On Sunday, a Himalayan glacier broke and caused a major flood in the northern Indian state of Uttarakhand. Various reports have cited a 2019 study, published on the Science Advances website, which fore-warned Himalayan glaciers melting at an alarming rate. While many are contemplating the exact cause of the floods – glacial lake burst or avalanche – the possibility of a ‘cloud burst’ has been discredited since the weather reports in Chamoli district show sunny weather till Sunday.
This disaster was an unfortunate distress call to all those who thought that climate change is either not real, or is far away from home, and needs no attention on a national level. While the older and wiser have shunned climate change, young Indian climate activist Licypriya Kangujam turned down the offer to join Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s #SheInspiresUs campaign in 2020 basis parliament’s response to her repeated shout outs, a PTI report mentioned.
Was India warned?
A study published in 2020 - on the World Resources Institute’s website - states that though countries, including India, met in Paris in 2015 and agreed upon combating climate change; India, China, among others are still increasing their emission. The study further suggested that to minimise the ill-effects of climate change, one need to substantially reduce emissions to zero by the year 2050.
So yes, India was warned!
Furthermore, climate experts have constantly pointed out the effects of climate change visible in changed monsoon patterns, higher cases of heatwaves, drought, migration, etc.
Article written by Nives Dolsak and Aseem Prakash in Forbes makes an interesting observation on BJP’s and Congress’s focus on the urgency to prevent Climate Change. The article fact-fully mentions, “The good news is that both parties talk about climate issues.” It further explored the election manifestos for both parties and noted that Congress, “In this 22,997-word manifesto, only 1,043 words (4.5%) pertain to climate change.” While, “in the BJP's 18,327-word manifesto, only 116 words (0.6%) pertain to climate issues.”
So yes, the Indian public was also warned!
A paper published by Binay Kumar and TS Murrugesh Prabhu titled - Impacts of Climate Change: Glacial Lake Outburst Floods (GLOFS) – and published on Sikkim Forest’s website, also, warns about the impending dangers of climate change on the Himalayan glacial pockets. The paper explains that in mountainous terrains, “with the melting of glaciers, the risk of glacial related hazards increases. One of these risks is Glacial Lake Outburst Floods (GLOFs)… Such outbursts have the potential of releasing millions of cubic meters of water in a few hours causing catastrophic flooding downstream with serious damage to life and property.”
Cost of building?
Talking about the ill-effects of over construction which is one of the reasons for the tragedy, Avinash Kumar Chanchal, a Climate and Energy Campaigner, Greenpeace India, says, “It’s evident that the increasing human interventions in the ecologically sensitive Himalayas are making it more vulnerable to climate change. Heavy construction works in the fragile eco-sensitive zones should be avoided. In 2013, Uttarakhand saw a similar incident because of glacial lake outburst flood (GLOF). Researchers clearly indicated that this incident happened because of global warming which is leading to melting glaciers. They also have warned that such events may happen more frequently in the future. To tackle this we need to rethink the current development model for the Himalayas region. It cannot happen at the cost of the environment and local communities.”
India’s Climate Change Policy
In Union Budget 2021, the Ministry of Environment, Forest, and Climate Change received an amount of Rs 2,869.93 crore as opposed to last year’s Rs 3,100 crore in its allocation. While Finance Minister Nirmala Sitharaman announced a separate amount of Rs 2,217 crore for tackling air pollution in 42 cities, it is not clear as to how the funds will be utilised.
Although the experts contemplated the ill-effect of the reduced budget allocation of the green measures in the country, India’s policies in combating climate change tell another story. In 2019, Anjali Jaiswal Sameer Kwatra co-authored an article on Natural Resources Defense Council’s website 2019 which stated: “several concrete measures which will deepen India’s action on climate change.” The five key areas highlighted by PM Modi, as mentioned in the article, are - Renewable Energy – Powering India’s future, Sustainable Mobility, Water Preservation, Coalition towards a Resilient Future, and Low-Carbon Pathways.
Climate Change: India, fifth-most affected in the World
According to the Global Climate Risk Index, a report released by the environment think tank, German watch, India was marked as the fifth most vulnerable country to climate change. The concept of the index reflects countries' vulnerability to the direct consequences — deaths and economic losses — is measured by German Watch on an annual basis. The report also highlights that the country has also recorded the highest number of deaths due to climate change and the second-highest financial losses due to its impact in 2018.
It is, however true, that the Arctic is warming faster than anywhere else in the world; it is not negligible that developing countries like India are contributing to the same at an alarming rate.