Last December, 21 out of 27 studies that were published in the 6th edition of the Explaining Extreme Events from a Climate Perspective—a special edition of the Bulletin of the American Meteorological Society—agreed that extreme weather events had strong links to long-term climate change. The devastating deluge that Kerala is experiencing this year, of course, qualifies as an extreme weather event. Between June 1 and August 17, the southern state has already received 2,305 mm of rainfall, higher by 41% than the normal for this period. Rainfall this year has been the heaviest since 2013 (2,561.2 mm), but it is likely to beat that benchmark since rains are likely to continue well into September. Research published in the Indian Meteorological Society’s journal, Vayu Mandal, analysed rainfall data from 1871 to 2011 to find that the contribution of the southwest monsoon in the rainfall that Kerala receives has declined but there is a trend of increased pre- and post-monsoon rainfall for the recent decades.
The 164 killed so far in the Kerala rains, and the 91 killed in wildfires in Greece in late-July—Europe is experiencing an unusually long and hot summer that has resulted in wildfires in every country in the continent—are just a fraction of the human costs of climate change paid so far. Lives have been lost in freak weather events in recent years, including the intense cold wave that swept through parts of Europe and North America earlier this year—2,000 died in the UK alone. So, it is alarming that the developed world is still loath to move on containing anthropogenic climate change.
As per Climate Action Tracker, just four countries out of the 32 that account for 80% of global emissions are making the efforts that could help keep the global temperature rise (from pre-industrial levels) below 2oC by 2100—the temperature threshold that the Paris agreement aims for. The US, one of the worst offenders historically, not only dropped out of the agreement under its climate-sceptic president Donald Trump, but also has moved on rolling back Obama era policies that were designed to reduce US emissions.
The US and Russia, if their efforts continue at their current level, put the world at risk of the temperature shooting up by more than 4oC by 2100. Canada, China and Europe are doing better, but only marginally; there efforts are nowhere near adequate to contain temperature rise under 2oC. A paper published last year in Nature Climate Change estimates that upto 60,000 extra deaths annually by 2030—and 260,000 by 2100—if climate change continues unabated. While a clutch of studies show that developing and poor economies will bear the brunt of climate change effects, South Asia is widely projected to be the worst-hit region globally, and not just through freak weather events. To prevent a Kerala/Gujarat (2017)/Kashmir (2014)/Uttarakhand (2013) flood and worse, it will not be enough if India keeps to its Paris commitments or even meets more ambitious targets. It, along with other countries, has to build pressure on the West to act decisively, and soon.