The world has turned the page on 2016 with the worrying revelation that it was the warmest year on the instrumental record since the late 19th century, and the hottest of three record-breaking years in a row. While the rise in global average surface temperature by about 1.1º C last year over the pre-industrial era was aggravated by the El Nino phenomenon of 2015-16, the trend is a warning to all countries that they cannot afford to rely on carbon-intensive growth any longer. Explaining the scientific view, NASA’s Goddard Institute for Space Studies points to the rise in temperature as being driven “largely by increased carbon dioxide and other human-made emissions into the atmosphere.” The warming pattern must be seen in the context of declining sea ice cover in the Arctic, compounding the loss of ice sheets in Greenland and the Antarctic. In the Arctic, which is witnessing a decline in the extent of sea ice in the lowest month at the rate of about 13% every decade, melting creates a vicious circle of more exposure of ‘dark areas’ to sunlight, higher melting and more dark surface absorbing heat. Such phenomena accelerate the rate of global warming, with consequences through climate change for coastal areas, access to water, farming and human health.
A warming globe with changes to the climate in the form of altered rainfall, drought, floods, lost biodiversity and reduced crop yields would particularly affect millions in China and India. It is heartening that Chinese President Xi Jinping asserted the importance of the Paris Agreement on climate change at the Davos meeting of the World Economic Forum, and virtually cautioned incoming U.S. President Donald Trump against reneging on it. India’s own commitment to the climate accord must be strengthened with clear and unambiguous actions. This should lead to a scaling up of renewable energy and measurable decline in use of fossil fuels. Union Power Minister Piyush Goyal has promised a steady increase in solar power capacity, going beyond the target of 100 gigawatts by 2022, but such goals become more credible when there is action in individual States to make the average citizen a partner in the effort. States should be ranked on their policies that help unlock investment in the sector, including domestic rooftop installations, and the weak service infrastructure for solar should be upgraded without delay. India’s water stress is heightened by extreme weather episodes, and this requires an enhanced policy response to protect farmers, livestock and vulnerable communities.