PIK report: A timely reminder

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In a study released on April 14 the Potsdam Institute of Climate Change Research (PIK) has predicted that on account of climate change summer monsoons in India will become wetter but also more erratic. Monsoons are critical for Indian agriculture. Around fifty percent of Indians depend on agriculture for their livelihood. Monsoons will continue to impinge on the welfare of India in multiple ways for the foreseeable future. Hence, there are immense implications of changes in monsoon strength and patterns.

PIK was established in 1992 and is funded by the German government as well as by the government of Germany’s Brandenburg state. It tracks climate change issues through inter-disciplinary scientific research. Its papers and reports have to be taken seriously. Indian climate change experts need to analyse PIK reports on matters which especially concern India. Hence, the significance of the present study even if Indian climate scientists know full well that climate change is affecting India in a major way and will continue to do so.

Specifically, the PIK study indicates that for every one-degree centigrade rise in global temperature the summer monsoon will became wetter by five percent. Along with that its pattern will become erratic. While Indian agriculture will have to adapt to wetter conditions the real problem will lie in the monsoons becoming erratic. That will cause more frequent extreme events like dry and wet spells as well as rainfall distribution disturbances both in area coverage as well as timing. These disturbances will impact the summer crops such as rice. Rice is a staple food for crores of Indian and therefore a decline in its production will necessarily impact the Indian economy and the people’s welfare.

While the PIK study is one more timely reminder of what may be in store for India in a crucial aspect of its economic life because of climate change the real question is what can India do to meet the challenge of climate change both by itself and jointly with the international community. Also, what can it do to mitigate the hardships that the more vulnerable sections of its populations such as farmers will have to confront more than its other population groups.

On a long-term basis climate change is perhaps the greatest challenge facing humanity. If the rise in global temperature which is being caused by human activity is not controlled it will pose a formidable threat to human societies and polities. It can trigger great conflict because it may lead to great movements of peoples from areas where the impact of climate change is more severe to those where it is less so. India is very vulnerable to climate change as the PIK study indicates. Successive Indian governments have been aware of the consequences of climate change and of the need to mitigate its consequences and also to adapt to changing environmental conditions. The Modi government’s track record on climate change awareness has been particularly good.

As one of the main causes for the rise in global temperatures is the use of hydrocarbons for production of electric power Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s initiative to focus on renewable energy is very significant. In a message to the International Solar Alliance’s World Solar Technology Summit in September 2020 Modi said “We have scaled up our non-fossil fuel-based generation to 134 GW, which is about 35% of our total power generation. We are confident of increasing it to 220 GW by 2022”. Modi’s ambition to take solar energy to the rural areas with the objective of using it instead of diesel shows an acute awareness of the need to combat climate change and yet ensure that the people’s progress is not hampered by a lack of energy. Naturally, such transformations need technological breakthroughs and thereafter the global dissemination of the new technologies.

As these cutting-edge technologies are more likely to be developed in advanced countries it is essential that they fulfil their commitments on climate change. Till now they have shown a complete reluctance to do so. They have adopted narrow approaches and reneged on their pledges. It is here that India has to be diplomatically active both individually and by building effective multilateral coalitions to press the advanced countries to meet their own commitments. The coming in of Joe Biden as President of the United States is important because, unlike his predecessor, Biden is acutely aware of the dangers of climate change to planet earth. On its part the US is experiencing its impact too. The wild fires of California last year brought about by heat waves and drought are expected to recur more frequently. They are in part a consequence of climate change.

While becoming diplomatically active to urge the major polluters such as advanced countries to adopt green technologies themselves and also share them with developing countries India will have to devise special programmes to ensure that its vulnerable rural populations including marginalised and small farmers are provided the wherewithal to handle climate change. One way to do so would be by energising India’s agricultural research institutions to mitigate the impact on climate change on India’s food production. These institutions have done well in the past by aiding in the modernisation of agriculture. That led to remarkable growth in food production since independence which enabled India to become self-sufficient in food grains. One last thought: To ensure that India’s food security is not jeopardised the state will have to play a continuing role in agriculture. It cannot leave it to market forces only.