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Global burning - missing the 1.5 degree Celcius target

The latest IPCC report has warned that the world is most unlikely not going to be able to contain global warming to 1.5 degree Celsius. Missing this target will have catastrophic impact on human life in various parts of the world.

The warning in the sixth IPCC report depicted visually by Climate Central.

The sixth assessment report by the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change has warned once again of the failure to prevent the increase in temperature due to global warming. As per the report, the earth’s temperature has increased by 1.1 degree Celsius (ºC) above pre-industrial levels, which means that the the target of 1.5ºC set by the Paris Agreement, was unlikely to be reached in the near term. Climate change has serious consequences causing global temperatures to rise more, the earth's surface to warm, and the frequency and intensity of heat waves to increase. The most visible effects of climate change are extreme weather conditions, such as heat waves, which have become common in some parts of the world. As intense heat waves are becoming prevalent, hot days are becoming hotter. Unfortunately, India is among those countries which has faced the brunt of this.

In recent years, India has experienced severe heat waves. The year 2017 was the fourth consecutive heatwave in India, with 2016 being the deadliest one. According to the World Meteorological Organisation, India in the year 2022 recorded the hottest March with 33ºC. With certain places in India reaching temperatures as high as 50°C, heatwaves have become a frequent occurrence, resulting in a number of fatalities and health issues. In 2015 alone, a heat wave killed over 2,000 people in India. The devastating impact on public health was caused by dehydration, heat stroke, and death. Heatwaves also worsened pre-existing conditions like heart disease and respiratory problems.

In 2016, looking at the death rates which were continuously increasing due to heatwaves, India’s disaster apex body, National Disaster Management Authority (NDMA) devised the Heat Action Plans (HAPs) in order to tackle and mitigate the impact of heat waves. According to NDMA, “The Heat-Wave Action plan should aim to provide a framework for implementation, coordination and evaluation of extreme heat response activities in cities/towns in India that reduces the negative impact of extreme heat. The Plan’s primary objective is to alert those populations at risk of heat related illness in places where extreme heat conditions either exist or are imminent, and to take appropriate precautions, which are at high risk.”

As the cities, states and districts adopted the key strategies mentioned in HAPs, the mortality rate decreased but there was an increase in heat-affected states. While many Indian cities, states and towns successfully adopted Heat Action Plans, a critical assessment by the Centre for Policy Research, an Indian think tank, tells us a different story. The report “How Is India Adapting To Heatwaves? An Assessment Of Heat Action Plans With Insights For Transformative Climate Action” is a comprehensive analysis of the Heat Action Plans adopted by various cities, states and districts. The report critically analyzes the effectiveness of these plans, highlighted the shortcomings of the plan and provided recommendations for the same.

The most vulnerable victims of heatwave are those from the unorganized sectors, such as daily wage workers and street hawkers. Due to their financial needs, they are forced to work in the heat outdoors. The think tank’s report indicates that almost all Heat Action Plans are ineffective at locating and focusing on vulnerable groups.

The report highlights the issue of underfunding. Out of the 37 Heat Action Plans which were analyzed in this report, it was found that 11 of the HAPs discuss funding, while the other eight rely on the implementing departments to self-allocate resources, which points to serious funding constraints. Additionally, the report indicates how most Heat Action Plans are not designed for local conditions. The focus of the Plans is on extremely dry heat and neglects the dangers posed by humid heat and warm nights.

The Heat Actions Plans have weak legal foundations, according to the report impacting accountability. The Plans do not specify the legal source of their authority. As a result, this lessens the administrative incentives to prioritize HAPs, given the fact that the agencies are overworked, underfunded and are entrusted with carrying out multiple other long-term plans at once.

Furthermore, HAPs are not transparent. Many of the HAPs are not listed online which means that it may be difficult for an individual to determine whether these are being updated on a regular basis and whether these updates are based on evaluation data.

The report highlights how capacity building is targeted sectorally, the HAPs cover sectors such as health, construction and schools, they put less emphasis on building the capacity of transformative, cross-cutting actors such as government departments, civil society, and the local research ecosystem.

The report is crucial in emphasizing the importance of reforming climate action. It focuses on the underlying causes of the problem and provides insight into the country's response to the growing threat of heat waves caused by climate change. While the HAPs have resulted in some desirable and positive outcomes, there are certain constraints that must be addressed to make sure that the plans are transformative and effective in mitigating the effects of heatwaves, so that we can all have a safe future ahead.

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