Climate scientists have warned that heat waves in India, among other extreme weather events, are “definitely” driven by global warming, threatening the country’s food security.
Heat waves in the country, which reduced wheat production by 3 million tonnes this year compared to last year, are being driven by altered weather patterns due to global warming, scientists at the Indian Institute of Tropical Meteorology, Pune have concluded.
“The only reason behind these heat waves is global warming,” said Roxy Mathew Cole, a climate scientist at IITM. Cole studied seven decades of data to conclude that the intensity and frequency of heat waves are directly related to warming.
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Several studies now predict that intense and early-onset heat waves, along with large variations in rainfall patterns, could threaten the country’s production of rice and wheat, leading to shortages. The impact is already being felt on agriculture, which employs half the population and accounts for 18% of India’s economic output.
India witnessed its hottest March this year, with wheat production falling in states like Punjab, Uttar Pradesh and Haryana. This raised domestic prices of the staple by nearly 20%, leading to a ban on exports.
The International Food Policy Research Institute’s 2022 Global Food Policy Report said climate change “could push many Indians into starvation by 2030 due to reduced agricultural productivity” and “impact food-supply chains”.
The dire consequences prompted Indian scientists to explore mitigation and adaptation strategies. For the first time, scientists from the Indian Meteorological Department and IITM have demonstrated that heat waves can be predicted up to a season in advance. Their study was published in the September 2022 edition of the International Journal of Climatology of the Royal Meteorological Society.
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About nine million hectares of the 30 million hectares under wheat are classified as vulnerable to flash heat shock, the Indian Council of Agricultural Research said.
Cole’s recent historical study of rising temperatures over the Indian Ocean, or oceanic heat waves, is changing the course and distribution of monsoons.
A poor southwest monsoon in 2022, accompanied by an increase in late rains, led to a 4% deficit in paddy sowing. The government then imposed restrictions on remittances to counter possible shortages and high food-grain price inflation.