Blog: Not just a warmer April
Much of India – northwest and central – just experienced its hottest April on record. This isn’t just another heat wave. This is what scientists have been Warning for decades, that global warming will lead to more frequent and intense extreme weather events. And frequent heat waves.
This time, something seems to have changed. A climate emergency has immediate repercussions outside the region where it occurred, the impact is national. Usually, when there is an extreme weather event, for example a flood, rainfall or a cyclone, it is somewhat limited geographically and in its impact on humans and the economy. But now even places like Tamil Nadu that don’t suffer from heat waves have been hit by a shortage of coal and power.
The crisis threatens the very engine of the economy. Many thermal power stations that provide most of India’s electricity are running out of coal; Punjab’s energy minister said demand had increased by 40% and his counterpart in Bihar admitted a power shortage of 1,000 MW. The net result is power outages, state after state. Things are so bad that passenger trains have been canceled to transport more coal. Six months ago, a few power stations were shut down around Delhi due to extremely dangerous air pollution in the capital. India’s man-made environmental disasters make it difficult to keep the lights on. The costs of health and wallets will only rise unless there is a quick and appropriate policy response.
How bad is that?
March 2022 was India’s hottest on record at 33.1 degrees, almost two degrees above normal. Heat waves started then last since six weeks and cash. Temperatures were well above normal. The weather department defines a plains heat wave as over 40 degrees combined with temperatures 4.5 degrees above normal.
In April, records were broken. Places like Gurgaon, Lucknow, Allahabad and Chandigarh saw new highs in April. Banda in recorded UP 47.4 degrees and nearly 400km away Dholpur, Rajasthan hit 47.3 degrees on April 29. Seven hundred kilometers to the north, parts of Delhi and Gurgaon were around 46 degrees. Precipitation in this area is 87% below normal for March and April.
More than 300 large wildfires were reported in late April, nearly a third of them in Uttarakhand alone.
What makes more headlines than the heat wave is the coal and electricity crisis. While this is perhaps understandable given how it directly affects ordinary people, it avoids the depth of the crisis. The fingerprints of climate change are everywhere in this disaster. Yet it is still not fully recognized as such. For example, three major Delhi newspapers published stories about the electricity shortage, but “climate change” or any similar term was not mentioned on the front pages of these reports.
While the coal and power shortage is blamed on mismanagement fueled by populist free or cheap power policies, the reason it’s boiling over now is extreme heat. Electricity demand has increased, hitting new records three times over the past few days, with the latest at the time of writing being 207 gigawatts of demand met. While scientists are careful to link any specific extreme weather events to climate change, these are consistent with what they expect due to global warming.
The 2022 heat wave changes everything, but it’s not just a warmer March and April. Our climate has changed. India’s head of weather and climate services told NDTV that more extreme rainfall incidents can be expected, and this is because of climate change.
Coal and electricity may be facing a crisis triggered by climate change today, but tomorrow it could be a water shortage, especially in the absence of rain. It could be a food shortage; there are already estimates that wheat production could be hit by 10%. It can be cooling, shelter or timely health care. What this summer has already shown is that climate change can trigger and exacerbate any crisis, whether or not the extreme weather event occurs where you live.
It is true that the mismanagement of the coal and power sector can be corrected, with political will, in time for future heat waves. However, the irony is that coal is responsible for a large part of global warming, being the dirtiest fuel widely used. India has a strong moral and economic case for continuing with coal and an ambitious clean energy program. But can Indian policymakers afford to stick to the plan of using more coal, can they afford the weather disasters that seem to be gathering momentum? Maybe they can until the climate emergency becomes a priority for voters.
(Chetan Bhattacharji is senior editor at NDTV)
Disclaimer: These are the personal opinions of the author.