With the mighty Himalayas and its glaciers in the north, tropical in the south, dense rain forests of Meghalaya in the East and the dry Thar Desert of the west, incredible India, truly holds a variety of climate within her.
Climate change refers to a statistically significant variation in either the mean state of the climate or in its variability, persisting for an extended period (typically decades or longer). Climate change may be due to natural internal processes or external forces, or to persistent anthropogenic changes in the composition of the atmosphere or in land use. [Ministry of Environment and Forest. Government of India, Source; envfor.nic.in]
The term is now used to refer to climate change caused by human activity. The United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change defines climate change as “a change of climate which is attributed directly or indirectly to human activity that alters the composition of the global atmosphere and which is in addition to natural climate variability observed over comparable time periods.”
In the latter sense climate change is synonymous with global warming.
The atmosphere carries out the critical function of maintaining life-sustaining conditions on Earth. The earth both absorbs and, simultaneously releases heat in the form of infra red waves. All this rising heat is not lost to space, but is partly absorbed by some gases present in very small (or trace) quantities in the atmosphere, called GHGs (greenhouse gases).
However, ever since the Industrial Revolution began about 150 years ago, man-made activities have added significant quantities of GHGs to the atmosphere. The atmospheric concentrations of carbon dioxide, methane, and nitrous oxide have grown considerably. [http://envfor.nic.in/cc/what.htm#IPCC01]
An increase in the levels of GHGs could lead to greater warming, which, in turn, could have an impact on the world’s climate, leading to the phenomenon known as climate change. Indeed, scientists have observed that over the 20th century, the mean global surface temperature increased by 0.6 °C.
EFFECTS OF CLIMATE CHANGE FROM INDIA’S PERSPECTIVE
Impacts are already being seen in unprecedented heat waves, cyclones, floods, salinisation of the coastline and effects on agriculture, fisheries and health. India, home to a third of the world’s poor, and climate change will hit this section of society the hardest. Set to be the most populous nation in the world by 2045, the economic, social and ecological price of climate change will be massive.
The future impacts of climate change, identified by the Government of India’s National Communications (NATCOM) in includes the following-
- Decreased snow cover, affecting snow-fed and glacial systems such as the Ganges and Bramhaputra. 70% of the summer flow of the Ganges comes from melting of glaciers.
- Erratic monsoon with serious effects on rain-fed agriculture, peninsular rivers, water and power supply.
- Drop in wheat production by 4-5 million tonnes, with even a 1ºC rise in temperature.
- Rising sea levels causing displacement along one of the most densely populated coastlines in the world, threatened freshwater sources and mangrove ecosystems.
- Increased frequency and intensity of floods. Increased vulnerability of people in coastal, arid and semi-arid zones of the country.
- Studies indicate that over 50% of India’s forests are likely to experience shift in forest types, adversely impacting associated biodiversity, regional climate dynamics as well as livelihoods based on forest products.
With 27.5% of the population still below the poverty line, reducing vulnerability to the impacts of climate change is essential.
STEPS TAKEN BY INDIA FOR CLIMATE CHANGE MITIGATION
India signed the UNFCCC on 10 June 1992 and ratified it on 1 November 1993. Under the UNFCCC, developing countries such as India do not have binding GHG mitigation commitments in recognition of their small contribution to the greenhouse problem as well as low financial and technical capacities.
In India, the Ministry of Environment and Forests is the nodal agency for climate change issues. It has constituted Working Groups on the UNFCCC and Kyoto Protocol. The Kyoto Protocol to the UNFCCC was adopted in 1997 and requires developed countries and economies in transition listed in Annex B of the Protocol, to reduce their GHG emissions.
Several measures are being undertaken in the country, which contribute to GHG mitigation. Some of them are:
1.) Establishment of the Technology Information, Forecasting and Assessment Council under the Department of Science and Technology, which facilitates the transfer of environmentally sound technology.
2.) Extensive efforts in conservation of forests and biodiversity.
3.) Involvement of a number of governmental and independent agencies in climate change research in India.
4.) The India Meteorological Department (IMD) observes climatic parameters at surface and upper air observatories throughout the country. IMD’s network includes 559 surface observatories, more than 8000 rainfall monitoring stations, 100 satellite-based data collection platforms in remote areas, 203 voluntary observing ships, 10 cyclone detection radars, and 17 storm detection radars. Since 1983, IMD has maintained a meteorological observatory at the Indian Antarctic station. This data is scrutinized and archived at the National Data Centre, Pune, and used to study, predict, and determine the effects of climate change.
5.) Replacement of the existing cyclone detection radars with state-of-art Doppler Weather Radars in a phased manner. The cities of Calcutta and Chennai have been the first ones to witness their use. An indigenous Doppler weather radar is being developed under a collaborative programme of the IMD with the Indian Space Research Organisation.
6.) Using satellite data received from INSAT to provide cloud imageries in the visible and infrared channels, which in turn, are used to derive cloud motion vectors, sea surface temperatures, and outgoing long wave radiation.
The shaky global economy provides a stark backdrop to why cooperation in an interdependent world is the only way forward. To succeed, climate change must be reframed as an agenda of hope, growth, innovation, and opportunity. It must be used to mobilize a new sense of national purpose and imbue people with optimism. India has a billion good reasons for leadership on climate change. Addressing this could be the best way for the country to secure prosperity and development. If India truly aspires to greatness, no other issue is more timely or compelling.
Adhideb Bhattacharya & Ankit Shrivastav
Students, 4th Year, B.A.LL.B.(Hons.) ,University of Petroleum & Energy Studies, Dehradun
[Submitted as an entry for the MightyLaws.in Blog Post Writing Competition, 2011]