Climate Chaos Grips India: 2023 Witnessed Record-Breaking Extreme Weather Events

Climate Chaos Grips India: 2023 Witnessed Record-Breaking Extreme Weather Events

The report said the climate-vulnerable country had extreme weather on 86 per cent of days from January to September.

BISWAJEET BANERJEEUpdated: Thursday, February 29, 2024, 07:00 PM IST
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A chilling revelation has emerged as India faced a relentless onslaught of extreme weather events throughout 2023, leaving no state or union territory untouched by its devastating impact.

The Centre for Science and Environment's "State of Environment 2024" report has painted a grim picture, indicating a disturbing trend of climatic disruptions persisting for approximately 318 out of 365 days, driven by the ominous specter of climate change.

The report said the climate-vulnerable country had extreme weather on 86 per cent of days from January to September.

"The data paints a grim picture of the relentless onslaught of extreme weather events across the country," remarked Dr. Sunita Narain, Director General of the Centre for Science and Environment. "Climate change is no longer a distant threat; it's a reality we face every day."

The toll exacted by these calamities has been profound, with human lives hanging in the balance. A staggering 3,287 recorded deaths were attributed to these extreme weather events, while the animal kingdom bore the brunt with an alarming 1.24 lakh animal fatalities.

The agricultural sector, a cornerstone of the nation's economy, suffered colossal losses, with 2.21 million hectares of crop area ravaged, plunging farmers into distress and exacerbating economic woes.

The report sheds light on the grim reality that India, as a climate-vulnerable nation, faced extreme weather events for a staggering 86 percent of days from January to September. Himachal Pradesh emerged as one of the worst-hit regions, enduring extreme weather conditions for 149 days, closely followed by Madhya Pradesh with 141 days. Kerala and Uttar Pradesh also grappled with prolonged spells of extreme weather, enduring 119 days of such events each.

The nature of these extreme weather phenomena varied, with heavy rains, floods, and landslides wreaking havoc on 208 days, while lightning and storms battered the landscape for 202 days. Heat waves scorched the land for 49 days, while cold waves chilled communities for 29 days. Additionally, cloudbursts, contributing to localized instances of intense precipitation, were recorded on nine days.

State-wise report

Bihar was the biggest sufferer in terms of deaths – 642 people lost their lives to extreme weather incidents. The largest expanse of affected crop area was in Haryana. Gujarat had the highest number of damaged houses, and Punjab accounted for the maximum number of animal deaths.

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.

Of particular concern was the prolonged duration of these extreme weather events, with India enduring a staggering 123 consecutive days of such conditions between June and September 2023. This relentless onslaught underscores the urgent need for proactive measures to bolster infrastructure, protect livelihoods, and enhance ecosystem resilience.

The ‘extreme’ weather

Research by various environmental experts 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.

Climate experts have issued a dire warning, confirming that global warming exceeded 1.5°C over the 12 months between February 2023 and January 2024, further exacerbating the severity of extreme weather events. The United Nations has sounded an urgent alarm, predicting that 2023 is on track to become the hottest year ever recorded.

Petteri Taalas, Chief of the World Meteorological Organization, lamented the unprecedented scale of devastation wrought by climate change, underscoring the urgent need for concerted global action to mitigate its catastrophic impacts.

As the world grapples with the aftermath of 2023's climate chaos, the imperative for decisive climate action has never been more pressing.

Raja Bhaiya, convener of Vidya Dham Samiti, an NGO based in Banda in Uttar Pradesh said, “The findings of the 'State of Environment 2024' report serve as a stark reminder of the urgent need for collective action to address the existential threat posed by climate change. Failure to act decisively risks further exacerbating the devastating consequences witnessed in 2023, underscoring the critical importance of prioritizing climate resilience and sustainability initiatives.”

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