The Climate Change Challenge

Climate change is one of the greatest challenge of this century. The climate system of the Earth behaves as a single, interlinked and self-regulating system.  The mass and energy transfer between and among its components; atmosphere, ocean, geosphere, cryosphere and biosphere, are complex.  The understanding and modelling of these processes helps in prediction of weather, climate and hazards. Climate change had ushered wide range of environmental challenges and affected our economic and social systems. These impacts of climate change are likely to become more severe over next few decades and thus collective efforts to build a resilience system at global and national levels are required. 

Firstly, we need to adapt to natural climate variations as well as long-term climate change by improving delivery of basic climate products and services. Secondly, the concentration of CO2 is now 410 ppm, which is almost 30 percent higher than at any time during past 800,000 years and hence urgent global actions are required for its mitigation. Another aspect: we need to keep in mind is that the warming is causing release of methane from permafrost of Arctic, Greenland and Tibetan Plateau and likely to further increase temperature of the world which in turn will lead to more thawing, in a feedback loop.
The knowledge about climate change has been quite sound, however, our understanding about its impacts on water resources, agriculture and health, etc. is still limited.

During last two decades, we have witnessed high incidences of heavy rainfall and flooding, untimely rains and hail-storms, heatwaves and forest fires, intense cyclones, and persistent droughts in many regions, as a consequence of climate change. 

In India, widespread changes in climate have been noticed and projections for changes in temperature, monsoon, extreme events, etc. have made recently (Krishnan and Dhara, 2020). India's average temperature rose around 0.7 degree during last century and projected to rise 4.4 and 2.4 degree, under high and medium emission scenarios, by the end of this century. Correspondingly, the frequency of occurrences of warm days and warm nights, and duration of heat waves are projected to rise substantially. The combined rise in temperature and humidity, has led enhanced heat stress, especially in Indus and Gangetic basins. The summer monsoon has declined by 6 % with notable decrease in Indo-Gangetic plains and Western Ghats. The frequency of localised heavy precipitation occurrences has increased in response to increased atmospheric moisture content. It is projected that the mean and variability of monsoon precipitation will increase leading to more frequent droughts, especially on SW coast, southern peninsula and NE India.

Sea surface temperature, the ocean heat content have exhibited an increasing trend over by six decades with sharp rise in last two decades. Sea level rise has now accelerated to 3.3 mm per year in last two and half decades (1993-2017). It is expected to rise to 300 mm by the end of century. As a consequence of these changes, a significant increase in frequency of very severe cyclone storms, as well as widespread inundation have been noticed on the Eastern coast of India.

The Himalayas experienced a temperature rise of about 1.3 degree C during 1951-2014 and declining trend in snowfall and has led to retreat of glaciers. It is expected to rise by 5.2 degrees C by the end of century with increase in annual precipitation but decrease in snowfall. The enhanced retreat of glaciers has led to formation of lakes and risk of flooding downstream has increased, many fold. 

These observations are related to India, but they are true for many developing countries in tropical and semi-tropical regions. With continuous and enhanced building up of carbon-emitting activities are likely to push the climate in dangerous category, unless we act firmly to ensure that new energy infrastructure will be primarily non-carbon-emitting. As temperatures rise, vulnerable elements of the climate system — the polar ice sheets, the Amazon rainforest, West African/Asian monsoon, to name a few — will cross critical thresholds, or tipping points and could lead to catastrophe. Extra-ordinary efforts are required to develop viable alternatives. 
How the Climate Agenda Will Change Our Lives
Anton Bespalov
Climate change, which only recently seemed to be an issue for a small group of scientists and environmentalists, has become a universal concern. We showed in the first two parts of the Climate and Politics project that climate issues are now on the agenda of both politicians and business people. The third part is devoted to the impact of climate change and the fight against it on the transformation of societies.

Earth's weather and climate are governed by non-linear processes, and hence complex and need large amount of data for predictions. In order to support science-based risk management decisions, as well as investments in early warning systems, the information, apart from on earth system processes, required on  exposures and vulnerabilities of the population and assets (e.g., agricultural production, infrastructure and homes, etc), and socio-economic data that quantifies exposure and vulnerability (for instance casualties, construction damages, crop yield reduction and water shortages). 

Such data qualifies as big data and we need innovative ways to harness information to produce useful insight into predictions and impacts on society. The new techniques of collecting and analyzing large amount of data will help us to understand relationship between science of climate change, and its impacts on society. The challenge is how we can use such data. The scientific and societal importance of big data as well as degree to which big data can become sources of environmental and economic value has to be ascertained. 

The science of predictions is at the core of big data through artificial intelligence or machine learning. Big data is only not to train computers to think like human but essentially applying algorithms to huge quantity of data to infer probabilities of likely event to happen. Such systems improve themselves over time by continuously recognizing signals and patterns of likely impacts. It will provide quantitative dimensions to socio-economic impacts.

It is expected that climate change and its impact related data are in countless servers across the globe. It is possible that we lose accuracy at micro-level but gain an insight at macro level. We will be able to discover patterns and correlations that will provide valuable insights. We would be able to know what is happening. Every single data sets do have some intrinsic, hidden value, we need to discover same. 

Big data will provide not only solution to addressing climate change but allow us better prepared to harness technology to improve quality of life. It will help to quantify all earth system processes and understand them better. Big data relies on all information available, it allows us to look at details. We can test new hypotheses at many levels of granularity. Satellite data collected over last 50 years and in future are likely to be the main source of information on the climate system. They may be less precise than single accurate measurement but provide more comprehensive picture and of greater value. The infusion of advanced spatial and locational technology tools will allow impact assessment of extreme weather phenomena using high resolution forecasts for critical locations and reconstruct climate  conditions and spatial mapping for critical past events and develop risk management strategies using early warning systems, to reduce casualties. Medium and long-term sectoral planning (such as land zoning, infrastructure development, water resource management, agricultural planning) will facilitate to reduce economic losses and weather-indexed insurance and risk financing mechanisms, to build livelihood resilience.

India has been on forefront as far as mitigation efforts are concerned. India has committed to be a 2 degree compliant and is right on track for fulfilling commitments of the Paris agreements. India is a developing country and still its annual emissions are 0.5 tons per capita, well below global average of 1.3 tons. In terms of cumulative emissions, India's contribution is only 4 % for almost 1300 million population of the world. Compared to that, the EU having population of about 450 million, was responsible for 20 % of global emission.

The developed nations (excluding Russia) have practically not reduced their emissions. The pressure on more to the developing nations to curtail coal mining and coal-based power generation. 

In India, Coal-based thermal power plants provide 72 % of electricity during 2019-20, and will continue to depend upon coal to provide energy security for years to come. The retrofitting by Flue Gas Desulfurisers (FGD) is not a practical solution as (i) the Indian coal is very low in sulphur, (ii) the requirement of limestone and water will add additional energy requirements. So what we need is a transition plan. It has been suggested to retire more than 25 years plants (~8000 MW) and generate power from High Efficiency, Low emissions (HELE) thermal and nuclear plants. By 2030, it is expected that India, will have only about 200 GW of coal based power generation. 

The challenge to generate 70-80 % (650-750 GW) through renewable energy depends critically on technology development including improvement in efficiency of conversion of energy from its source to electricity, managing electricity grids as well as advances in storage technologies. The technology development in climate change mitigation has registered significant fall, after the Copenhegan Accord signaled the end of legally binding commitments to emission reduction by the developed countries. This is a major drawback and technology development need to be strengthened. 

We know now that reducing carbon emissions alone may not be sufficient to curb global warming. We need to develop carbon negative technologies to remove large amounts of CO2 from atmosphere. We need a strategy by the middle of the century to move from net positive to net negative CO2 emissions. 

Bio energy with carbon capture and storage (BECCS) is one of the most promising technologies. Biofuels have been around for sometime, using sugarcane and corn to inedible cellulose and non-food crops. The latest biofuels derived from microbes that can live on wastelands and generate engine-ready chemicals, are worth pursuing.

Researchers have been looking for ways to convert carbon dioxide into methanol in a single step using energy efficient processes. This approach is very effective from chemistry point of view but very expensive (Courtemanche et al. 2013).  Efforts to reduce costs are undergoing. 

Can we tinker the Earths climate? There are many schemes have devised to from whitening of clouds, sun-shades to fertilising ocean, covering deserts with shining Mylar, even sending swarm of mirrors to space. It is not clear whether such schemes can really fix climate or even feasible. 
Morality and Law
How Perception of Global Warming Is Changing in Russia
Alexey Ekaykin
The Valdai Forum 2020 will go down in history as one of the turning points in the acceptance of these processes by society. For the first time, the Russian leadership, business and the scientific community share a common rhetoric, for the first time they all speak together about the need for urgent and comprehensive measures to reduce emissions, writes Alexey Ekaykin, Leading Researcher at the Climate and Environmental Research Laboratory of the Arctic and Antarctic Research Institute in Saint Petersburg.

The patenting of geoengineering technologies could have serious negative impacts and can harm future developments. There should be legal restrictions on solar radiation management. Any technology that could be controlled by a small number of people having capability to alter our planets climate is very dangerous. 

The geoengineering technologies should be for public good, there should be a public participation in decision making, research should be open and transparent, impacts should be assessed by independent researchers and deployment of technologies should have robust governance structure. 

We need to implement policies and systems that help us prepare for combating climate extremes and offsetting the adverse impacts on agriculture, water, health and socio-economic stability, livelihoods, etc. We need a paradigm shift, from emergency response to a more proactive, holistic and systematic approach with strong focus on risk reduction. Such approach will require  meteorological, hydrological and climate services to support science-based risk management decisions, as well carbon neutral technologies. 

In this regard, cooperation with Russia is very critical, bilaterally, as well as in multilateral fora such as BRICS and G-20. We can together carry out Arctic, Antarctica and polar ocean research, develop technologies for prediction of climate change impacts, clean coal technologies, energy storage, etc. capture a large Emerging Technologies Markets as the input cost to both basic and applied research low in both in India and Russia. Our joint efforts can be competitive and cost-effective. India-Russia efforts can be more useful in addressing challenges of climate change as a part of global efforts.


Courtemanche, M. et al. 2013. A highly active Phosphine-Borane organo catalyst for reduction of CO2 to methanol using hydroboranes. J. of the American Chemical Society: 13061480103007. DOI: 10.1021/ja404585p.

Krishnan, R. and Dhara, C. 2020. Executive Summary. In Assessment of Climate Change over the Indian Region (Eds: Krishnan, R., Sanjay, J. Gnanseelan, C., Mujumdat, M., Kulkarni, A. and Chakraborty, S.).  Springer Open, Singapore (226 p.). pp. xiii- xvii. 

Views expressed are of individual Members and Contributors, rather than the Club's, unless explicitly stated otherwise.