Scorching heatwave in India and Pakistan comes as climate action stalls

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It’s no news that South Asia is on the frontlines of climate change. For years, climate scientists and activists have warned of the region’s vulnerability to the catastrophic impact of global warming, including longer and hotter heat waves, more erratic and dangerous storm systems slamming coastlines and melting Himalayan glaciers causing flash floods. A recent report by the UN’s Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change warned that humanity has a “short and rapidly closing window of opportunity to secure a livable and sustainable future”. South Asia is at the forefront of places in the world where experts believe life could literally becomes unbearable before the end of the century.

Over the past week, South Asia has again demonstrated how our climate future is already our present. A scorching heat wave in April set records for high temperatures in dozens of cities in northern India and Pakistan. It followed an abnormally hot month of March. Temperatures across much of South Asia are usually at their peak in May, an extremely hot month that precedes the arrival of the monsoon season.

The most recent heat wave caused power outages in various parts of the region as demand for electricity increased. In Pakistan’s Balochistan province, where in some places temperatures exceeded 120 degrees Fahrenheit, local residents said they had no working fridges or air conditioning for much of the day. Of course, only a fraction of the more than 1.5 billion people living in South Asia even have access to air conditioning. Since 2010, heat waves in India have killed more than 6,500 people.

Wildfires erupted as temperatures soared, including at a large landfill near Delhi that engulfed the Indian capital in a miasma of toxic smoke. Concerns were mounting over crop yields. In some parts of India, about half wheat harvest withered in the fields or was damaged, a considerable blow given the ongoing global food shortages caused by the war in Ukraine. Balochistan’s famous apple and peach orchards were also devastated.

“This is the first time the weather has taken such a toll on our crops in this region,” said a local farmer from Mastung district in Balochistan. told the Guardian. “We don’t know what to do and there is no government help. Culture has declined; now very little fruit is growing. … We are suffering and we cannot afford it.

Beyond human endurance: how climate change is making parts of the world too hot and humid to survive

But it’s an evolving status quo that many societies and governments have to accept. “Heat waves are happening more frequently now and they spread throughout the year,” Amir AghaKouchak, a professor at the University of California, Irvine, told my colleagues at Capital Weather Gang. “This is the new normal and most likely it will only get worse in the future unless we take serious action.”

Six months ago, the world’s governments came together at a major climate summit in Glasgow, Scotland, and made various long-term commitments to transition their economies to renewables and away from fuels polluting fossils. Yet in India, coal demand – still the main source of energy for the country’s electricity needs – surged, with the government even commandeering hundreds of passenger trains to transport coal to power stations.

It was just the latest example of how governments are undermining, at least in the short term, their own long-term climate goals. The effects of the pandemic and the global disruptions caused by the war in Ukraine have led many countries with far fewer constraints and challenges than India – namely the United States and major European economies – to lower oil prices. fuel and increase oil and gas supplies.

The current state of affairs bodes ill for future climate action, with the Biden administration struggling politically to pass legislative reforms that would match its public climate commitments. “Any momentum that emerged in Scotland last autumn looks in jeopardy as other crises – from the ongoing coronavirus pandemic to rising inflation and energy costs, to war in Ukraine – have demanded the attention of world leaders,” my colleague Brady Dennis wrote. .

“There is no doubt that much of the international bandwidth, especially at the leader level, has been taken by [Russian President] The illegal and frankly brutal invasion of Ukraine by Vladimir Putin. And that’s completely understandable,” Alok Sharma, the British official who chaired the Glasgow summit, told Brady.

Pandemic, war and politics hamper global push for climate action

Meanwhile, climate activists say even the ambitious pledges made by many governments fall short. At the current rate, after major milestones over the past two decades, the world is still heading for a 2.7 degree Celsius (4.9 degree Fahrenheit) increase in average global temperatures by the end of this century. This is significantly higher than the 1.5 degrees Celsius threshold beyond which scientists warn of catastrophic and irreversible climate disasters.

“The problem is that the current commitments are very insufficient,” said Niklas Höhne, a German climatologist who created the Climate action tracking, say my colleagues. “We are not a bit behind. We are totally off the mark, even with the new commitments that have come out of Glasgow.

And in places like India, the abstract goals and targets of climate activists are underlined by a much more visceral reality. “There are 1.4 billion people who will be affected by this heat wave, the majority of which have contributed very little to global warming”, Arpita Mondalclimate researcher at the Indian Institute of Technology Bombay, told the MIT Technology Review. “This phenomenon should put to rest the question of why people should care about climate change.”

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