Friday, June 15, 2018

Role of technology in mitigating the effects of climate change in India

Global warming or climate change has assumed worrying dimensions. Polar ice caps are melting, severe storms, cloudbursts and flash floods are becoming more frequent, and deaths due to extreme temperatures have become routine. It is estimated that, by 2050, temperatures will increase by 2 to 4 degrees Celsius in South India and more than 4 degrees Celsius in North India. The number of rainfall days are expected to decrease over a major part of the country. Climatologists predict an increase in the intensity and frequency of droughts, floods and cyclones. Several factors are strengthening this alarming trend. The dwindling forest cover and a phenomenal rise in the use of fossil fuels have boosted the presence of greenhouse gases. These gases trap heat within the atmosphere and damage ecosystems, raise sea levels, cause droughts and other extreme situations. Open defecation and insanitary conditions in India’s rural and urban areas, as well as burning of stubble in the farms, contribute to the greenhouse effect. Release of untreated sullage and sewage into various rivers and other water bodies make the problem worse. Consequently, the atmospheric concentration of carbon mono-oxide is around 400 ppm, the highest ever in our recorded history.

The Survey of India data shows the shrinking of large glaciers in the Himalayas. Worse, the snowfall has been erratic. In fact, there is less snowfall during the months of December and January, and more in the warmer months of February and March. This causes quicker melting of snow. The increasing occurrence of cloudbursts causes frequent flash floods that play havoc with life and property in states like Uttarakhand, Himachal Pradesh, Jammu and Kashmir and even in the plains. Scientific studies caution against the adverse impact of climatic changes on agriculture. The most severely affected will be Haryana, Punjab, Uttar Pradesh, Gujarat and Rajasthan. Other states Like Bihar, West Bengal, Karnataka, Andhra Pradesh and Tamil Nadu too will suffer to varying degrees. 

Considering the enormity of the problem, the Government of India prepared a draft National Clean Air Program in 2018 for tackling pollution across the nation and improving the quality of air. This aims to mitigate the adverse impact on the people’s health and also fight the Greenhouse Effect. The government has already taken several initiatives in this regard. The National Action Plan on Climate Change, along with the State Action Plan on Climate Change, is designed to cover the entire country. The Mission has been adopting and promoting technologies that will neutralize the factors contributing to pollution and, hopefully, reverse the effects of climate changes.

To promote the use of clean energy, the Jawaharlal Nehru National Solar Mission aims at establishing India as a global leader in solar energy through a three-phase approach. By 2022, it will create a policy framework for the deployment of 20,000 megawatts of solar power by facilitating indigenous solar manufacturing capability. It will also enhance off-grid applications of solar energy to 2000 megawatts.

The National Mission for Enhanced Energy Efficiency aims at achieving ecologically sustainable growth by developing cost-effective and energy efficient schemes. For instance, the market based ‘Perform Achieve and Trade’ or PAT procedure enables improvements in large energy-intensive industries. Another initiative, the ‘Market Transformation for Energy Efficiency’ or MTEE encourages a speedy shift to energy-efficient appliances and equipment in selected sectors through innovative and affordable measures. The Mission is estimated to have enabled fuel savings of about 23 million tons of oil-equivalent every year. The resultant annual reduction in carbon dioxide emissions is estimated to be around 98.55 million tons.

The National Mission on Sustainable Habitat promotes improvements in energy efficiency in buildings, urban planning, management of solid and liquid waste, including recycling and power generation, public transport and conservation. Consequently, the Mission examines and rectifies the designs of new and large commercial buildings to optimize their energy demand. It also helps the old and existing buildings to redesign or adopt the latest technologies to conserve energy. The Mission also aims at better urban planning to ensure energy-efficient public transport. Another priority is sewage utilization and recycling of material and urban waste and developing technologies for generating power from such waste.

The National Water Mission aims at increasing water use efficiency by 20 per cent through conservation. By focusing on vulnerable and over-exploited areas, it ensures equitable distribution of water through integrated development and management of water resources. Accordingly, it has given top priority to the management of basin-level integration of water resources. The Mission has helped develop a comprehensive water database in public domain. This facilitates assessment of the impact of climate changes on sources of water.

The main objective of the National Mission for Sustainable Agriculture is to develop a robust, ecologically sustainable agriculture system. It should be able to realize its maximum potential and ensure food security for all. For this, the Mission aims at equitable access to food resources, enhancing livelihood opportunities and contributing to economic stability at the national level. The mission also facilitates the exchange of information and knowledge on climate changes between farmers and research institutions.

The National Mission for Sustaining the Himalayan Ecosystem has been working on evolving such management measures as to safeguard the Himalayan glaciers and mountain ecosystem. By establishing the National Centre for Himalayan Glaciology, it also attempts to address such key issues like impacts of climate changes on the Himalayan glaciers, biodiversity, wildlife conservation and livelihood of traditional societies. It has also been making full use of remote-sensing satellites and, now, drones are being inducted for better monitoring.

The National Mission for a Green India focuses on enhancing carbon sinks in forests and other ecosystems. It is involved in the protection of vulnerable species/ecosystems and communities depending on forests for their survival. It has launched schemes for increasing income from forests in the case of about thirty lakh families by expanding the tree cover and improving the quality of forest cover. This will also help in the reduction of annual carbon-dioxide emissions by 50 to 60 million tons in the year 2020.

The National Mission on Strategic Knowledge for Climate Change identifies the challenges and the responses to climate change through research and technology development and ensures funding of high quality and focused research into various aspects of climate changes. The Mission has set up well-designed knowledge networks with a well-structured framework for coordination, interoperability and exchange of relevant data. It leverages the development of suitable technologies for adaptation and mitigation of climate change under various missions. The Government of India has entered into agreements with Finland, Canada, USA, France, Norway and other countries to have access to the latest in technologies and knowledge. Japan has developed state of the art technologies like for suppressing the production of dioxins released from garbage incineration. Another technology that suits Indian condition is for harnessing of biomass energy from agricultural residues.

The Government of India has been proactive in countering the harmful effects of climate changes. It has established The Indian Network for Climate Change Assessment to study the impacts of climate change at the national and regional levels. It prepares assessments of climate changes every two years and monitors their causes and implications, which helps decision making processes and enables the building of capacity towards the management of risks and opportunities related to climate change.

Indeed, the government is geared up to meet the daunting challenge of climate change.

Appeared on the AIR ESD (English) in the “INDIA ON THE MOVE” Program of 14 and 15 June 2018. Entitled, “The Role of Technology in charting India’s progress towards climate change”

Randeep Wadehra is Founder-Editor of Smart Scholars
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