India experienced extreme weather events almost every day in the first nine months of this year which led to nearly 3,000 deaths, according to a report released on November 29. Published by the independent think tank Centre for Science and Environment (CSE), the report said the climate-vulnerable country had extreme weather on 86 per cent of days from January to September.
The CSE said 2,923 people died, almost two million hectares of crops were ruined, 80,000 homes were destroyed, and more than 92,000 animals were killed. But these numbers might be even higher because not all the data is collected, it said.
“’India 2023: An assessment of extreme weather events’ attempts to build an evidence base on the frequency and expanding geography of extreme weather events in the country. As this assessment clearly shows, what the country has witnessed so far in 2023 is the new ‘abnormal’ in a warming world,” said the CSE director general Sunita Narain.
The new ‘abnormal’
Research indicates that extreme weather events are becoming more frequent and intense worldwide due to climate change, primarily caused by the burning of fossil fuels such as coal, oil, and gas.
In 2015, countries agreed in Paris to limit the average temperature rise to well below 2°C, and preferably to 1.5°C, compared to pre-industrial levels (1850-1900). Multiple reports suggest that the world is significantly off track to limit global warming to 1.5°C. To achieve this goal, countries together need to halve the emissions of planet-warming greenhouse gases like carbon dioxide and methane by 2030.
According to the CSE report that came out ahead of the launch of the 28th round of the UN climate conference in Dubai, Madhya Pradesh reported the highest number of extreme weather events at 138. However, the largest number of deaths occurred in Bihar (642), followed by Himachal Pradesh (365) and Uttar Pradesh (341).
Punjab recorded the highest number of animal deaths while Himachal Pradesh reported the most damaged houses due to extreme weather events.
In the southern region, Kerala saw the highest count of extreme weather days (67) and deaths (60). Telangana suffered maximum effect on crop area (over 62,000 hectares). The State also witnessed high animal casualties (645). Karnataka faced severe destruction, with over 11,000 houses demolished.
In northwest India, Uttar Pradesh had the most extreme weather days at 113. Himachal Pradesh, Punjab, Haryana, Uttarakhand, and Rajasthan were also significantly affected. In the eastern and northeastern regions, Assam registered maximum extreme weather events (102), with the State losing 159 livestock and over 48,000 hectares of crops devastated. Nagaland saw over 1,900 houses destroyed.
The CSE said January was slightly warmer than average, while February broke records, becoming the warmest in 122 years. India had its sixth driest February and the driest August in 122 years. It said lightning and storms were the most common disasters, occurring on 176 out of 273 days and claiming 711 lives. Most of these deaths occurred in Bihar. However, the most significant devastation came from heavy rains, floods, and landslides, causing over 1,900 casualties.
According to research conducted by a different think tank, more than 80 per cent of Indians live in districts vulnerable to climate risks.
2023 set to be hottest year ever: UN
2023 is set to be the hottest ever recorded, the UN said on November 30, demanding urgent action to rein in global warming and stem the havoc following in its wake. The UN’s World Meteorological Organization warned that 2023 had shattered a whole host of climate records, with extreme weather leaving “a trail of devastation and despair”.
“It’s a deafening cacophony of broken records,” said WMO chief Petteri Taalas. “Greenhouse gas levels are record high. Global temperatures are record high. Sea level rise is record high. Antarctic sea ice is record low.”
The WMO published its provisional 2023 State of the Global Climate report as world leaders gathered in Dubai for the UN COP28 climate conference, amid mounting pressure to curb planet-heating greenhouse gas pollution. United Nations chief Antonio Guterres said the record heat findings “should send shivers down the spines of world leaders”.
The stakes have never been higher, with scientists warning that the ability to limit warming to a manageable level is slipping through humanity’s fingers.
As opposed to what was stated in the 2015 Paris Agreement, the WMO said 2023 data to the end of October showed that this year was already around 1.4°C above the pre-industrial baseline.
The agency is due to publish its final State of the Global Climate 2023 report in the first half of 2024. But it said the difference between the first 10 months of this year and 2016 and 2020—which previously topped the charts as the warmest years on record—“is such that the final two months are very unlikely to affect the ranking”.
The report also showed that the past nine years were the hottest years since modern records began. “These are more than just statistics,” Taalas said, warning that “we risk losing the race to save our glaciers and to rein in sea level rise”.
(with inputs from PTI and AFP)