By Nageshwar Patnaik in Bhubaneswar, May 15, 2019: Climate change is the biggest challenge facing the global community and there is clear absence of political will to fight climate change. This is what UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres observed on Sunday during his visit to New Zealand.

Countries are not living up to their commitments under the 2016 Paris Agreement to keep the global temperature rise to below two degrees Celsius above pre-industrial levels, he said adding, “We are not on track to achieve the objectives defined in the Paris Agreement, and the paradox is that as things are getting worse on the ground, political will seems to be fading,” he added.

Incidentally, a string of apocalyptic reports on the state of the planet has called for the need for concrete steps to tackle climate change and environmental catastrophe.

More than 10 lakh species are on the brink of extinction. Carbon dioxide emissions continue to rise, pushing targets from the Paris accord further out of reach. While the Earth is roughly 0.8 degree Celsius warmer than it was last century, the timing, frequency and intensity of tropical cyclones is directly linked. According to many scientific studies, warmer oceans have intensified cyclones.

In fact, the human contribution to climate change in terms of greenhouse gases (GHG) has a direct effect on origin of cyclones and its intensity, and so it’s rampage. The classic example is Cyclone Fani, which hit Puri in the eastern Odisha coast with full intensity on May 3 at Puri – the abode of Lord Jagannath and is the third in 150 years to strike in summer.

The impacts of Cyclone Fani, which devastated large parts of Odisha, West Bengal and Bangladesh, have been hogging the headlines in mass media. It has left behind a trail of massive destruction killing 64 people in Odisha so far and leaving hundreds injured.

Fani clearly signaled an increasingly climate-risked world as of to-day. Scientists predict increasing intensity and frequency of tropical cyclone as oceans warm up leaving more moisture. This paves the way to ocean storms build up lashing the land with devastating wind and rain.

The Indian Ocean, in particular has been warming faster than any tropical region on the planet over the past century according to the Climate Research Lab in IIT Madras. The Indian Ocean is also the largest contributor to global ocean surface warming.

“Global warming has made sea surface temperature higher in the Bay of Bengal leading to generation and intensification of cyclonic systems. The southern coasts of Odisha experience cyclonic storms more frequently since Phailin cyclone of 2013,” says Sarat Chandra Sahu, former director, Indian Meteorological Department and now the Director of the Center for Environment and Climate at the SOA University.

There is no doubt that climate change pose a significant challenge to poverty reduction, health and development in many developing countries, including India. Odisha’s geographic location on the east coast of India and its climatic condition have meant that the state has historically been highly prone to climate change and multiple hazards, mainly cyclones, droughts and floods. Its fluctuating weather conditions suggest that Odisha is stumbling under climatic chaos.

The whole country will sooner or later face climatic apocalypse as rising temperatures threatens to melt at least one-third of the Himalayas’ glaciers by the end of the century even if the temperature rise is limited to 1.5°C. Melting glaciers in both the Andes and the Himalayas threatens the water supplies of crores of people living downstream.

A report by the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) released last year has clearly warned of disastrous consequences if current trends of global warming are not reversed immediately.

The report says that the impact of a 1.5C increase in global temperatures will “disproportionately affect disadvantaged and vulnerable populations through food insecurity, higher food prices, income losses, lost livelihood opportunities, adverse health impacts, and population displacements”.

India will be significantly affected, given its huge population and levels of inequality and poverty. If exposed to the kind of destabilisation the report talks about, the impact on India could be devastating – not just socially but also politically.

For one, sea level rise will have a disastrous impact on the country, given its 7,516.6 km coastline, and the number of people who live close to and depend on the sea for their livelihoods.

At the same time, deadly heat waves – similar to one in 2015 that killed thousands of people in India and Pakistan – could soon become the norm. It is already late to reverse rising temperatures and minimise some of the harm and particularly, it will not be easy to do for countries like India, which is largely developing economy with limited resources.

India is under pressure to mitigate climate change by controlling emission growth. But it will also need to adapt to increased water scarcity, droughts, floods, cyclones and other natural disasters.

The country has developed a fairly good disaster management system but it needs more resources to develop further. It has also set ambitious targets on renewable energy. India is currently developing a mid-century strategy for low carbon growth. It has also set fairly ambitious renewable energy targets, but these come with their own set of challenges.

For instance, it would need to store renewable energy on a massive scale, but the price of battery storage has not been falling fast enough to make this a viable option.

India has begun introducing electric vehicles, but it needs to urgently strengthen its bus, rail and public infrastructure to move towards more sustainable means of transport. This will be a challenge because the resources that will be required in terms of technology and finance are not clear.

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