The irony is dependence on coal-fired power plants is proportionately increasing with rising temperatures caused by climate change
The throes of summer seem to have descended upon India prematurely as a shockingly hot and dry month of April dismayed the people across the nation. Average temperatures of over 40 degrees Celsius have been recorded for the second time since 1951 making April the second hottest month in the last 72 years. April usually has a maximum temperature of 36 degree Celsius. The torrid heat waves this year began as early as March which also witnessed record temperatures in the last 122 years.
The severity can be gauged by the fact that the Indian Railways is cancelling trains to move coal to thermal power stations as the demand for power sky-rocketed. Still, the gap between coal supply and electricity generation is widening and has caused acute power shortages, especially in Rajasthan, Andhra Pradesh and Haryana.The irony is the dependence on coal-fired power plants is proportionately increasing with the rising temperatures caused by climate change. This vicious cycle seems too difficult to break as the only alternative of renewable energy is not sufficient enough.
According to environmental experts, the unabated accumulation of greenhouse gases is resulting in increased temperatures.Vehicular and industrial pollution have been one of the main causes for GHG emissions in India. But specific pollution events across the nation are making already bad conditions worse. For instance, the continuous fires at the Bhalswa landfill in Delhi NCR in recent days havespun the air quality and ambient temperatures in Delhi out of control. Considering the fact that the Bhalswa landfill is spread over 36 acres and has 80 lakh tonnes of garbage, any fire here is sure to be a large-scale disaster.
Pollution aside, the number of heatwave days in India are increasing at a rapid pace every 10 years, an ongoing study by the Met Department showed. From 413 in 1981-90 to 575 in 2001-10 and 600 in 2011-20, the number of days that see extremely hot days is persistently increasing at 103 weather stations, mostly in inland areas, the study showed.The study also showed that most of the 103 weather stations have recorded a significantly increasing trend in heatwave frequency between April and June during the 1961-2020 period.
The scorching temperatures are causing heat stress conditions for India’s poor and marginalised engaged in hard labour for their livelihoods. Additionally, almost half of India’s working age population is engaged in farming, which requires long hours of outdoor heat exposure in summer.These situations are causing heat-related health disorders and even deaths amongst this section of population. While India’s average temperatures rose by more than 0.5 degrees between 1960 and 2009, the probability of a massive heat-related mortality event, defined as more than 100 deaths, shot up by as much as 146%, according to a 2017 Increasing probability of mortality during Indian heat waves.
According to a report by the Euro-Mediterranean Center on Climate Change, if global temperatures rise and carbon emissions are not contained to 2 degrees Celsius, then heatwaves in India are likely to last 25 times longer by 2036-2065. These conditions can have disastrous impact on the delicate ecological environs of the Himalayas as it will directly lead to faster melting of glaciers which in turn will cause floods initially and followed by hard spells of drought after that.
The need of the hour is to adopt a proactive method of prevention of extreme pollution events. Four instance the Bhalswa landfill fire was entirely avoidable and if prevented in time it could have helped reduce ambient temperatures in Delhi besides critical amounts of pollution. Similarly, it is more important now than ever to urgently ramp up renewable energy capacities so that this helpless dependence on thermal energy is controlled.
The Government must aim at making every household and business take ownership of its electricity requirement and generate at least 50 per cent of the same from solar energy by applying to relevant government schemes on renewable energy. This will ensure grass-root level energy self-sufficiency and reduce the demand for thermal energy.
The climate change led spike in temperatures that necessitated a jump in thermal energy requirements should serve as a writing on the wall for India to start focusing on creation of renewable energy as a viable alternative to thermal energy. Unless this is done, India will be a victim of climate change sooner than later.
(The writer is an environmental journalist. The views expressed are personal.)