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Extreme weather events strike India almost every day

Murali Krishnan New Delhi
November 10, 2022

India has faced extreme heat waves, unprecedented floods and excess rainfall this year. Experts say more needs to be done for climate adaption to prevent economic losses and food insecurity.

 A man walks through a flooded street during a heavy monsoon rainfall in Chennai
Experts say India could lose up to 10% of its GDP due to climate change if the warming is not limited to below 2 degrees CelsiusImage: Sri Loganathan/ZUMA Press Wire/picture alliance

Nearly every day in the first nine months of this year, India recorded extreme weather events, including heat waves, cold waves, cyclones, lightning, heavy rainfall, floods and landslides.

The Center for Science and Environment (CSE), the country's premier public interest research and advocacy organization, said the localized climate disasters, on 241 of 273 days till October 1, had claimed at least 2,755 lives, while affecting some 1.8 million hectares of crop area, killing more than 69,000 livestock, and destroying 416,667 houses.

India hopes for good news from COP27

The report, which highlights that India is suffering more than most, comes as global leaders convene for the UN Climate Change Conference (COP27), currently being held in Sharm El Sheikh, Egypt.

"This is the watermark of climate change. It is not about a single event but about the increased frequency of the events, that what we saw as the one in 100 years extreme event has now been compressed to become one in five years or even less," CSE's Director General Sunita Narain told DW.

India also suffered an income loss of US$159 billion (€158.6 billion), almost 5.4% of its gross domestic product, owing to extreme heat in 2021, according to the Climate Transparency Report (CTR) 2022, compiled by an international partnership of organizations.

According to the CTR, last year heat exposure in India led to the loss of 167 billion potential labor hours, a 39% increase in comparison with the last ten years of the 20th century.

At COP27 India is expected to push for ensuring energy for a developing country and protecting its workforce employed in fossil-fuel related industries as it moves to renewable sources of energy, climate finance for adaptation, mitigation and financial assistance for climate change-induced loss and damage.

India 'losing up to 5% of its GDP due to climate change'

"The frequency and intensity of extreme weather events will further increase with increasing global temperatures," Chandra Bhushan, founder-CEO of International Forum for Environment, Sustainability & Technology, told DW. "India is already losing 3-5% of its GDP due to climate change and this number could rise to as much as 10% if the warming is not limited to below 2 degrees Celsius."

"While a lot is being done to improve early warning systems and provide for rescue and relief, India will need to invest more in adaptation and resilience. It will require global support in managing climatic impacts," adds Chandra Bhushan.

About 80% of India's population live in regions highly vulnerable to extreme disasters like severe flooding or heat waves.

Despite India's sophisticated early warning systems for floods and cyclones, end-to-end connectivity needs to be improved and be more robust.

Roxy Mathew Koll, a climate scientist at the Indian Institute of Tropical Meteorology, maintains that the short-term and long-term losses due to the extreme weather this year are yet to be absorbed.

"As more data surfaces, we see that climate change is accelerating at a fast pace, throwing off extreme weather events, one after the other. This is faster than what we thought earlier," Koll told DW.

"South Asia has become the poster child of climate change and the region is witnessing a clear trend in rising heatwaves, floods, landslides, droughts, and cyclones. This is affecting the food, water, and energy security of the region," he added.

Domestically, India has set its own ambitious climate pledges, known as Nationally Determined Contributions (NDCs) and a net-zero goal, also known as carbon neutrality, referring to all carbon emissions either being eliminated or absorbed and not released into the environment. At last year's COP26, Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi vowed to have this achieved in the country by 2070.

Climate finance and transition

However, it needs external financial help for its people to adapt to the effects of global warming and to mitigate losses. India wants the $100 billion-a-year pledge — a climate funds promise for developing nations made at COP15 in 2009 — to be fulfilled, even though it is already two years past its deadline.

In December, India will begin its one-year-long tenure as head of the Group of 20 (G20). Climate finance in particular remains a major issue of contention within the G20.

"Developed countries should fulfill their targets and obligations towards climate finance, which they have failed to do," said Environment Minister Bhupender Yadav during an interaction with reporters ahead of the COP27 summit. He is leading an 18-member Indian delegation at the UN's climate change conference.

Earlier this year, India pledged to reduce its emissions intensity 45 % by 2030 compared to 2005 levels. The country also vowed to achieve around 50% cumulative electric power — installed capacity from non-fossil fuel-based energy resources — by the end of this decade. This is contingent upon the transfer of technology and low-cost international finance, including from the UN's Green Climate Fund — a foundation set up to financially assist developing countries in adaptation and mitigation practices to counter climate change.

In addition, the Indian government is pushing Mission Life, which refers to adopting a sustainable lifestyle, to position the country as going beyond policy-making as it advocates for individual and community-level change.

"2022 has been a testament to some harsher and grimmer climate extremes across the globe and India is no exception. The frequency and intensity of these extremes are going to breach all thresholds in future," Abinash Mohanty, a former director at the Center for Environment, Energy and Climate Change, told DW.

Mohanty argues that India should ensure that regional and north-south cooperation within the country is fostered to withstand the climate shocks through climate-ready systemic, technological, and financial solutions that are backed by science-based evidence, hence providing access to climate information for all.

Edited by: John Silk

Murali Krishnan
Murali Krishnan Journalist based in New Delhi, focusing on Indian politics, society and business@mkrish11