The savage heatwave that has scorched India and Pakistan in recent months was made more likely by climate change and is a harbinger of the region’s future, scientists have said in a new study.
Parts of the region have long suffered gruelling summers, but this year temperatures even in parts of northern India soared to 49C.
The intense heatwave and low rainfall drove deaths, power blackouts as energy demand soared and wheat losses in India, which shut down exports just as the global supply was already squeezed by Russia’s war in Ukraine.
The World Weather Attribution (WWA) group of international scientists consulted historical weather records that suggested early, long heat waves that impact a vast geographical area used to be rare, once-a-century events.
Those heatwaves are now 30 times more likely because of the greenhouse gases released by human activity.
“This is a sign of things to come,” said Arpita Mondal, a climate scientist at the Indian Institute of Technology in Mumbai, who was part of the study.
An analysis published last week by the United Kingdom’s Meteorological Office had the heatwave at even more likely due to climate change – probably 100 times more so, with such scorching temperatures likely to reoccur every three years.
The WWA said the true figure was probably somewhere in between the two estimates.
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The world is already around 1.1 degrees Celsius warmer on average than pre-industrial levels. Further warming will increase the chances of such heatwaves even further, WWA said.
Countries’ climate action plans have brought the predicted warming level down from 4C before the Paris climate accord was signed in 2015 to now around 1.9C, providing those plans are fully implemented.
India has sweltered through the hottest March in the country since records began in 1901 and April was the warmest on record in Pakistan and parts of India.
At least 90 people have died in the two nations, with many more expected to have gone unrecorded.
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