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Climate change: Doomsday scenario for India

December 05, 2005 20:15 IST

By the 22nd century, India will be lashed by up to 30 per cent more monsoon rains. The southern coastline will be extremely vulnerable to extreme sea-level changes. The harvest of rain-fed crops will see a decline and temperatures will go up by about four degrees Celsius.

These are some of the findings of a three-year-long research programme set up by the British department for environment, food and rural affairs, and the Indian ministry of environment and forests.

The programme involved eight Indian institutes that worked with British research institutes like the Hadley Centre for Climate Prediction and Research, Exeter.

The institutes studied the impact of climate change on sea-level variability, water resources, forests, agriculture, health, energy, industry and transport infrastructure in India.

A team lead by Rupa Kumar Kohli of the Indian Institute of Tropical Meteorology, Pune, found that temperatures in India will increase by three to four degree Celsius towards the end of the 21st century. Kohli's team also predicted that the monsoon rains will increase by 10 to 30 per cent.

The Indo-British study says the intensity of cyclonic storms might increase, leading to more 'extreme sea-level events'. The sea level is expected to rise in three locations on the east coast of India, and the southern peninsular coast will become the most vulnerable.

Studies conducted on three river basins -- the Krishna, the Ganges and the Godavari – showed climate change would affect them immensely.

"The hydrological cycle is projected to be more intense with expected increase in extremes and intensities. Model simulations indicate a general increase of about 20 per cent in precipitation over the three river basins, with consequent increase in surface water availability," said Kohli.

The study found that the yields of wheat, rice, sorghum and maize will be affected. Increase in temperature is expected to reduce the production of wheat and rice. The study also predicts reduction in the yields of rain-fed crops in general.

The study predicted extreme climatic events increasingly disrupting the Konkan Railway service.

Climate change will boost power generation needs by 1.5 per cent and result in increased occurrence of malaria, it added.

While most of India will have till the end of the 21st century to face the brunt of nature's fury, the impact of climate change on the forests will be felt within the next 40 years, days the research.

According to N H Ravindranath, chairman, Centre for Sustainable Technologies, and associate faculty, Centre of Ecological Studies, Indian Insitute of Science, Bangalore, "Eighty-five per cent of the forest grid will undergo drastic changes in the forest type."

"The higher impact will be on the savannah biomes -- teak and sal forests of central and east India and the temperate biomes of the Himalayas. Moist and dry savannahs are likely to be replaced by tropical dry forests and seasonal forests. By 2050, we will feel a significant impact," Ravindranath said.

The impact will be lower on the evergreen rain forests of the Western Ghats and the northeast, he added.

Composition of species and their dominance could also be altered, and large-scale forest depletion and loss of biodiversity are likely to mark the beginning of the bleak scenario.

Ranindranath says that while there would be an increased production of timber in the short- and medium term, there would be a disruption in timber supply in the long term. Similarly, loss of biodiversity will result in loss of livelihood for forest-dependent communities.

"As climate change could cause irreversible damage to unique forest ecosystems and biodiversity, there is a need to develop and implement adaptation strategies like identifying forest management practices and forest policies to reduce vulnerability of forest ecosystems," he said.

Climate change is one of the key phrases in scientific research today. Experts across the globe are busy decoding Mother Nature's signals to understand just how much damage man has done to Earth, and just how soon he will begin reaping the deadly harvest of what he has sown over centuries.

The Indo-British study was undertaken as a result of British prime minister's promise to the United Nations General Assembly in 1997 that the United Kingdom would collaborate with key developing countries to study the impact of climate change.

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