The past decade was India’s hottest on record, with extreme heat directly killing about 350 people last year, the national meteorological department’s chief said on Tuesday.
India has faced some of the fastest-rising threats from climate change, environmentalists say, with increases in blistering heat, powerful cyclones, drought and flooding.
Between 2010 and 2019, temperatures were 0.36 degrees Celsius above the 1981-2010 average, making it the hottest decade since records began in 1901, according to the Indian Meteorological Department (IMD).
Mrutyunjay Mohapatra, IMD’s director general of meteorology, said it was difficult to pinpoint a definite cause for any single incident of record-breaking temperatures, but global warming and climate change were definitely “factors to consider”.
“The reasons are climate change, global warming but I cannot say specifically because there is no such study to attribute that ‘X’ occurred due to ‘Y’,” Mohapatra told the Thomson Reuters Foundation.
Such “attribution science”, which can help link specific extreme events to climate change, is on the rise globally, but is still taking hold in India, where heatwaves in 2015 and 2016 have so far been tied to climate shifts.
According to the IMD, 2019 was the seventh warmest year on record in India. Overall about 1,630 people died in extreme weather events over the year, it said.
The South Asian giant – home to 1.3 billion people – last year experienced a longer summer as well as monsoon rains that were delayed but ultimately the biggest in 25 years.
It also saw a record number of cyclones, and later record cold, with Delhi seeing its coldest day in over a century last month.
A dry spell also triggered crippling droughts and dire water shortages, including in the southern city of Chennai, which was plunged into crisis when its four main water reservoirs ran dry.
More unpredictable weather – including more frequent droughts and heatwaves – can threaten harvests and food security, especially in developing nations such as India, climate scientists say.
Weather extremes also can lead to more water shortages and outbreaks of water and mosquito-borne diseases such as diarrhoea and malaria.
In early December, the World Meteorological Organization (WMO) said that 2019 was on course to be the second or third warmest year on record globally.
It said the global mean temperature during the first 10 months of 2019 was 1.1 Celsius above pre-industrial levels.
The 2015 Paris Agreement, a global pact to fight climate change agreed to by nearly 200 countries, aims to keep the Earth’s temperature rise well below 2C, striving for 1.5C.
But current national plans to curb emissions and limit climate change, even if achieved, would produce warming of more than 3 degrees – one reason countries are due to update them this year, as global emissions continue to rise rather than fall.
WMO Secretary-General Petteri Taalas warned that if urgent climate action was not taken “then we are heading for a temperature increase of more than 3 degrees Celsius by the end of the century, with ever more harmful impacts on human wellbeing”.
“We are nowhere near on track to meet the Paris Agreement target,” he said.