern about water management, a hitherto unknown issue in this water-rich region. It is inevitable that these shifts in the environmental and geophysical attribute of this Himalayan region have a non-reversal impact on land-use patterns and crop production. Perhaps, in no other State have the people felt the effects of climate change to such an extent as in Himachal. Fortunately though, the Mountain Forum Himalayas (MFH) has already begun taking stock of the situation and is working towards a pro-active mitigation of the fallouts of a variable clime.

Sikkim is one of the most affected States in the North-East, where the effects of climate change are becoming cardinal to the State Government's policy-making. Early glacier melt, flooding of glacier-fed lakes and consequent breaching, change in cropping patterns, and paradoxically a drying-up Teesta river, are some of the problems the region has been grappling with of late.

Then of course, is the seat of the climate refugees, the deltaic region of Sunderbans, occupying the Southern tip of West Bengal; where a steady rise of sea-level has resulted in submergence of land area. Islands ahave disappeared over time, and many more are shrinking every year, forcing the villagers inhabiting these islands to take refuge elsewhere.

The results are evident all over India for everyone to see and feel, albeit, the fragile eco-systems of the Himalayan region in North and North-Eastern India, are facing the impact to a greater intensity. Whether it is the occupational shift from woollen goods to handicrafts and artifacts in the markets of hilly towns like Darjeeling; or the sociological adjustments in the villages of Bihar and Bengal because of an increasing influx of illegal Bangladeshi Muslim migrants, or the rise in deaths because of mosquito proliferation and zoonotic diseases like bird flu, it cannot be denied that all of these are the visible climate change-induced effects on our society.

So the next time you wonder why Holi sprinklers are getting chiller every year, why the allates are storming your lighting fixtures even after Diwali is long past or why the visible moon has has been obscured by sleets of rain on a Karva Chauth night, blame it all on climate change!

1 comment:

  1. Interesting - Living in Australia with relatives in the US and UK, I do not know much of the climate condition for the rest of the world.