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Five must-know facts about monsoons and climate change

Scenes from monsoon rains in forests near Rajpila, Gujarat. Monsoon rains in recent years have been substandard, leading to a rainfall deficit driving the state’s water scarcity woes. Image credit: Abhijeetsawant [CC BY-SA 3.0 (]
The UN’s latest major climate report published by the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) – the IPCC WG1 – evidence displaying the “physical science basis” for climate change’s effect on monsoons. 

India, like many countries, relies on this seasonal rainfall for the sustenance of livelihoods, food supplies, and the upkeep of ways of life that have stood the test of time. With this in mind, we explore the must-know facts about how climate change is impacting this. 

Monsoon extremes to increase over India 

One of the telling takeaways for India from the IPCC WG1 report is that monsoon extremes are predicted to increase, resulting in an increased frequency of short, intense periods of rain. This change will be coupled with the number of rainy days decreasing overall making for an increased threat of heavy rainfall weather events.  

The IPCC WG1 report said, “experiments with constant forcing indicate that at 1.5 degrees and 2 degrees Celsius global warming levels, mean precipitation, and monsoon extremes are projected to intensify in summer over India and South Asia.

Gulf stream collapse will alter Indian monsoons 

These changes could be further exacerbated by the possible collapse of the gulf stream – specifically the ​​Atlantic Meridional Overturning Circulation or AMOC – with warning signs of the crucial tipping point discovered by researchers at the Potsdam Institute. 

They recognised that the gulf stream currents have been at their slowest point in nearly 1,600 years and could be in danger of coming to a complete halt. If the system was to collapse then it would have implications for the Indian monsoon as well as severely disrupting the way rains function in areas like India, South America, and West Africa.

Changing monsoons threaten food security 

Notably, any changes to the Indian monsoon will have a significant effect on India’s food security with research published in Science of The Total Environment examining monsoon variability recognising the link between climate change disruption and the significant effects on agriculture. Proposed methods to manage the threat included district-scale adaptation measures to help formulate better policies for farmers across India’s Maharashtra. 

Monsoon rainfall hard to predict 

Despite the threat changing monsoon patterns present, monsoons remain hard to predict. This  means the challenge of implementing adaptation and mitigation methods across regions that are susceptible to climate change’s effects cannot prepare for the potential impact with a huge degree of certainty. 

“Monsoon rainfalls are tricky to predict. IPCC’s report states at the very outset that existing climate models and their regional models are poor at predicting monsoon rainfall. Monsoons are considered to be one of the world’s most meteorologically complicated phenomenon. Indian monsoons even more so”, explains Professor Subimal Ghosh, one of the lead authors of the IPCC report. 

Adaptation to changes in rainfall can be difficult 

The challenge of tackling climate change’s effect on monsoon rainfall is made an even more difficult prospect by the fact that methods of adaptation are often difficult to implement. Analysis by Cambridge University published in Environment and Development Economics estimates that monsoon adaptation methods recover just nine percent of lost profits. This low figure represents the difficulty of adaptation implementation, as well as inefficiencies in land, labor, and risk markets in a variety of situations. 

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