Why India Must Build An Extensive Data Network for Climate Success

We need to find our own path to solutions.

02/12/2016 4:15 AM IST | Updated 09/12/2016 8:34 AM IST
Anindito Mukherjee / Reuters

The Paris agreement is a monumental testament to human willpower when faced with a potential global tragedy of the commons such as global warming. And yet, it is already being blamed for not going far enough to avoid the most dire consequences of a warming beyond 2°C in the 21st century. As a signatory to this historic agreement, India faces great challenges to meeting the targets of reducing its greenhouse gas emissions while also meeting the needs of its citizens in terms of food, water, energy and health. Especially considering the fact that India is so heavily hit by climate variability that climate change is hardly something that registers on the radar for most. The recent deadly smog in Delhi and the yearly pre-monsoon heat waves are only but some examples of climate variability and human activity that are expected to be exacerbated by climate change.

No matter how inadequate or unsuccessful the global implementation of the Paris agreement may turn out to be, India can and should steer its own destiny...

However, climate variability and change are intimately intertwined. The data needs to address both climate predictions and projections over India. These need to be region-specific since global predictions and projections are inadequate for adaptive management at days to seasons and for planning over the coming decades. Both predictions and projections benefit greatly by having a dense network of observations for the natural-human system. This way, the climate and earth system models can be initiated and validated to provide these regional climate predictions and projections vis-à-vis hydrology, agriculture, health, energy, fisheries, transportation and so on. Data at spatial resolutions of a few kilometres are needed on a daily basis for effective management of food production (weather/climate, soil moisture, soil health, crop yields, etc.), water resources (rainfall, temperature, river flows, groundwater, dam operations, glaciers, etc.), energy needs (degree cooling/heating days, energy use and demand cycles, solar, wind and hydroelectric energy potentials, grid operations), and health (air and water quality, networks of air and road transportation to track spread of diseases). India's tremendous capabilities in building and launching satellites under ISRO and its increasing focus on weather and climate missions must be ramped up much more rapidly by developing expertise in designing instruments that can measure everything from greenhouse gases to air and water quality, coastal and inland waters, sea level, harmful algal blooms and fisheries, land use, soil moisture and other parameters of interest for smart agriculture, smart materials for smart buildings, smart cities and smart villages, in addition to reduction of deforestation and forest degradation, protection of wildlife and biodiversity, and so on.

The related science and technology needs offer excellent research and development targets for the large investments being made in education via the increasing number of IITs, IISERs and the state and national research labs. For example, nanotechnology, instrumented drones, genetic sciences and public health science must be combined to produce instruments to generate digital libraries of the genetic signatures of the prevalent and emergent pathogens such that predictions of diseases can be verified rapidly to issue guidance and enforce mitigative actions such as quarantines, vaccinations, and such. Social sciences need much more investment not only in education and research but also in gathering large-scale socioeconomic, education and health, gender issues, and access to food, water, energy, and health facilities, especially in regions of the country where climate vulnerability is high and resilience is systemically low.

A climate-resilient and weather-ready India is a strong India.

India should build bold plans based on robust data networks and accelerate its renewable energy implementation and climate prediction and projection efforts to deliver useful and usable food, water, energy and health information for individual users, policymakers and decision-support at local, state and national levels. No matter how inadequate or unsuccessful the global implementation of the Paris agreement may turn out to be, India can and should steer its own destiny by establishing these data networks for monitoring not only weather and climate but also the food-water-energy-health nexus, and reporting and verifying its greenhouse gas goals as committed to in its Intended Nationally Determined Contributions. This will ensure that India's economic growth, standards of living and quality life will continue their upward trajectory in the coming years and decades. A climate-resilient and weather-ready India is a strong India.

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