The Climate Conundrum

Chennai: Over 75 per cent of Indian districts, which are home to over 638 million people, are hotspots of extreme climate events such as cyclones, floods, droughts, heat, and cold waves, according to a first-of-its-kind independent study released by the Council on Energy, Environment and Water (CEEW).

The frequency, intensity, and unpredictability of these extreme events have also risen in recent decades. While India witnessed 250 extreme climate events between 1970 and 2005, it recorded 310 extreme weather events post 2005 alone. The study also found a shift in the pattern of extreme climate events such as flood-prone areas becoming drought-prone and vice-versa in over 40 per cent of Indian districts. The study was launched two days before the Climate Ambition Summit where several countries are expected to announce enhanced commitments towards combating climate change, a press release said.

Abinash Mohanty, programme lead at CEEW and the author of the study, said, ‘The current trend of catastrophic climate events results from a mere 0.6 °C temperature rise in the last 100 years. India is already the fifth most vulnerable country globally in terms of extreme climate events and it is all set to become the world’s flood capital. Access to finance and technology along with democratisation of weather and climate-related data is critical for building climate resilience, especially for vulnerable countries from the Global South like India’.

The CEEW study found that, in the last 50 years, the frequency of flood events increased almost eight times. Further, events associated with floods such as landslides, heavy rainfall, hailstorms, thunderstorms, and cloudbursts increased by over 20 times. The frequency of floods surged significantly in the last two decades.

The study also found that over 97 million people were currently being exposed to extreme floods in India.

According to the CEEW study, after 2005, the yearly average of the number of districts affected by cyclones tripled and the cyclone frequency doubled. In the last decade alone, 258 districts were affected. The east coast’s warming regional microclimate, land-use change, and degrading forests are triggering the region’s cyclonic activity. Moreover, areas along the east coast are economically backward compared to the west coast, thereby compounding the effects of extreme climate events. The last 50 years also recorded a 12-fold surge in the number of associated cyclonic events such as extreme rainfall,

floods, and thunderstorms. The compounding effect of cyclones is more severe than that of any other climatic event due to the amount of loss and damage they cause.