Kolkata to face double whammy of heat waves, frequent cyclones, warns IPCC report

Metropolis is among 10 cities across the world likely to experience multi-hazard risks dues to climate change

March 03, 2022 06:51 pm | Updated 06:51 pm IST - Kolkata

Waves lash over onto a damaged shoreline after Cyclone Yaas hit India’s eastern coast in the Bay of Bengal, at a beach in Shankarpur, some 180 kms from Kolkata. File

Waves lash over onto a damaged shoreline after Cyclone Yaas hit India’s eastern coast in the Bay of Bengal, at a beach in Shankarpur, some 180 kms from Kolkata. File | Photo Credit: AFP

Kolkata is likely to face twin challenges of heat and humidity, and increased frequency of cyclones, reveals the 6th Assessment Report of the Working Group II of Intergovernmental Panel of Climate Change (IPCC) . The metropolis, which is the capital of West Bengal is among the top 10 cities across the world that face the most dangerous multi-hazard risks like cyclones, floods, droughts, earthquakes, landslides and are most vulnerable to disaster-related mortality.

 “The latest IPCC report emphasises how cities like Kolkata would be impacted more frequently as a result of climate change. Heat stress will be quite significant in the coming years, according to the analysis, while cyclonic systems will have a greater influence on the metropolis. Most likely, a city like Kolkata will face a double whammy with heat and humidity plus the impact of increased frequency of cyclones.” said climate scientist Anjal Prakash, one of authors of the latest IPCC report.

 The IPCC report said that with a 1.5°C rise on average, Kolkata will experience heat equivalent to the 2015 record heat wave every year. Dr. Prakash said that an analysis of the maps of West Bengal shows the heat and humidity issues are quite high, and it is expected that it will cross the threshold of 35 degree Celsius under the business as usual scenario (projection without any interventions to address climate change). 

Flood threat

Kolkata is also among the top 13 coastal cities in Asia with the biggest flood losses by 2050 that face the threat of submersion owing to rising sea levels and floods. The IPCC assessment report predicts that there is a strong probability that number of powerful tropical cyclones will rise. “Mumbai and Kolkata, both in India, have the biggest number of coastal inhabitants exposed,” the report added. 

The IPCC report suggests that sea level rise is expected to cause saltwater intrusion into aquifers in low-lying regions and tiny islands, posing a hazard to coastal ecosystems and livelihoods. 

As far as the Sundarbans is concerned, the report suggests strong evidence of severe impact “on people’s livelihoods in Sundarbans”, indicating that “such livelihoods are rapidly becoming unproductive (fish loss and rising salinity making agriculture more difficult) as a result of climate change.”

Referring to the cyclone Amphan, which battered the district of south Bengal in May 2020, the IPCC report had pegged the estimated damage at $13.5 billion. The report had suggested that the cyclone was a leading cause of displacement in 2020, with 2.4 million people displaced in India alone, including 8,00,000 people who were evacuated ahead of time by authorities. “The combined drop of both aerosols (because to COVID-19-related lockdowns) and clouds may have contributed to the increasing sea surface temperature, aggravating the warming of the seas caused by climate change,” the report had pointed out. 

For north Bengal, the IPCC report pointed out “considerable shift in biological markers was seen in Darjeeling district as a result of climate change and pollution. Higher temperatures are predicted to have a severe influence on the riverine system when glaciers melt”. 

On the Sundarbans, Dr. Prakash suggested“there is a need for a specialised protection plan”, and added that “West Bengal as a State is at a critical juncture where we really have to act now. The next 10-15 years are very crucial for all of us.”

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