Extraordinary heatwave in India and Pakistan made thirty times more likely by climate change – deliverance

A new study by World Weather Attribution, which looks at attribution of extreme weather events, finds that the blast furnace episode in the Indian subcontinent would have been “extraordinarily rare” in the past.

Heat waves are much more frequent and intense today due to climate change. But to what extent is the current blast furnace in India and Pakistan an example of this? This Monday, scientists from the international network World Weather Attribution (WWA) say that climate change has made this heat wave thirty times more likely.

This heat wave is particularly early and long. High temperatures, which began in March with a thermometer exceeding 40°C, intensified in April, peaking at 51°C on the India-Pakistan border. The abnormal temperature episode is still ongoing. “March was the hottest month in India on record 122 years ago, according to the Indian Meteorological Department (IMD). Temperatures have consistently been 3°C to 8°C above average, breaking many records.” reminds the WWA, which is working on the assignment of extreme events to climate change. Rainfall was also scarce, exacerbating the drought situation in India and Pakistan.

“Thousands of people in this region who have contributed very little to global warming are now suffering the consequences and will continue to do so unless emissions are significantly reduced globally,” Warning Arpita Mondal, a hydroclimatologist at the Indian Institute of Technology in Bombay, is quoted in the WWA press release.

A “normal” event in a +3°C world

The 29 mobilized researchers (from India, Pakistan, Denmark, France, the Netherlands, New Zealand, Switzerland, the United Kingdom and the United States) were interested in conducting their study during the months of March and April. They analyzed average daily high temperatures in northwestern India and southeastern Pakistan, the hardest-hit regions. By combining the recorded temperatures with dozens of climate models, they were able to estimate the likelihood of this heat wave in past, current, and future climates.

They deduce this event from this “Would have been extraordinarily rare were it not for the effects of human-caused climate change.” Such a heat wave could occur once every 1,000 years in this region of the world in the past without climate change. In the current climate, where global warming is already +1.2°C, it has a 1 in 100 chance.

“In the future, this probability will increase even further, warns Robert Vautard, climatologist and director of the Pierre Simon Laplace Institute, who took part in the study. “In a +2°C world, this type of heat wave could occur once every ten years and temperatures would be one degree higher. With +3°C warming, an event of this intensity is becoming normal in India and Pakistan,” he warns release. This particularly populated region of the world could become uninhabitable in the future.

Significant losses

The current damage is a preview. However, they are already significant. “The 2022 heatwave is estimated to have killed at least 90 people in India and Pakistan and triggered extreme flooding of glacial lakes in northern Pakistan and wildfires in India.” states the WWA. This heat wave was “dried” and not wet, the study also points to what has limited human losses at the moment. High humidity combined with high temperatures is the most unbearable situation for the human body and can quickly become fatal.

“However, it will take months to determine the full health and economic impact and cascading effects of the current heat wave, including the excessive number of deaths, hospitalizations, lost wages, missed school days and reduced working hours. in detail the scientists of the WWA.

On the agricultural side, the first results are worrying. “Farmers in Haryana, Uttar Pradesh and Punjab [Etats indiens, ndlr] lost around 10-35% of crop yields due to the heat wave,” reports the WWA. A big problem for India, the breadbasket of Asia, in a context strained on grain because of Russia’s invasion of Ukraine. “India had planned to export record quantities of wheat this year in response to Ukraine’s deficit. Now, due to an event fueled by climate change, most of these exports have been cancelled, pushing up global wheat prices and increasing hunger around the world.” points to Robert Vautard.

After all, the WWA points this out “Devastating consequences for public health and agriculture” are not inevitable. Alongside working together to curb global warming through lower emissions, India and Pakistan must continue to adapt to anticipate the future. For example, nearly 130 cities in India have “heat action plans” that include early warning systems.

But according to the WWA, there is still a lot to do: “Better urban and health planning, disaster insurance and livelihood protection mechanisms, investing in green space, strengthening energy networks, improving water infrastructure and protecting the environment could help reduce the number of people suffering from rising temperatures.”

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