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2020 India's eighth hottest year since 1901: Reason? 'Deforestation, growth model'

By Dr Gurinder Kaur*

On January 4, 2021, the Meteorological Department of India(IMD) released a report titled 'The Statement on Climate of India During 2020',which states that 2020 is the eighth hottest year in India since 1901. The country's average temperature has risen by 0.62 degree Celsius. Both the decades of this century, 2001-10 and 2011-20, have been recorded as the hottest decades ever.
The average temperature of the country increased by 0.23 degree Celsius during the decade 2001-10 and 0.34 degree Celsius during the decade 2011-2020. According to a report by the U.S.A. National Oceanic and Atmospheric Agency (NOAA), every decade since 1970 has been warmer than the preceding decade. Twelve of the 15 hottest years from 1901 to 2020 have been in the 21st century between 2006 and 2020.
Recording of weather data in India dates back to 1901 and records show that the first five warmest years of this century were 2016 (0.71 degree Celsius), 2009 (0.55 degree Celsius), 2017 (0.54 degree Celsius), 2010 (0.53 degree Celsius) and 2015 (0.42 degree Celsius). Along with the rise in the average temperature of the country in 2020,the average maximum (day) and minimum (night) temperatures have also increased. The average maximum temperature rose to 0.99 degree Celsius while minimum temperature rose to 0.24 degree Celsius.
The average temperature for 2020 has increased by 0.29 degree Celsius based on the average temperature of 1981-2010. Although the average temperature in 2020 is much lower than 2016, which has been the hottest year on record, this rise in average temperature of 2020 is very worrying.
According to the Indian Meteorological Department, the temperature has been above average for 10 months of 2020,except the months of March and June. The average temperature exceeded the normal during September by o.72 degree Celsius( warmest September), August by 0.58 degree Celsius(second warmest August), October by 0.95 degree Celsius( third warmest October),July by 0.56 degree Celsius (fifth warmest July) and December by 0.39 degree Celsius( seventh warmest) since 1901.
With the continuous rise in average temperature, the incidents of natural calamities like heavy rains, floods, landslides, storms, lightning strikes, hot and cold waves are also increasing rapidly in the country. These natural calamities have claimed 1565 lives in the country in 2020.Of these, 815 deaths were due to storms and lightning and 600 people were affected by heavy rains and floods. Most of the lightning deaths were recorded in the states of Bihar and Uttar Pradesh.
The average temperature increase in 2020 is just 0.29 degree Celsius, which is much lower than the 2016 temperature rise of 0.71 degree Celsius, but it points out to a very worrying future as 2016 was the year of El-Nino, while 2020 is the La-Nina year. El-Nino and La-Nina are the two natural phenomena related to the sea surface temperature of Pacific Ocean.
Among the other factors , both of these phenomena have a profound effect on the earth's average temperature. During the El-Nino years sea surface temperature of Pacific Ocean is above average, leading to increased rainfall and drought in countries such as India, Indonesia, Australia and South America. This causes El-Nino to increase the average temperature of the earth, while La-Nina year lowers the average temperature of the earth as well as the regions mentioned above, but alas the worry is that in the year 2020 , the average temperature in India has gone up.
In 2020, due to Covid-19 most businesses were closed in all countries around the world leading to a significant decrease in the emission of greenhouse gases from transportation, industries, institutions and the like. Despite the nominal emission of greenhouse gases that contribute a larger share to global warming during the lockdown in 2020, an increase in temperature means that the effect of already existing gases in the atmosphere will continue to be felt even after their zero emission.
In Indi , even above average rainfall from monsoons in 2020 has failed to control the rise in temperature. The main reasons for the rise in average temperature in the country are the economic growth model and indiscriminate deforestation. According to the Forest Survey of India's, “The State of Forest Report 2019”, forest cover has increased by 0.13 per cent over 2017, but according to the Global Forest Watch, India forest cover has declined by 3.3 per cent between 2001 to 2019, which has released 153 metric tonnes of carbon dioxide into the atmosphere.
According to the Ministry of Environment, Forest and Climate Change 6,944,608 trees have been cut down during the period 2016-19. According to Wetland International, an NGO, one-third of India's wetlands have been depleted in the last four decades. Thus rapidly depleting ecosystems are releasing enormous amounts of carbon dioxide and other greenhouse gases into the atmosphere.
According to the Ministry of Environment, Forest and Climate Change 6,944,608 trees have been cut down during the period 2016-19
The amount of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere on December 27, 2019 was 412.80 ppm which increased to 415.09 ppm on the same day in 2020 in spite of Covid-19. According to NOAA data the concentration of carbon dioxide was 280 ppm before Industrial Revolution. NOAA considers 350 ppm of the concentration of carbon dioxide as a safe limit. Scientists have warned for more than a decade that concentration of more than 450 ppm risk triggering extreme weather events and temperature rises as high as 2 degree Celsius, beyond which the effects of global warming are likely to become catastrophic and irreversible.
With the rise in temperature ,our country is facing more and more natural disasters every year than the preceding year. According to a report released by the Council on Energy, Environment and Water of India on December 10,2020, 75 per cent of the country's districts, which make up of the country's half population, have been hit hard by natural disasters due to climate change.
According to a World Meteorological Organization (WMO) report titled ‘The State of the Global Climate 2020’ ,the earth's temperature rose 1.2 degree Celsius from January to October 2020 after the Industrial Revolution. According to the Paris Climate Agreement the safe limit of increase in temperature is 1.5 degree Celsius.
In view of all these reports and the increasing number of natural disasters in the country and the severity of their impact, concrete planning and expeditious action should be taken. Our government is turning a blind eye to all these phenomena and is just talking nonsense.
The Indian government did not promise any increase carbon emissions cuts in 2019 at international conferences. In order to pursue so-called development for the country, it paid scant attention to environmental issues, making concessions in environmental regulations. Given the rise in average temperature in the country, the government should generate the required energy from natural sources instead of giving grants to coal-fired power generation projects. The government should improve the means of public transport.
The government should not claim an increase in forest area through manipulation and put practical efforts in this direction. The government should not harm the natural wetlands and wild vegetation in the coastal areas by enacting new laws in the name of economic development. The government should protect the natural vegetation in these areas so that people living in these areas and other parts of the country may be protected from the natural disasters. The government should, like New Zealand, declare a climate emergency to protect our people from natural disasters.
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*Professor, Department of Geography, Punjabi University, Patiala

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