The Pakistan and Indian heatwave has already caused deaths, major crop losses, wildfires, power shortages, and increased coal production to meet soaring energy demands. 

The ongoing and deadly Indian heatwave has been made at least 30 times more likely by human-induced climate change, according to a new report

The World Weather Attribution has published a rapid analysis of the event as extreme and unprecedented high temperatures continue to plague South Asian countries, along with below average rainfall. In India, temperatures in March were consistently 3-8 C above average and reached a 122-year high of 44C. At one point, the Indian capital New Delhi hit above 49C. In the neighbouring country of Pakistan, temperatures peaked at 51C in some regions. 

The report compared average daily maximum temperatures against records from pre-industrial times using a combination of climate models and observation data, and found that climate change has increased the probability of an extreme heatwave occurring from once every 3,000 years to once in every 100 years. 

“The most distressing thing is that the limits to adaptation are being breached for a large poor population of the region at the present level of global warming,” said Dr Fahad Saeed, one of the study’s researchers and a climate scientist at the Climate Analytics group. 

The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change has already warned that intense heatwaves will become more frequent and more severe. In a 2C global temperature increase scenario, the report estimates that these events would become another 2-20 times more likely than in 2022, and 0.5-1.5 C hotter, too.  

A similar but separate study published by the UK’s Met Office the week prior also found that the climate crisis has made heatwaves 100 times more likely.

“High temperatures are common in India and Pakistan, but what made this unusual was that it started so early and lasted so long,” said Krishna AchutaRao, a climate scientist at the Indian Institute of Technology in New Delhi. “We know this will happen more often as temperatures rise and we need to be better prepared for it.”

The extreme Indian heatwave has already caused widespread suffering and fatalities. Subsequent droughts and wildfires, coupled with low precipitation, have led to major crop losses, delivering a blow to India’s wheat production. As a result, the government placed a ban on wheat exports to ensure national food security, but this has driven global prices up by 6%, fuelling further global food security fears amid the Ukraine war – another major producer and exporter of wheat. 

Energy demand has also skyrocketed in India – from increased use of air-conditioning,  causing many parts of the country to experience power shortages and black-outs. To keep pace with it, the country has relaxed its green rules on coal mines and expanded production by a further 10%. Coal-fired power plants have also been ordered to operate at full capacity, undermining its decarbonisation efforts and renewable transition. 

EO’s Position: Our planet has already warmed around 1.1C since pre-industrial times, and we are still on track to exceed 1.5C of warming within the next two decades. Unless the world at large drastically stops adding greenhouse gases to the atmosphere, record high heatwaves will become even more frequent not just in South Asia, but around the globe, threatening millions more lives. While coal is being used to ‘temporarily’ address the looming energy crisis, tackling the emergency by bypassing its primary cause is not the solution India needs.

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