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Seeking Justice For Nations And Peoples Impacted By Climate Change


Last year, Manipur received unprecedented rainfall in January and in February, inducing snowfall in certain parts of the northern uplands, where Liyai Khullen villagers had a whale of a time enjoying the unexpected snow. This year, both these months went without a drop of the expected shower, inducing a heat stress that for all practical purpose shortened the winter spell.

By Salam Rajesh

In February earlier this year, the United Nations General Assembly raised a very pertinent issue with the International Court of Justice on the matter of perceived impacts of Climate Change on nations and peoples, and questioned what the measures are being proposed to tackle the issue which is evidently creating disorder in both the human and the natural environment ecosystems.

The United Nations General Assembly (UNGA) brought up the matter in accordance with Article 96 of the Charter of the United Nations, thereby requesting the International Court of Justice (ICJ) in pursuant to Article 65 of the Statute of the Court, to render an advisory opinion on some burning questions related to impacts of climate change.

The first heated question is, “What are the obligations of States under international law to ensure the protection of the climate system and other parts of the environment from anthropogenic emissions of greenhouse gases for States and for present and future generations”.

The second question is a little more intricate touching on the legal aspects, whereby the UNGA asks, “What are the legal consequences under these obligations for States where they, by their acts and omissions, have caused significant harm to the climate system and other parts of the environment”.

The latter query relates more to “Peoples and individuals of the present and future generations affected by the adverse effects of climate change”, while it also reflects on “States, including small island developing States, which due to their geographical circumstances and level of development, are injured or specially affected by or are particularly vulnerable to the adverse effects of climate change”.

The issues being brought up by the UNGA to the forum of the ICJ is quite relevant to circumstances that are enfolding in Asia, as is well the same for the other continents across the globe.

For Asia specifically, the climate watchdog ‘Climate Trends’ earlier this month brought out a thought provoking reflection where as a consequence to climate change impacts, India is currently witnessing a surge in extreme weather due to rising heat stress.

Assessing a 30-year period between 1986 and 2015, Climate Trends’ reflection suggests an increasing warming trend particularly during the pre-monsoon season, where the all-India average annual and seasonal near-surface air specific humidity have increased since the 1980s.

While assessing that the ‘increasing trend in specific humidity assessed during the pre-monsoon season is consistent with the largest surface warming trend found for this season’, the observation is that this is largely attributed to ‘anthropogenic forcing’. Anthropogenic effects are given as the main reasons for inducing the ‘maximum temperature during the post-monsoon and minimum temperature during the pre-monsoon and monsoon seasons’.

Mahesh Palawat, Vice President, Meteorology and Climate Change, Skymet Weather, says, “This season the abnormal temperatures have triggered multiple weather systems across several parts of the country. There is already a trough which is running through central parts. It will get more marked with a Western Disturbance which would start affecting the region by March 12. As the global mean temperatures continue to rise, we would see more of such weather activities at frequent intervals on account of increasing heat stress”.

Changes in the climate system become larger in direct relation to increasing global warming, Climate Trends observes, while indicating that the ‘pre-monsoon season heat wave frequency, duration, intensity and aerial coverage over India are projected to substantially rise in the moisture content of the atmosphere which is associated with warming over India, and is primarily attributed to human-induced climate change’.

An increase in the intensity and frequency of extreme rainfall events is mainly influenced by global climate change over Asia, says the global climate watchdog, while also stating that the significant increasing trend in humidity during the pre-monsoon season in India is due to the largest surface warming trend on account of climate change.

The general observation is that ‘pre-monsoon weather activities have begun quite early this year, with rain and thunderstorms making an appearance in the first week of March itself. This initial spell of unseasonal rain and thundershowers led to crop damage in substantial parts of Rajasthan, Madhya Pradesh, and Maharashtra between March 6 and 8, while strong winds and hailstorm led to crop flattening, making the loss beyond recovery, as per the Climate Trends’ assessment.

Anjal Prakash, IPCC author, reflects on the emerging issue, saying that, “Climate change and global warming are known to have significant impacts on the frequency, duration, and intensity of extreme weather events, including heavy rainfall, thunderstorms, and heat waves. These weather systems can cause significant damage to crops, resulting in economic losses for farmers and food shortages for communities”.

“It is essential to take actions to mitigate the impacts of climate change and reduce our carbon footprint to prevent further global warming and its associated consequences. This includes implementing sustainable practices in agriculture, reducing greenhouse gas emissions, and investing in renewable energy sources”, says Anjal.

As per the climate models outlined in the assessment, twin cyclonic circulations are likely to form over east Madhya Pradesh, Telangana and north Andhra Pradesh, while a trough is likely to form between these two systems. Both the systems would become more marked due to moisture feed from Arabian Sea as well as Bay of Bengal, while an active Western Disturbance is likely to travel through Western Himalayas during the same time.

The projection is that these systems in their entirety would lead to widespread weather activity over central, eastern and southern parts of the country between March 13 and 18. The northeastern parts of India, including Manipur, are expecting to get wet for around five days beginning March 17 as per the meteorological advice, with Tamenglong District already lashed by the cyclonic-induced rain on Wednesday itself.

Last year, Manipur received unprecedented rainfall in January and in February, inducing snowfall in certain parts of the northern uplands, where Liyai Khullen villagers had a whale of a time enjoying the unexpected snow. This year, both these months went without a drop of the expected shower, inducing a heat stress that for all practical purpose shortened the winter spell.

The climate variability seen in these short spell of two years time may be the prelude to more depressing extreme weather conditions likely in the State, even as the indications nationally and globally have worse news to follow in this decade and the next. So, as the UN indicates, it is going to be a matter of concern reflecting on how the State is prepared to deal with the issue on “Loss and Damage” from impacts or effects of climate change on ‘Peoples and individuals of the present and future generations’ (in Manipur specifically).

(The writer looks at environmental stories through the journalistic lens. He can be reached at [email protected])

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