In comparison to other major cities in India, Bengaluru is known most for two reasons. One, the city’s massive IT industry that has grown to become its economic lifeline and two, its year-round moderate weather. While the IT industry has grown tenfold over the last decade, the weather in not as mild, predictable or pleasant as it used to be.
Today, weather patterns have become more erratic and temperatures tend to gravitate towards extremes. Though some may welcome a bout of rain on a record-breaking thirty-four-degree April day, these undue rains that are preceding even the pre-monsoon season are a symptom of a global predicament: environmental degradation.
Not so pleasant anymore
In April 1997, the average temperature in Bangalore would hover around 26 degrees Celsius, with a range of 21 to 32 degrees Celsius. With a series of thunderstorms, the city would experience significant pre-monsoon rainfall on seven out of thirty days during the peak of summer, with rain collection amounting to a thirst-quenching 10 mm. School students on summer vacation would play outside, from dusk till dawn, and working professionals in India’s then-young IT hub would rarely need to turn the fan on while at work on desktops.
Only twenty years later, Bangaloreans are facing a very different and much harsher reality. In April of last year, the average temperature was 28 degrees Celsius, an 8% increase from 1997. What is even more unsettling is the sharp increase in temperature range for April weather as of 2017 - the minimum temperature was 20 degrees Celsius, a seemingly innocuous 1 degree drop from 1997, but the maximum temperature was 36 degrees Celsius, a mammoth 12.5% increase from 1997. Even in terms of rain, Bangalore got an average of merely 4 mm last April, a remarkable 60% decline in only a decade.
Such a dramatic change in weather in a short span of time should be cause of concern to one and all. With a continual decline in green coverage combined with vehicular pollution multiplying by fourfold, air pollution has become the primary stressor for climate change in Bangalore over the last two decades. Even though the imminent threat of global warming has been conveyed to on numerous occasions through documentaries and awareness campaigns, the collective action required to counter environmental degradation is yet to occur.
Need for a group effort
India is one of the largest recipients of climate finance (received from bilateral agencies, climate funds and multilateral development banks) in the world. Over the years, several NGOs and groups have poured their efforts into various environmental protection initiatives such as increasing Bangalore’s green coverage through plantation drives and cleaning Bangalore’s many polluted lakes. In fact, according to the India Forest Report 2017, Karnataka’s tree cover has increased by a multiple of three in two years. Moreover, as recently as last month, the dehydrated Kyalasanahalli Lake in Electronic City was rehabilitated, thanks to action taken by nearby residents and pioneered by the resourceful ex-chairman of Tata Steel, B Muthuraman.
There is little doubt that such pockets of people, who are involved in climate action, are scattered around Bangalore city. However, while these people are trying to incite change within our communities through such activities, several among us are still unaware or in denial of the future of our environment. A mind-set founded on intentional ignorance and a “can’t see, won’t hurt” attitude is plaguing most Bengalureans, as is evident in the consistent increases in cars on the road or litter on footpaths. However, environmental protection and green thinking cannot be a lifestyle choice made by some as the impacts of environmental degradation do not discriminate. Instead, environmental protection must be seen for what it is: a function that equitably ensures life for us all, akin to eating and sleeping. Unless each one of us makes climate-conscious decisions in our quotidian activities, the actions of a few, while impactful, will not reverse the effects we are already feeling due to global warming.
Reversing the change through policy and politics
From the perspective of government policy, the government of Karnataka has actually formulated a comprehensive climate action plan, the State Action Plan on Climate Change (authored by the Environmental Management and Policy Research Institute – EMPRI), which includes theme-wise strategies for climate mitigation and adaptation under thematic areas such as ‘Water Resources’ and ‘Energy’. In the first assessment of the action plan (2015), it was decided that to address elements of increased urbanization, in business hubs such as Benguluru, that directly contribute to climate change such as waste management and garbage disposal. The State Action Plan has a budget of over Rs. 3400 crores earmarked to fight climate change in urban areas of Karnataka. An emphasis was placed on enhancing research and increasing awareness on climate change within the state with more than Rs. 400 crores allocated to research, development and data management. Furthermore, recommendations and ownership of the action plan were taken by associated bodies such as the Karnataka State Pollution Control Board, who are working with the government to aid knowledge gaps in vehicular pollution controls, industrialisation etc.
However, climate researchers were quick to point out gaping holes in the state action plan. The Climate Initiative’s Centre for Climate Research remarked that while the action plan was scientifically advanced, it did not encourage the climate action to become the crux of development planning in Karnataka. Instead, as many of us do, climate action is treated as a supplementary activity, lacking due connection to the state’s survival or even growth trajectory.
Policymakers need to begin to build interventions that impact socio-economic issues, such as those of education and transportation, and are founded on climate action instead of simply appended by it. The impact of climate change needs to be mimicked through its importance in every policy decision made. However, the responsibility still lies upon us as individuals and our commitment to adding a sense of seriousness to the health of the environment and its effect on the way we conduct our daily activities. In order to reverse the effects of global warming to have moderate Bangalore weather, we need to break from our age-old habits in every realm of our lives.
We could also start by demanding this from our policymakers, now that the elections are around the corner.
Kritika Shah is a Programme Associate with Public Affairs Centre, a not-for-profit think tank committed to good governance.
Sources for temperature data: https://en.tutiempo.net/climate/2017/ws-432950.html