The United Nations Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) has released another report warning of the dangers of our changing climate. This time, the body has warned that the trend of rising sea levels is ocurring faster than we first thought – news which carries significant implications for India.
“The ocean is warmer, more acidic and less productive,” the IPCC warns. “Melting glaciers and ice sheets are causing sea level rise, and coastal extreme events are becoming more severe.” As such, extreme events which used to occur at a rate of once a century will become a yearly occurrence by 2050 without urgent action such as curbing fossil fuel emissions to mitigate the effects of climate change.
The report found that sea levels rose by fifteen centimetres globally during the 20th century – since then, IPCC pace has drastically increased and sea levels now rise year by year at a rate of 3.6 millimetres. This is being driven by melting masses of ice such as ice caps and glaciers, the Panel states: “the extent of Arctic sea ice is declining in every month of the year, and it is getting thinner…Permafrost ground that has been frozen for many years is warming and thawing and widespread permafrost thaw is projected to occur in the 21st century.”
The IPCC earlier warned of catastrophic environmental effects if global temperatures are allowed to rise above 1.5 °C and that there is only a twelve-year timeframe to prevent this. If global warming is stabilized at 1.5°C above pre-industrial levels,” it says “the Arctic ocean would only be ice-free in September – the month with the least ice – once in every hundred years. For global warming of 2°C, this would occur up to one year in three.”
For India, rising sea levels hold disastrous implications. Coastal cities such as Chennai, Kolkata, Mumbai, and Surat are especially vulnerable, with sea level rises of just fifty centimetres likely to result in flooding. The implications of floods are not apparent only in the immediate risk to life, but also in the lasting potential for the spread of water-borne diseases and numerous infectious conditions. Added with climate change’s potential to alter breeding patterns of vectors such as mosquitoes, it is clear that emerging trends of the phenomenon carry abundant risks to public health.
The IPCC’s report is the latest indicator that more needs to be done to tackle climate change, and that India must step up to the challenge. With the Centre mapping climate-vulnerable areas using a district-level study, there is a clear impetus for vigilance against climate events and their ramifications; preparedness in advance of them; and proactiveness in responses to them. Otherwise the nation will face even more severe effects than what it is already seeing and anticipated to witness without meaningful action being taken.