Listen to this article:
Kochi: It has been a year of extremes.
India witnessed extreme weather events – such as heatwaves and floods, caused by the changing climate – on 88% of days this year, as per a report by the Centre for Science and Environment (CSE) and Down to Earth published on November 1. Between January 1 and September 30, such events claimed the lives of 2,755 people, and affected 1.8 million hectares of crop area across the country.
The report used government records and news reports to provide a seasonal, monthly and regional analysis of extreme weather events and the losses and damages they caused this year.
According to scientists who study loss and damage, the report is timely and quantifies direct damages such as deaths and crop loss. However, it does not capture indirect impacts (such as impacts on human health and mental stress) caused by such extreme events because there is no mechanism to record them.
The report therefore highlights the need for better methods to quantify loss and damage, and will also add to the discussions on the topic in the upcoming 27th Conference of Parties (COP27) starting November 8 at Egypt, experts added.
‘Not good news’
Extreme weather events are those that are “rare at a particular place and time of year”, according to the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC). The India Meteorological Department (IMD) classifies lightning and thunderstorms, heavy to very heavy and extremely heavy rainfall, landslides and floods, cold waves, heatwaves, cyclones, snowfall, dust and sandstorms, squalls, hail storms and gales as extreme weather events.
The CSE and Down to Earth compiled records of such extreme weather events in India between January 1 and September 30 this year, as maintained by the IMD and the Disaster Management Division (DMD) under the Union Ministry of Home Affairs. The team also tracked media reports of such events that also gave information on the losses and damages, such as crop loss, caused by the events.
“This report card is not good news,” the report read.
The data revealed that India witnessed extreme weather events on 241 out of 273 days in 2022. This means that India has experienced a disaster “nearly every day in the first nine months of this year”, ranging from heat waves, cyclones, and lightning, to heavy rain, floods and landslides, noted the report, titled India 2022: An assessment of extreme weather events. The country recorded its warmest March, and the third warmest April, in over a century. Madhya Pradesh witnessed the highest number of days with extreme weather events, with such events occurring every second day in the state.
As many as 2,755 people lost their lives to such extreme weather events across India. Assam and Madhya Pradesh both lost 301 people to extreme weather events. However, Himachal Pradesh saw the highest number of human deaths, at 359.
Region-wise, the central region (the states of Madhya Pradesh, Maharashtra, Gujarat, Chhattisgarh, Odisha and Goa) witnessed the highest number of days with extreme weather events at 198; 887 people died here, as a result. The east and northeast regions witnessed 783 deaths in all.
More than 50% of Karnataka’s crop area has been affected over the year. Overall, extreme weather events affected 1.8 million hectares of crop area, destroyed over 4 lakh houses and killed almost 70,000 livestock.
“We saw…regions going from drought to flood within a matter of hours,” said Sunita Narain, Director General of CSE and editor of Down to Earth, in a webinar on loss and damage organised by the CSE on November 2. “Now this is the watermark of climate change…the increased frequency of such events is the new abnormal.”
It is the “revenge of nature” but it is “breaking the backs of the poorest”, she added.
“This is why we need to get serious about building resilience, mitigating risks…and also demand reparation. This is why loss and damage has to be discussed at COP27,” she said.
Doesn’t capture second-order impacts
CSE’s report is a “timely addition to the well-established evidence base on how climate change is impacting people and ecosystems today”, noted Chandni Singh, Senior Research Consultant at the School of Environment and Sustainability, Indian Institute for Human Settlements, Bengaluru. “It clearly demonstrates that climate-induced losses and damages are being experienced and under-reported currently, at average global warming of 1.1° Celsius,” she told The Wire.
The government data captures the “direct, first-order impacts” such as heavy rains leading to crop loss or cyclones leading to damaged houses. However, second-order impacts remain under-reported and thus undercounted, Singh noted.
These, she said, would include impacts on human health and associated costs of medical care, impacts on mental stress, which the IPCC Working Group II report highlighted as an “emerging risk”, as well as the “cascading impacts of crop loss on food security or household expenditure and consumption”.
“One of the other key issues that Indian datasets are unable to capture adequately is the role climate variability is playing in dismantling agrarian livelihoods, and the ripple effects that has on decisions to migrate into cities, often into precarious and low-paying informal jobs in cities,” she added.
Singh and her colleagues’ work that examined slower-onset events (urban droughts) in seven Asian cities (including Chennai in India and Karachi in Pakistan) found that considering losses and damages caused by such less-visible events is also important to factor into losses and damages caused by extreme weather events spurred by climate change.
COP and more
Therefore, while the new CSE report “adds ammunition” to discussions on loss and damage, which will be one of the many important topics that will be debated at the upcoming COP27 in Egypt in a week, it also demonstrates the need for “transparent and coherent methodologies” to quantify such losses and damages, “especially in data-poor and multi-hazard countries such as India”, Singh added.
“Finally, paying attention to non-economic losses and damages, such as increased mental stress, loss of cultural practices, or escalating conflict due to climate variability, is a pressing knowledge gap [that] India and other climate-vulnerable countries need to monitor,” she said.
Climate and sustainable development financing are also in the list of topics that India will prioritise when it takes up the presidency of the G20 this month, said Union finance minister Nirmala Sitaraman on November 1.
“The process of financing [Sustainable Development Goals] should be a lot more friendly towards lower income and developing countries,” she told Business Standard.