Indian Army personnel rescuing flood victims on the outskirts of Chennai, India, recently. A government statement said 34,000 people in Tamil Nadu and Andhra Pradesh were evacuated, while 70 died. AFP pic

It has been a nasty November. Terror attacks in Beirut, Paris and Bamako in Mali generated intense deliberations at the Asean and East Asia Summits. For a change, going beyond rhetoric, action also accompanied this discourse as Islamic State (IS) positions in Syria were pounded.

Echoing a 15-volume fatwa issued this month by 1,070 Indian ulama and sent to United Nations Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon, Prime Minister Narendra Modi, meeting other leaders gathered in Kuala Lumpur, warned that terrorism respects no faith, while misusing it, and no borders.

There is no time to lose with 170,000 lives lost to terror attacks globally during 2000-2014, a half of them across Asia. IS has boasted of its presence from Tunisia to Bangladesh. Through its affiliates, it targets multicultural Southeast Asia, where it is being confronted by “moderate Islam”. The leaders could not ignore another threat looming globally — the climate change. It was run-up to the parleys that will take place in terror-battered, but determined, Paris next Monday.

Heavy rains flooding cities, with streets and rail tracks waterlogged and thousands of people and cattle evacuated to safety, have become common to the Indian Ocean region.

Torrential rains in India and Sri Lanka, several parts of Southeast Asia, hailstorm and thundershowers in South Africa point to climate change, proving the scientists’ grim predictions right.

Tamil Nadu and Andhra Pradesh states have been pounded with the decade’s heaviest rains. The “northeast monsoon” or winter monsoon, a rain-bearing system, mainly drenches the eastern flank of the Indian peninsula. A Nasa analysis of the rainfall from Nov 9 to 16 showed up to 550mm.

The formation of a depression in the Bay of Bengal triggered torrential rain with 370mm falling in just 24 hours in Ponneri, north of Chennai.

A government statement last week said 34,000 people in Tamil Nadu and Andhra Pradesh were moved to safer locations, while 70 died. The death toll and damage to environment and property have since mounted. In Sri Lanka’s north, 80,000 people were evacuated.

Unseasonal rains and prolonged winters have hit other parts of the world, too. On the other side of the hemisphere, a large winter storm encompassed much of the United States’ west this month, bringing with it a multitude of severe weather conditions.

Tornadoes hit northern Texas, while heavy rain flooded Arkansas. Further north and west, the storm produced heavy snow across the Rocky Mountains of Colorado. A hailstorm in Johannesburg last Monday blew away the roofs of nearly 3,000 homes and disrupted flights across South Africa.

Back in India this April, unseasonal hailstorms followed by drought ruined crops in five states. In 2013, swollen rivers barreled down hilly villages in Uttarakhand, killing an estimated 1,000 people. In 2005, catastrophic flooding swamped Mumbai and killed 5,000 people across Maharashtra state. To complicate things further, a back-to-back drought this year has shrivelled crops, causing retail food prices to jump 5.25 per cent in October.

A study by R. Krishnan, a top climatologist at the Indian Institute of Tropical Meteorology, points to a “significant rise” in monsoons.

One of the reasons for Chennai’s heavy rains is the ongoing El Nino weather pattern, which causes dry summers but wetter winters. Flooding of Chennai roads stopped Chief Minister J. Jayalalithaa’s motorcade and prompted the state administration to swing into action.

Climate change trends have upset India’s seasonal cycle. This year, a scanty summer monsoon (14 per cent deficient) had been predicted, but a heavier-than-normal October-December winter monsoon in the south. Both proved true.

“I don’t think there is any climate-change denial. There is general agreement after the UN’s assessment report 5, which has increased confidence in what’s happening. This is borne out by Indian scientists, too,” Laxman Singh Rathore, director-general of the India Meteorological Department, told The Hindustan Times newspaper.

The government should factor in “meteorological inputs in the planning and governance of so-called smart cities”, Ajit Tyagi, India’s permanent representative to the World Meteorological Organisation, says.

Come World Climate Summit in Paris, how India adopts the issue will be watched with a mix of hope, dismay and irritation.

India has been a strong advocate of the ideas of “equity”, “historic responsibility” and “common but differentiated responsibility” (CBDR) since the early days of climate discussions. It was successful, with other developing countries, in getting these ideas reflected in the text of the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC) 1992. Ever since, India has consistently advocated these principles.

India has talked of “climate justice”. Modi enunciated it in his speech at the UN General Assembly in September. It has not been welcomed by the developed economies, which continue to demand a larger and disproportionate share of the carbon budget, despite being historically responsible for the dwindling Carbon Space.

US, Canada and Australia have been fighting to dilute or simply do away with these principles and have been successful to a large extent. Indeed, US Secretary of State John Kerry has bluntly said his government would be “challenging” India at Paris.

Critics from the developed world have pooh-poohed the idea of climate justice as something as abstract as sustainable development. This is a new challenge for India and the developing world. India will have to define and detail the concept and then convince the world about it.

Will the Paris meet escalate the battle between the developed and the developing countries?

The writer is NST’s New Delhi
correspondent

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