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Scare in the Subcontinent


In 2007, the RK Pachauri-headed Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change had created a worldwide scare with its report that claimed Himalayan glaciers would disappear by 2035. Later, the UN body admitted its ‘error’. Some studies say Himalayan glaciers are in fact expanding owing to increased precipitation.     

Climate change is recognised as a significant man-made global environmental challenge. But the debate at this point is on the extent of it. Recent evidences suggest that the scientific consensus on many issues is debatable.

Whether global warming studies are accurate or wide off the mark, a diverse country like India is vulnerable to climate change, which includes the Himalayas that feed nearly half a billion population spanning across northern India, impact of sea-level rise on hundreds of millions of people that inhabit the 7,500 km-long coastline, our monsoon-fed agriculture and increase in frequency of extreme weather events like cyclones and flash floods.

An analysis by the Centre for Science and Environment (CSE) shows so far 2015 has seen second major floods in Kashmir in six months, wettest March in 48 years with rains continuing in April leading to devastation in 11 million ha of farm land and nearly Rs 17,000 crore of relief announced by various state governments.  

India has told the UN that climate change is a major challenge for developing countries like it that face large-scale climate variability and are exposed to enhanced risks. “India has accepted the huge impact that climate change is exerting and will exert on different sectors of its economy. It has agreed to enhance investments in vulnerable sectors,” said Sunita Narain, director general, CSE.

Indian Himalayas indicate presence of 9,579 glaciers, some of which form the perennial source of major rivers. Melting would cause flooding of plains initially and later massive drought.

Besides, the Eastern Himalayas region, one of the most biodiversity-rich regions of the world, is home to more than 10,000 plant species, 300 mammal species, 977 bird species, 176 reptiles, 105 amphibians and 269 freshwater fish. The region also has the highest density of the Bengal Tiger and is the last bastion for the greater one-horned rhino. Any change in ecology would threat the biodiversity.

An assessment by a group of scientists under the Ministry of Environment and Forests indicates an all-round warming over the subcontinent due to increasing greenhouse gases by 2030s which could result in seasons getting warmer by around 2 degrees. Annual rainfall may only see a small increase while the daily extremes in minimum and maximum temperatures may intensify. The projections have revealed that the frequency of rainy days is likely to decrease in most parts of the country.

Among other things that are said to be disturbed is agriculture as rice and maize yields are expected to decrease.

Some other studies say morbidity and mortality of the population are likely to increase with warming temperatures and variable precipitation. Their direct effects can manifest as heat stress and indirect effects can be in terms of vector-borne and water-borne diseases, and malnutrition.

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