Weather alert

While 2015 was the hottest year on record, Indian cities have been getting warmer by the year

The average temperature in the country has risen by 2.2°C over the last 200 years, according to a study.

With 2015 now the hottest year since records started being kept 135 years ago, Delhi, Mumbai and other Indian cities have heated up substantially since the 19th and 20th centuries, data from the US National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA) reveal.

Mumbai’s average annual temperature has risen 2.4 °C since 1891 and Delhi’s average annual temperature has risen 0.3 °C since 1930, as the chart below indicates:

Source: NASA
Source: NASA

An alternative study from Berkeleyearth.org, a US non-profit that analyses climate science, appears to confirm the larger trend seen in the temperature rise in India: a rise of 2.2 °C over 200 years.

Source: BerkeleyEarth.org
Source: BerkeleyEarth.org

Finland, Spain experience greatest warming

NASA took data from 6,300 weather stations around the world and compared it to a baseline, which is the average temperature from 1951-1980 (and can be taken roughly as 14 °C). In 2015, the temperature deviation from the baseline was 0.87 °C, making it the hottest year since 2014, when the global temperature was 0.74 °C above the baseline.

Source: NASA
Source: NASA

The 10 hottest years on record have now all occurred after 2000 and deviations from the baseline have increased at a rate of 0.03°C for every year from 2000 to 2015, indicative of a larger trend of global warming.

Finland and Spain had their warmest years ever while Argentina had its second warmest year. In the long term, the biggest temperature increases have occurred around the poles, while temperatures around the equator haven’t changed much, according to a report on PBS.org.

Source: National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, USA
Source: National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, USA

A closer look at the map also shows there is no region untouched by warming. “Further affirmation of the reality of the warming is its spatial distribution, which has largest values at locations remote from any local human influence,” a NASA statement said.

Most of the weather stations around the world are in the northern hemisphere, where most of the Earth’s land mass is located. This means we do not really have a good idea of how the southern hemisphere, which is mostly ocean, has heated up. So, global warming could be underestimated, according to a report from realclimate.org, a commentary site on climate science.

El Niño's role

It would be easy to blame human activity and greenhouse gases for the warming, but according to some scientists, while that may not be possible for a single year, it does adequately explain the longer trend.

“[A] specific year [being the warmest]…is not attributable to greenhouse gases per se…but the long-term trend … is attributable,” said Gavin Schmidt, director of NASA’s Goddard Institute of Space Studies in 2015.

A role in warming the world, and parts of India, in 2015 can also be attributed to the complex phenomenon called El Niño, a vast ocean-atmosphere climate interaction in parts of the Pacific Ocean, linked to warmer sea-surface temperatures. IndiaSpend has reported how El Niño in 2015 brought a more intense heatwave in northern India and a weaker monsoon.

The fact that there were record hot years, such as 2014, without an El Nino is seen as further evidence of global warming.

Potential consequences

More flooding in Europe, water shortages in Africa, droughts in Asia and wildfires in North America. These are some of the effects that could result if the Earth’s warming continues, the Intergovernmental Panel On Climate Change, a United Nations agency responsible for investigating the effects of global warming, predicted in a 2014 report.

Countries around the world took their most significant step yet at COP21, the Paris climate change conference in December. (IndiaSpend has reported on India’s position at the summit here.) Agreeing to keep the rise in global temperatures in 2030 to under 2°C from pre-industrial times, while striving for a 1.5 °C rise, will go a long way, but, to borrow a proverb, the proof will be in the pudding.

This article was first published on IndiaSpend, a data-driven and public-interest journalism non-profit.

We welcome your comments at letters@scroll.in.
Sponsored Content BY 

How sustainable farming practices can secure India's food for the future

India is home to 15% of the world’s undernourished population.

Food security is a pressing problem in India and in the world. According to the Food and Agriculture Organization of the UN (FAO), it is estimated that over 190 million people go hungry every day in the country.

Evidence for India’s food challenge can be found in the fact that the yield per hectare of rice, one of India’s principal crops, is 2177 kgs per hectare, lagging behind countries such as China and Brazil that have yield rates of 4263 kgs/hectare and 3265 kgs/hectare respectively. The cereal yield per hectare in the country is also 2,981 kgs per hectare, lagging far behind countries such as China, Japan and the US.

The slow growth of agricultural production in India can be attributed to an inefficient rural transport system, lack of awareness about the treatment of crops, limited access to modern farming technology and the shrinking agricultural land due to urbanization. Add to that, an irregular monsoon and the fact that 63% of agricultural land is dependent on rainfall further increase the difficulties we face.

Despite these odds, there is huge potential for India to increase its agricultural productivity to meet the food requirements of its growing population.

The good news is that experience in India and other countries shows that the adoption of sustainable farming practices can increase both productivity and reduce ecological harm.

Sustainable agriculture techniques enable higher resource efficiency – they help produce greater agricultural output while using lesser land, water and energy, ensuring profitability for the farmer. These essentially include methods that, among other things, protect and enhance the crops and the soil, improve water absorption and use efficient seed treatments. While Indian farmers have traditionally followed these principles, new technology now makes them more effective.

For example, for soil enhancement, certified biodegradable mulch films are now available. A mulch film is a layer of protective material applied to soil to conserve moisture and fertility. Most mulch films used in agriculture today are made of polyethylene (PE), which has the unwanted overhead of disposal. It is a labour intensive and time-consuming process to remove the PE mulch film after usage. If not done, it affects soil quality and hence, crop yield. An independently certified biodegradable mulch film, on the other hand, is directly absorbed by the microorganisms in the soil. It conserves the soil properties, eliminates soil contamination, and saves the labor cost that comes with PE mulch films.

The other perpetual challenge for India’s farms is the availability of water. Many food crops like rice and sugarcane have a high-water requirement. In a country like India, where majority of the agricultural land is rain-fed, low rainfall years can wreak havoc for crops and cause a slew of other problems - a surge in crop prices and a reduction in access to essential food items. Again, Indian farmers have long experience in water conservation that can now be enhanced through technology.

Seeds can now be treated with enhancements that help them improve their root systems. This leads to more efficient water absorption.

In addition to soil and water management, the third big factor, better seed treatment, can also significantly improve crop health and boost productivity. These solutions include application of fungicides and insecticides that protect the seed from unwanted fungi and parasites that can damage crops or hinder growth, and increase productivity.

While sustainable agriculture through soil, water and seed management can increase crop yields, an efficient warehousing and distribution system is also necessary to ensure that the output reaches the consumers. According to a study by CIPHET, Indian government’s harvest-research body, up to 67 million tons of food get wasted every year — a quantity equivalent to that consumed by the entire state of Bihar in a year. Perishables, such as fruits and vegetables, end up rotting in store houses or during transportation due to pests, erratic weather and the lack of modern storage facilities. In fact, simply bringing down food wastage and increasing the efficiency in distribution alone can significantly help improve food security. Innovations such as special tarpaulins, that keep perishables cool during transit, and more efficient insulation solutions can reduce rotting and reduce energy usage in cold storage.

Thus, all three aspects — production, storage, and distribution — need to be optimized if India is to feed its ever-growing population.

One company working to drive increased sustainability down the entire agriculture value chain is BASF. For example, the company offers cutting edge seed treatments that protect crops from disease and provide plant health benefits such as enhanced vitality and better tolerance for stress and cold. In addition, BASF has developed a biodegradable mulch film from its ecovio® bioplastic that is certified compostable – meaning farmers can reap the benefits of better soil without risk of contamination or increased labor costs. These and more of the company’s innovations are helping farmers in India achieve higher and more sustainable yields.

Of course, products are only one part of the solution. The company also recognizes the importance of training farmers in sustainable farming practices and in the safe use of its products. To this end, BASF engaged in a widespread farmer outreach program called Samruddhi from 2007 to 2014. Their ‘Suraksha Hamesha’ (safety always) program reached over 23,000 farmers and 4,000 spray men across India in 2016 alone. In addition to training, the company also offers a ‘Sanrakshan® Kit’ to farmers that includes personal protection tools and equipment. All these efforts serve to spread awareness about the sustainable and responsible use of crop protection products – ensuring that farmers stay safe while producing good quality food.

Interested in learning more about BASF’s work in sustainable agriculture? See here.

This article was produced by the Scroll marketing team on behalf of BASF and not by the Scroll editorial team.