India is a high risk region as far as climate change is concerned. This was confirmed by a paper called the Global Climate Risk Index 2021, released last month. The study said India was the seventh most affected nation battered by the impact of climate change in 2019. The report suggested that between 2000 and 2019, as many as 4.5 lakh people lost their lives as a consequence of over 11,000 extreme weather phenomena globally, which entailed losses upwards of $2.56 trillion.
Evidence of such events is in plain sight in India. The glacial burst believed to have kicked off a flash flood in Uttarakhand, two weeks ago, is being termed by experts as a disaster waiting to happen. The impact of unchecked infrastructure development, coupled with climate change is a mixture that could lead to a repeat of such tragedies, as per researchers working in the climate space. A 2019 analysis revealed the Himalayan glaciers melted at a rate twice as fast since the turn of the century, as compared to the 25 years preceding the Millennium. The region is prone to disasters of such types, as even in 2013, a flash flood formed when the rivers overflowed with rainwater, swept through Uttarakhand, decimating villages, and leaving a death toll of over 6,000 people. And just last year, West Bengal and Odisha bore the brunt of tropical cyclone Amphan, the strongest to hit Bengal since 1582. Claiming 118 lives and causing damage to the tune of $13 bn, it was further strengthened by rising sea surface temperature and increased rainfall intensity, another consequence of climate change.
Not that First World countries have been immune to such events. More recently, in the US state of Texas, an Arctic outbreak, termed as a once in a century event, blacked out the state’s power grid, leaving millions of citizens in the dark. One of the learnings was that the State’s electricity infrastructure was in no position to handle the challenges thrown up by extreme weather for instance - the necessary insulations that would have prevented water pipes from bursting in the winter. A climate change-specific term that gained prominence in the aftermath was the Polar Vortex, which was defined as an upper air weather pattern in the Arctic that envelopes the North Pole. Scientists estimated the temperatures in the Arctic are rising faster than anywhere else in the world, and it has weakened the jet stream that limits the cold air deep in the northern hemisphere. A weaker jetstream allows freezing air to enter lower latitudes as well.
So how exactly do nations mitigate this crisis? Speaking at IIT Kharagpur a few days ago, Prime Minister Narendra Modi had warned of the dangers of climate change. Earlier, he had remarked that India is on track to exceed its commitments and targets set at the Paris Climate Change Conference in 2015. He added that the nation is also close to achieving its 450 GW renewable energy generating capacity by 2030. While the PM’s assurances are heartening, there is so much work to be done, not only on the governmental side but even in the private and citizen-centric space. The shift to the electrification of vehicles will need to be speeded up on a war footing, and so must that of building the peripheral infrastructure. On the corporate front, companies must look at environmental compliance as not just a footnote, but an actual action item that is not negotiable. Similarly, the government cannot ignore the importance of Environmental Impact Assessment concerning any infrastructural project. Citizens also have an equal part to play in this equation. Rooting for sustainable initiatives like car-free Sundays, travelling by metro rail, or even bicycles on the weekends or even judicious use of fossil fuel-based resources can go a long way in mitigating the threat in the long run. Like they say, Earth is all we have, there is not Planet B.