Climate change made heatwaves in India and Pak 30 times more likely

The extreme heatwave that has gripped much of India and Pakistan has become 30 times more likely due to climate change, according to a new rapid attribution study by climate scientists.

“Due to climate change, the probability of such an event in 2022 has increased by a factor of about 30,” said the report published by World Weather Attribution. “The same event would have been about 1°C cooler in a pre-industrial climate.”

India experienced its hottest March in 122 years since the India Meteorological Department began keeping records. Parts of the country also experienced their highest temperatures on record in April due to a heatwave. Delhi saw the temperature soar to 49.2 degrees Celsius on May 15 as the heatwave hit the country.

While heatwaves are not uncommon in the pre-monsoon season, very high temperatures so early in the year, coupled with much lower than average rainfall, have led to extreme heat conditions with devastating consequences for public health. and agriculture.

However, it will take months to determine the full health and economic consequences and cascading effects of the current heatwave, including the number of excess deaths, hospitalizations, lost wages, lost school days and reduced work hours. Early reports indicate 90 deaths in India and Pakistan, and an estimated 10 to 35 per cent reduction in crop yields in Haryana, Uttar Pradesh and Punjab due to the heatwave.

The early and prolonged heat particularly affected northwest India and southern Pakistan, the subcontinent’s so-called breadbasket. Towards the end of April and into May the heatwave also reached more coastal areas and eastern India. However, it was the early, prolonged, dry heat that set this event apart from heat waves that occurred earlier this century.

Temperatures also reached 50°C in Pakistan. The Pakistan Meteorological Department said daytime temperatures were 5-8C above normal in large parts of the country. The hot, dry weather affected water supplies, agriculture, and human and animal health. In the mountainous regions of Gilgit-Baltistan and Khyber Pakhtunkwa, unusual heat increased snow and ice melting and triggered at least one glacial lake outburst flood.

“However, it will take months to determine the full health and economic consequences and cascading effects of the current heatwave, including the number of excess deaths, hospitalizations, lost wages, lost school days and reduced work hours. Early reports indicate 90 deaths in India and Pakistan, and an estimated 10 to 35 per cent reduction in crop yields in Haryana, Uttar Pradesh and Punjab due to the heatwave,” says the World Weather Attribution report.

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“It was the early, prolonged, dry heat that made this event distinguishable from heat waves that occurred earlier in this century,” the study said. It involved scientists from India, Pakistan, the Netherlands, France, Switzerland, New Zealand, Denmark, the United States of America, and the United Kingdom, who collaborated to assess the extent to which human-induced climate change altered the probability and intensity of the heatwave.

The researchers noted that until overall greenhouse gas emissions are stopped, global temperatures will continue to rise and events like these will become more frequent.

For example, if global temperature rise reaches 2 degrees Celsius, a heatwave like this would be expected once every five years, the scientists found, and adding even slower emissions cuts would likely make that heatwave even more frequent.

The results may underestimate how common such a heatwave is now, and how often it can be expected if greenhouse gas emissions continue because the relatively short duration of weather data records limited the statistical analysis that the researchers used. researchers could do.

“Heatwaves also have the potential to increase the risk of wildfires and even droughts,” said Arpita Mondal, Civil Engineering and Climate Studies, IIT Bombay.

“Thousands of people in this region, who initially contributed very little to global warming, are now bearing the brunt and will continue to do so if emissions are not significantly reduced globally,” Mondal said.

The early onset of the heatwave, combined with a lack of rain, affected India’s wheat production. As a consequence, the government announced a ban on wheat exports, further driving up world prices, the researchers said.

Around the world, heat waves occurring today have been made more likely and intense by climate change, they said.

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