|INDIA'S ECONOMIC PROGRESS IN A CHANGING
CLIMATE: BENEFITS OF GLOBAL WARMING
from Energy & Environment * Vol. 17, No. 5, 2006
Madhav L Khandekar*
Consulting Meteorologist, Unionville, Ontario, CANADA
I just returned from an extended visit to India, my country of birth, and was astounded by the rapid economic progress India has made in the last 25 years. My recent trip was after a gap of five years, a 'long' gap considering that in last five years India has maintained a steady growth rate of about 7% and India today is poised to become the third largest economy in the world (after USA & China) on a PPP (Purchasing Power Parity) economic model by the end of 2006. India today has a population of about 1050 million ( more people live in India than the total population of Europe including Eurasia), is a strong and free democracy and is enjoying an unprecedented prosperity, thanks to the growth of knowledge-based economy like IT ( Information Technology) and Bio-medical technology plus a strong consumer-oriented economy driven by about 300 million plus young Indians with increased disposable income to spend on food, clothing and various other consumer goods. As a weather & climate scientist, what impressed me was the fact that India's strong economic progress has come about in an increasingly warmer world of the last forty years or so, completely defying the projections of deleterious impact of Global Warming by IPCC (Intergovernmental Panel for Climate Change, a United Nations Group of Scientists) and its supporters.
Let me explain:
My first regular job in India was in the India Meteorological Department in Poona (Now Pune) where I worked as a statistician doing climate summaries and related work in the late fifties. I was briefly involved in doing statistical analysis of a heat wave of 1956-57 which killed several hundred people in Northern India and soon became interested in the weather & climate of India and in seasonal prediction of Indian Monsoon. During my student days in Pune in early to mid-fifties, I remember distinctly that the city of Pune ( with a population of about half a million then, always enjoyed moderate climate because of its location in the foothills of the Western Ghats at an altitude of about 600 m) rarely recorded a maximum temperature over 35C.
Today, Pune and vicinity has a population of close to five million and with huge development of concrete buildings and other infra-structure, the city records maximum temperature of 37C and above for at least ten days or more, from Mid-March to Mid-May. Other cities in central India like Hyderabad (population about 6 million today) routinely record maximum temperature of 40C and over for several afternoons during the pre-Monsoon months of March to May. In New Delhi, India's Capital city (latitude ~30N), with a population of over 10 million people, maximum temperature of 45C during the pre-Monsoon months is more common today than fifty years ago. Most of this increase in the mean maximum temperature at most mid-size to large cities in India has come about, primarily as a result of increased urbanization and land-use change. According to a study by Roop Kumar et al (1994), mean temperature over India as a whole has increased by about 1C in last fifty years or so. However, this increase in mean temperature has not adversely impacted India's economy or its people. India has significantly improved its grain, vegetable and fruit production in last fifty years. Let us look at some of the numbers:
India's rice production has grown four-fold, from 25 M tons in 1950 to about 100 M tons in 2000 (Selvaraju 2003) and most of India's rice production is in the southern region of India where mean temperature has increased by 1C. In Northwest India, winter wheat production has grown almost five-fold, from 12 M tons (1950) to about 60 M tons (2000), thanks to the Green Revolution inspired by the Nobel Peace laureate Norman Borlaug and improved irrigation technology in the state of Punjab. Production of fruits like bananas and mangoes has grown significantly in last 25 years, thanks to improved technology leading to growth of high-breed fruit varieties, suitable for a warmer climate. Indian fruits are enjoying increasing export to countries in the Middle East and Europe, while within India fruit packaging and processing industry has grown substantially. Supply of fresh vegetables and spices has also increased substantially in recent years (India is primarily a vegetarian country).
India today is the largest milk producing country with over 80 million tons of milk a year ensuring a livelihood for about 15 million farmers and their families in close to 100,000 village-level societies across the country. The bulk of India's milk is provided by water buffaloes, a docile ubiquitous herbivorous animal, slightly bigger than an average cow but fetching more milk than an average cow, with 6% or higher butter-fat content. Recent advances have helped develop high-breed buffaloes which can yield up to 20 liters of milk per day and these buffaloes are well suited to thrive in a warmer climate. Increased milk production has helped India's dairy industry to produce nutritious food for the younger generation (there are an estimated 200 million young Indians under the age of 15 today).
The Indian Monsoon is the most important climate event in India and its interannual variability and linkage to large-scale atmosphere/ocean circulation patterns has been the subject of hundreds of studies in last fifty years. The summer Monsoon (June-September, the wet season) provides the bulk of rainfall for most of India, while the winter Monsoon ( December-February, the dry season) provides rainfall only to the southeast regions of the Peninsular India. Climate modelers and IPCC documents have projected a more vigorous global Monsoon and a more variable Asian Monsoon circulation in a warmer world. In reality, observed global monsoon circulation has weakened in the last fifty years (Chase et al 2003) while Indian/Asian Monsoon circulation, while showing decadal variability- from below normal to above normal over a 30-year period- shows no discernible impact of global warming at present (Kripalani et al 2003). Decreasing summer Monsoon rains of last several years have aggravated water shortage situation in many regions, especially in the western State of Gujarat, where an ambitious project to divert waters of the Narmada River (which flows into the Arabian Sea near the Gulf of Khambhat) to the arid regions of north Gujarat is underway at present. Preliminary success of this project has prompted other local and regional governments to take up similar projects on other rivers, especially in southern India where most rives become 'bone-dry' following the summer Monsoon season. Providing adequate water for a billion plus populace of India is perhaps the most challenging problem for Indian scientists and policymakers at present. Numerous research and development projects are underway at present in many Universities and Technological Institutes on Monsoon variability, water resources and related issues.
On the social and cultural scene, India's Bollywood in Mumbai has become the world's biggest producer of full length movies and the movie industry while employing large number of young artists and technologists is making increasing use of weather & climate themes by depicting winter scenery of Himalayan foothills along with waterways of Kerala State and beautiful beaches of Goa. The ever growing popularity of Indian movies has helped India's tourism industry which has grown significantly in recent years with young Indians exploring the breadth and length of India and its climatic zones from the mid-latitude like climate in the Himalayan foothills to the Equatorial Trough like climate in the southernmost states of Kerala and Tamilnadu.
In summary, India today has done well by adapting to the warmer climate and associated climate change. Indians do not mind hot weather, in fact they thrive on it! The India Meteorological Department has increased its mandate and personnel substantially in recent years and has developed improved capabilities for foreshadowing of the summer Monsoon rainfall and associated variability. Extreme weather events like Bay of Bengal cyclones striking coastal regions of southern India are monitored at present with improved technology and this has resulted in reduced human and property losses in recent years.
There is no deleterious impact of Global Warming on India, its people and its economy at present.
Chase, T N, J A Knaff, R A Pielke, Sr and E Kalnay 2003: Changes in global
monsoon circulations since 1950. Natural Hazards, 29, 2, 229-254
Kripalani, R H , A Kulkarni, S S Sabade and M L Khandekar 2003: Indian monsoon variability in a global warming scenario. Natural Hazards, 29, 2, 189-206
Roop Kumar, K Kumar and G B Pant, 1994: Diurnal asymmetry of surface temperature trends over India. Geophy. Res. Letters, 21, 677-680
Selvaraju, R 2003: Impact of El-Nino-Southern Oscillation on Indian food grain production.
*Dr. Madhav Khandekar is a former Research Scientist from Environment Canada and is presently on the editorial board of the Journal Natural Hazards ( Kluwer, Netherlands). Khandekar holds M.Sc degree in statistics from Pune University and M.S. and Ph. D. degrees in meteorology from the Florida State University, USA. Khandekar has been in the fields of weather and climate for close to 49 years and has published over 120 papers, reports, book reviews and a monograph on ocean surface wave analysis and modeling, published by Springer-Verlag in 1989. Khandekar is one of the external reviewers for the IPCC Fourth Assessment Report to be published in 2007. Address for Correspondence: 52 Montrose Crescent, Unionville, ON, Canada, L3R 7Z5:
Copyright 2006, Energy & Environment