Global warming making India vulnerable to extreme weather events

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BENGALURU – India is likely to witness more extreme weather events, including intense heat waves, heavy flooding and severe drought that pose challenges to food and energy security for the second-most populous nation.

“The extremes are increasing – hot is becoming hotter and cold is becoming colder,” said Mr M. Ravichandran, the top bureaucrat at the country’s earth sciences ministry. This trend is only going to intensify every year, driven by a warming planet, he said in an interview on the sidelines of a Group of 20 working group meeting on climate and environment in Bengaluru. 

Erratic weather conditions expose millions of Indians to climate disasters, kill thousands every year and increase economic hardships by eroding farm productivity. At the same time, it burdens the country’s energy supplies by pushing demand for fossil fuels and drying up sources of hydropower.  

The country must plan to deal with such events and invest in climate change mitigation and adaptation measures, Mr Ravichandran said. The government is examining alternative sources of energy, such as offshore wind power and tidal energy, he said.      

The nation faced a gruelling summer last year, with temperatures touching record levels in several parts of the country. Deadly heat waves strained energy supplies and hit wheat crops, forcing India to ban exports of the grain at a time when the world faced a shortage following Russia’s war in Ukraine.

As the demand for electricity to run cooling appliances shot up, India had to import expensive coal to keep the lights on. The government has asked power plants to again import the fuel during the approaching summer to prepare for a likely surge in demand. 

Apart from extreme heat waves, India could continue to see wide variations in rainfall, with some places getting massive downpours, while others were witnessing droughts, Mr Ravichandran said. That would mean even if the average rainfall remained normal, there could be wide variations from one region to another. There’s also a possibility of the El Nino weather pattern this year, he said.

El Nino, which occurs when the equatorial Pacific surface warms and touches off a reaction in the atmosphere above it, often brings dry weather to parts of Asia and Australia. 

The climate change is spurring research to secure new sources of energy. The country is working on a policy for offshore wind projects and studying wind flow patterns for onshore projects, so investors are better informed about their viability, Mr Ravichandran said. BLOOMBERG

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