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WMO Climate Report 2022: Extreme Weather Events Hurt India & Threaten Food Security, Time To Act Is Now

The World Meteorological Organisation (WMO) report reiterates the fact that India needs to expedite planning for summer and monsoon extremities, glacial melt, sea-level rise. As India has 7,516.6 km of coastline, the report is further concerning as it found that the global mean sea level continued to rise in 2022, reaching a new record high.

Enviromental Activists and Supporters take part in a ''Global Climate Strike'' march to combat climate change in support of the environmental and climate protection movement 'Fridays for Future' in New Delhi, India on March 3, 2023.
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The Devil is knocking on the door and procrastination is no longer an option. This, in short, is the message from the World Meteorological Organisation’s (WMO) State of the Global Climate 2022 report, which was released in Geneva on Friday. 

South Asia and the Indian subcontinent —a region known to be highly vulnerable to climatic changes— featured prominently in the report. 

“The years 2015 to 2022 were the eight warmest in the 173-year instrumental record,” said the report, adding that sea-level and ocean heat also are at record levels. It further said, “This trend will continue for many centuries.”

In the Indian sub-continent, an exceptionally hot pre-monsoon and an extended, wetter-than-average monsoon characterised the climatic conditions in 2022, leaving myriad impacts, including threats to life and food security. Besides, measurements on glaciers in High Mountain Asia, which includes the Himalayas and the Tibetan plateau, “reveal substantial glacier mass losses”. Glacial retreats not only increase the risks from flash floods but can also disrupt riverine water flow.

One of the most important features of the year was the summer monsoon that extended westward to Pakistan, noted the report.

“The Indian monsoon onset was earlier and the withdrawal later than normal in 2022. The majority of the Indian subcontinent was wetter than average and the monsoon extended farther westward than usual towards Pakistan, where there was extensive flooding,” the report said. It adds that the precipitation totals were above the long-term (1951–2000) average in the western Indian summer monsoon region, the report pointed out. 

Researchers feel the trend of higher rainfall in Western India should not be seen in isolation from the last year’s massive floods in Pakistan as they are more or less part of the same climatic region. One of the worst-affected regions was Sindh, which shares the international border with India’s Punjab and Gujarat. 

One of the impacts of the pre-monsoon heat waves was a decline in crop yields. “In India, grain yields were reduced by the extreme heat and there were a number of forest fires, particularly in Uttarakhand,” noted the report, adding that Pakistan too suffered from a decline in crop yields. 

Glacial melt and irregular rain patter can also damage agricultural production, scientists had earlier pointed out. 

“The report shows that we need to urgently cut down our emissions. The issue of loss of crops due to heatwaves last year has been highlighted in the report. The last IPCC report, too, highlighted that South Asia was a climate change hotspot. And this WMO report shows South Asia cannot delay climate action anymore,” said Aditi Mukherji, Director of the Climate Change Impact Platform at Consortium of International Agricultural Research Centres (CGIAR).

For a country having 7,516.6 km of coastal line, the findings on sea level rise come as another matter of concern for India, as the report said that the global mean sea level continued to rise in 2022, reaching a new record high for the satellite altimeter record (1993–2022).

“The rate of global mean sea level rise has doubled between the first decade of the satellite record (1993–2002, 2.27 mm per year) and the last (2013–2022, 4.62 mm per year),” it said.

Flooding has been another cause of concern, especially in the north-eastern region, where devastation and loss were mostly caused by flooding. “There was also significant flooding in India at various stages during the monsoon season, particularly in the northeast in June, with over 700 deaths reported during the season from flooding and landslides, and a further 900 from lightning,” said the report.

Time for immediate action

According to scientists and policy researchers, all these changes together place before India a complex set of challenges — from protecting the coastal areas and fragile mountain ecosystem to devising appropriate crop support mechanism and building resilience. Given that emissions in India —and also China— are set to increase due to further urbanisation and industrialisation, the countries also need to proactively protect their own environment and ecology. 

The WMO report was published at a time the United Nations (UN) Secretary-General António Guterres is calling for an expedition mission to save ‘Mother Earth’, stressing the need for massively scaling-up investments in adaptation and resilience, “particularly for the most vulnerable countries and communities who have done the least to cause the crisis”.

“We have the tools, the knowledge, and the solutions. But we must pick up the pace. We need accelerated climate action with deeper, faster emissions cuts to limit global temperature rise to 1.5 degrees Celsius,” said Guterres in a message on the occasion of Mother Earth Day. 

The Indian subcontinent is one such region that has a nominal share in causing global warming but has turned out to be a prime sufferer. This is why a section of scientists and researchers think it is the time when the question of historical responsibility for causing global warming is discussed more. 

“India needs to keep putting pressure on the developed countries that have the greatest responsibility in causing the warming to do their part without dilly-dallying. The discussion around historical contribution is very important. At the same time, India also needs to play its own part in mitigation, for example, rapid mitigation in the energy sector and quick decarbonization of our power grids,” sa a idscientist working with a non-government organisation, on condition of anonymity. 

On the global scale, the report pointed out that the global mean temperature in 2022 was 1.15°C [1.02–1.28] above the 1850–1900 average. 

“The years 2015 to 2022 were the eight warmest in the 173-year instrumental record. The year 2022 was the fifth or sixth warmest year on record, despite ongoing La Niña conditions,” it said. La Nina is an oceanic and atmospheric phenomenon that cools off the surface of ocean water along South America’s tropical west coast of South America.

According to Petteri Taalas, Secretary-General of the WMO, rising emissions and changing climate have continued to gravely impact vulnerable populations due to extreme weather and climate events. 

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“For example, in 2022, continuing drought in East Africa, record-breaking rainfall in Pakistan, and record-breaking heatwaves in China and Europe affected tens of millions, drove food insecurity, led to mass migration, and cost billions of dollars in loss and damage,” Taalas wrote in the report. 

Anjal Prakash, Associate Professor (Research) and Research Director at Bharti Institute of Public Policy of the Hyderabad-based Indian School of Business, says that he is “deeply concerned” about the findings of the report. 

“These extreme weather events have resulted in immense economic and social costs for India, and it is crucial that we take immediate and concrete actions to address the climate crisis. The findings of the report underscore the urgent need for global cooperation and collective action to reduce greenhouse gas emissions, protect vulnerable populations, and mitigate the impact of climate change. We cannot afford to delay action any longer,” said Prakash, who was also been an author of Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) reports.    

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