The forecast for the rate of global climate change and its impact on India and Tamil Nadu is alarming and could leave many cities vulnerable to natural disasters such as flooding, land subsidence and excessive heat.
Projections by Anna University in collaboration with the UK MET office show that temperature in Tamil Nadu will rise by 1.5 degrees in the next 30 years and by 3.5 degrees by 2100, with sea levels rising by 80 cm by the end of the century, if proper measures are not taken to curb emissions. It could lead to a catastrophe.
At the United Nations General Assembly (UNGA) summit on climate change in New York last week, many world leaders, including Prime Minister Narendra Modi, committed to working towards reducing emissions to zero by 2050.
But the task is not going to be easy. "All districts of TN are vulnerable to climate change,” says Dr K Palanivelu, Director of the Centre for Climate Change and Disaster Management at
“Water resources would be the most affected as temperature increases. Rise in sea level will turn the underground water resources saline. Erratic rainfall, frequent and intense cyclones will cause floods and damage crops. In the past 10 years, the number of rainy days has decreased."
United Nations considers climate change as the “defining issue of our time”. An independent study by NASA and the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) has found that 2015 to 2018 were the warmest years in recorded history since 1880. The average global surface temperature has also increased by one degree Celsius since the 1880s. Scientists say that a one degree rise in temperature is already causing extreme weather events like global heat waves, wildfires and severe hurricanes.
“Agriculture, water and allied sectors like animal husbandry and fisheries are all being impacted. Hence, coordination between different sectors is needed to make effective policies and strategies to combat climate change,” says Parvathi Preethan, Project Associate, Climate Resilience Practice, World Resources Institute India.
Global warming is not new to Earth. NASA, which has been mapping how the Earth has warmed over the years, by studying air bubbles trapped in glacial ice, says global warming has occurred several times in the past, over the course of millions of years. But this time, it is largely man-made and happening at a much faster rate than in the past. Current models predict that global warming in the next century will be 20 times faster.According to Carbon Brief, India is the world’s third largest emitter of greenhouse gases after China and America. Rice farming, cattle and coal power plants are the major greenhouse gas emission sources in India.
China, India, the European Union and the United States account for over half the world’s greenhouse gas emissions. According to the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC), global greenhouse gas emissions were 50.8 billion tonnes in 2016, up by 48 per cent since 1990. The burning of coal for power is the biggest source, accounting for 34 per cent of emissions worldwide in 2016, followed by industry (22 per cent) and transport (14 per cent).
Key findings of the IPCC
The United Nation’s Inter-governmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) says that the net damage costs of climate change will be significant and set to increase over time. In a report titled, `Ocean and Cryosphere in a Changing Climate’ released on September 25, the UN warns that coastal ecosystems are under threat due to intense marine heatwaves, acidification, and loss of oxygen and salinity intrusion.
The report states that nearly 50 per cent of coastal wetlands, which protect the coastline from storms and erosion and help buffer the impact of sea level rise, have been lost over the last 100 years.
The planet is already one degree warmer and is on its way to becoming 1.5 degrees warmer. This one degree rise is already causing a decline in Arctic ice, increase in sea levels and extreme weather. There will be a 100 per cent increase in risk of floods and 46 million people will be impacted by a 56 cm sea level rise by 2100.
At two degrees, the impact is significantly higher. According to the report, limiting global warming levels at 1.5 degrees requires carbon dioxide emissions to reduce to almost 45 per cent from 2010 levels by 2030 and should reach net zero levels by 2050.
Can climate change be stopped?
Action against climate change requires massive global cooperation. More than 40 Least Developed Countries and Small Island Developing States are making decisive plans to reduce emission levels. These nations account for less than 0.1 per cent of greenhouse gas emissions but face the disastrous impacts of climate change. Says Palanivelu, “Both the government and individuals should act together to mitigate its effects.” The government proposes to increase the share of renewable energy and increase the forest cover, but coal demand is also increasing. “We can opt for hydrogen energy, which is environment friendly, but it is risky, expensive and very difficult to implement. Planting saline water-resistant cash crops and conserving our mangrove forests and wetlands will help.”