Record-breaking heat in Delhi had devastating impacts: Report

Updated on Sep 13, 2022 09:35 PM IST

The report projected that by 2050, at least 1.6 billion people living in 970 cities around the world will be regularly exposed to 3-month average temperatures reaching at least 35 degrees Celsius.

There is also a 93% probability that at least one year in the next five will be warmer than the warmest year on record, 2016, and that the mean temperature for 2022–2026 will be higher than that of the last five years. (HT Archive)
There is also a 93% probability that at least one year in the next five will be warmer than the warmest year on record, 2016, and that the mean temperature for 2022–2026 will be higher than that of the last five years. (HT Archive)
ByJayashree Nandi

Between March and May this year, Delhi experienced five heat waves with record-breaking temperatures reaching up to 49.2 degrees Celsius, leading to devastating socioeconomic and public health impacts, according to United in Science, a multi-agency report coordinated by the World Meteorological Organisation (WMO) that was released Tuesday.

The report projected that by 2050, at least 1.6 billion people living in 970 cities around the world will be regularly exposed to 3-month average temperatures reaching at least 35 degrees Celsius.

“Floods, droughts, heatwaves, extreme storms and wildfires are going from bad to worse, breaking records with alarming frequency. Heatwaves in Europe. Colossal floods in Pakistan. Prolonged and severe droughts in China, the Horn of Africa and the United States. There is nothing natural about the new scale of these disasters. They are the price of humanity’s fossil fuel addiction,” said António Guterres, UN Secretary General while releasing the report. “This year’s United in Science report shows climate impacts heading into uncharted territory of destruction. Yet each year we double down on this fossil fuel addiction, even as the symptoms get rapidly worse.”

“With half of Delhi’s population living in low-income settlements and highly vulnerable to extreme heat, this heatwave led to devastating socioeconomic and public health impacts,” said the report. But other cities in other countries were also hit badly. “ Low-lying coastal cities and settlements, such as Bangkok (Thailand), Houston (US) and Venice (Italy), are highly likely to face more frequent and more extensive coastal flooding due to sea-level rise, storm surges and subsidence… cities – home to 55% of the global population, or 4.2 billion people – are responsible for up to 70% of human-caused emissions while also highly vulnerable to the impacts of climate change such as increased heavy precipitation, accelerated sea-level rise, acute and chronic coastal flooding and extreme heat, among other key risks.”

The results of a rapid analysis showed that an unusually long and early onset heatwave spell like the one India and Pakistan experienced in late spring and early summer is very rare, with a chance of occurring only once in 100 years. But it is now about 30 times more likely to happen because of human-caused climate change, a rapid attribution analysis by an international team of leading climate scientists who are part of the World Weather Attribution network said in May. There were at least 90 deaths across India and Pakistan due to heat stress. The heat wave triggered an extreme Glacial Lake Outburst Flood (GLOF) in northern Pakistan and forest fires in India, particularly in the hill states of Uttarakhand and Himachal Pradesh. Extreme heat also reduced India’s wheat crop yields, causing the government to stop wheat exports.

Guterres called on developed countries to deliver on climate finance commitments for adaptation. “It is a scandal that developed countries have failed to take adaptation seriously, and shrugged off their commitments to help the developing world. The Glasgow decision urges developed countries to collectively provide $40 billion dollars a year in new adaptation finance. This must be delivered in full, as a starting point. But it is clearly not enough. Adaptation finance needs are set to grow to at least $300 billion dollars a year by 2030,” he said.

United in Science’s prediction for the next 5 years suggests extreme weather events like Delhi’s extreme summer of 2022 are likely to be more frequent. The annual mean global near-surface temperature for each year from 2022-2026 is predicted to be between 1.1 degree C and 1.7 degree C higher than pre-industrial levels (1850-1900). The likelihood of the annual mean global near-surface temperature temporarily exceeding 1.5 degree C above pre-industrial levels for at least one of the next five years is 48% and is increasing with time.

There is also a 93% probability that at least one year in the next five will be warmer than the warmest year on record, 2016, and that the mean temperature for 2022–2026 will be higher than that of the last five years. The 2015 to 2021 period was the warmest on record as per analysis by WMO, referred to in the report. The 2018–2022 global mean temperature average (based on data up to May 2022) is estimated to be 1.17 ± 0.13 degree C above pre-industrial levels.

Global greenhouse gas emissions are also continuing to rise. Global CO2 emissions in 2021 returned to the pre-pandemic levels of 2019 after falling by 5.4% in 2020 due to widespread lockdowns. Preliminary data shows that global CO2 emissions in 2022 (January to May) are 1.2% above the levels recorded during the same period in 2019 mainly driven by increases in the United States, India and most European countries, the report said.

As per various scenarios assessed by IPCC, global greenhouse gas emissions need to peak before 2025 at the latest, and be reduced by 43% by 2030 to keep global warming under 1.5 degree C.

Certain climate tipping points are also approaching, the report warned. The Atlantic Meridional Overturning Circulation (AMOC) is an important driver of the distribution of heat, salt and water in the climate system, both regionally and globally. Recent research suggests AMOC may be weaker in the current climate than at any other time in the last millennium. The melting of the polar ice sheets on Greenland and Antarctica is also considered a major tipping point that will lead to sea-level rise for hundreds to thousands of years. “Regional tipping points, such as the drying of the Amazon rainforest may have serious local consequences with cascading global impacts. Other examples include regional droughts which impact the global carbon cycle and disrupt major weather systems such as monsoons,” the report said.

A research paper led by Stockholm Resilience Centre, Stockholm University published in Science journal on September 9 provides an updated assessment of the most important climate tipping elements and their potential tipping points, including their temperature thresholds, time scales, and impacts. Their analysis indicates that even at global warming of 1 degree C, a threshold that we already have passed, puts the planet at risk of triggering some tipping points. For example, the Greenland Ice Sheet; the Boreal Permafrost; the Barrents Sea Ice; the West Atlantic Ice Sheet; the low-latitude coral reefs are reaching the tipping points before the 2 degree C global warming threshold is breached.

New national mitigation pledges for 2030 are insufficient according to the report which found that the ambition of these new pledges would need to be four times higher to get on track to limit warming to 2 degree C and seven times higher to get on track to 1.5 degree C.

“The report warns of dire socioeconomic consequences as global carbon emissions return to 2019 pre-pandemic levels. Rich nations, whose wealth accumulation primarily caused the global warming, cannot abdicate their responsibility of providing finance to developing countries to tackle widespread climate impacts such as wildfires, floods, storms and droughts. As half of the world’s population is living in contexts that are highly vulnerable to climate change, we need to drastically reduce emissions, urgently strengthen adaptation efforts and scale up measures to deal with losses and damages caused by climate disasters,” Harjeet Singh, head of Global Political Strategy at Climate Action Network International.

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