Changing Climate and India

Pritam Kumar Rohila

Planet Earth is heating up. The global ocean and soil temperatures have increased relatively rapidly during the last century. And all of the top 10 warmest years have occurred since 1998. Even places north of the Arctic Circle have recently registered the record-setting temperature above 100.

Increasing temperatures are causing snow cover in the Arctic to shrink, ice shelves in the Antarctic to collapse and glaciers in the Himalayas and elsewhere to melt. Consequently the overall sea level is rising. It has already risen about eight inches over the last century and is expected to increase about three feet by 2100.

The rising sea level will inundate low-lying areas, like some of those those in the Maldives and India’s Lakshadweep, with saltwater. Most of these areas would become uninhabitable.

Storms and Rainfall

Storms have started forming earlier and lasting much longer than usual. Also they are becoming more frequent, more intense, and more catastrophic. The trend will likely continue in future.

In 2020, five cyclonic storms made landfall in India, instead of the usual three annually. It was   the third consecutive year of above average cyclonic storm activity.  Also it was the second year in a row to have a Super Cyclonic Storm.

Usually more cyclonic storms form in the Bay of Bengal than in the Arabian Sea. But last year the Severe Cyclonic Storm Nisarga was the first since 2009, to make landfall in Maharashtra, on the Arabian Sea coast.

The storms in India, in 2020, caused several hundred million dollars’ worth of damage and more than 230 deaths. Flooding on the coast from tidal waves and storm surges had caused most of the casualties.


Each year, wildfires destroy millions of hectares of the world's forests. In the process, carbon locked in the biomass is released, wild flora and fauna are adversely affected, and there is loss of human life and property.

Between 1979 and 2013, globally, the fire season was nearly 19 percent longer. Also it has been starting earlier than usual. According to a report by India’s Parliamentary Standing Committee on Science and Technology, the country has seen a substantial increase in the number of wildfires in the last several years. Their intensity and extent also have increased over the past twenty years.

The Himalayan regions and the ecologically sensitive dry deciduous forests of India, especially those in Andhra Pradesh, Assam, Chhattisgarh, Jharkhand, Karnataka, Madhya Pradesh, Maharashtra, Manipur, Mizoram, and Odisha, are the most vulnerable to wildfires.

Effect of climate change

Distribution and behavior of animals, birds and plants are being affected by climate change. Plants bloom and mammals come out of hibernation earlier in the year than usual. Migratory birds arrive at their nesting grounds and lay eggs earlier in the year. Many of the world’s species have started moving in search of more hospitable climates. Some species cannot move any further and some cannot move as fast as they need to. A quarter of animals and plants may become extinct, according to some experts.

Changing rainfall patterns will definitely affect agriculture and those who rely on it everywhere. At places even within the same regions, there may be more intense periods of heavy rain and flooding followed by longer dry periods. There may be severe droughts, reduced crop production and major drinking water shortages.

According to the World Bank, sectors in India, that are vulnerable to climate change, include agriculture, water resources, coastal economies, and health. Also the country needs to address environmental stressors such as land degradation, poor air quality and unsustainable groundwater use.

There are 290 million low-income people in India, who live below the international poverty line of $1.25 per day. Like everywhere else these poor people will be impacted the most by the changing climate. And more than 60 percent of Indians, who depend on farming for their livelihood, may be overwhelmed by weather events associated with climate change.

Way Forward

Climate is changing. We cannot hold it steady. We have to find ways to protect nature and people, while the climate changes. We need solution, which are holistic, durable and help our communities and nature become resilient.
Dr. Pritam Rohila is an Oregon-based, retired neuropsychologist, who loves writing, photography and traveling.

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Mar 3, 2021

Dr. Pritam Kumar Rohila

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