New Delhi: Whether it was Greta Thunberg’s campaign for climate or the indisputable air pollution in India, one term that came up time and again in 2019 was ‘Climate Emergency’, so much so that the Oxford Dictionary even chose the term as the Word of the Year.
Climate emergency refers to a situation in which urgent action is required to curb or avoid a potentially irreversible environmental damage resulting from a change in the weather or climate.
From fatal heatwaves, devastating forest fires and intense bursts of rainfall causing floods, climate change, this year, dominated the geopolitical economics driving hundreds of governments across the world to declare states of emergency.
Here are five of the biggest climate emergencies that shook up governments this year:
1. Amazon Forest fire
In September this year, a record amount of forest fire erupted in the world’s largest rainforest, the Amazon in Brazil, due to an alleged spike in deforestation in the area during July. Surprisingly, Brazil president Bolsonaro had brushed off the data proving the burning, in turn accusing environmentalists of setting fires in the Amazon in a bid to deflect growing international criticism of his failure to protect the world’s biggest rainforest.
The devastating Amazon burning enraged social media users including celebrities like Leonardo DiCaprio who raised campaigns in an effort to make up for the environmental impact the fires caused.
2. Extreme weather conditions in India
The year 2019 has been one of extreme weather conditions in India, starting with never-ending heatwaves, flash floods in several states, cyclones and biting cold winter spells unseen in decades. The World Meteorological Organisation (WMO) even stated that 2019 concluded a decade of exceptional global heat and high-impact weather.
India witnessed one of the longest heatwaves in nearly three-decades from May to mid-June that took a fatal toll on thousands of lives. The highest temperature this year was recorded at 50.8 degrees Celsius in Churu, Rajasthan. Meanwhile, the monsoon season, that accounts for about 70 per cent of the country’s annual rainfall saw a surplus triggering floods in several states including Bihar (Patna), Karnataka, Kerala, Maharashtra and Odisha. The flood fury this year caused great loss to human life, animal life as well as properties. This was despite 2019 witnessing the driest June in five years with largely deficit rainfall in the remaining states.
3. Highest temperatures in Europe
With unprecedented soaring high temperatures in the United Kingdom to life-threatening temperatures in the rest of Western Europe, 2019 has been one of the hottest years witnessing record-breaking mercury rise. According to several reports, July happened to be the worst summer month with thousands of Europeans gasping for relief from the extreme heat.
This year, France, Spain, Greece and even Germany recorded extremely high temperatures sending authorities on high alert as very few people have provisions like air conditioning to beat such extreme heat. Moreover, Paris recorded the highest temperature ever of 42 degrees Celsius.
4. Air Pollution in North India
“Delhi is near suffocating,” emphasised Justice Arun Mishra as he headed the Supreme Court hearing over the heightening air pollution in Delhi, Punjab, Haryana and Uttar Pradesh. The air pollution situation in Delhi was also one of the most prominent debates in the Parliament this year.
From the end of October to December, Delhi-NCR, as well as the neighbouring states had been engulfed in a thick blanket of smog. In order to curb the situation, Delhi Chief Minister Arvind Kejriwal brought back the controversial odd-even road rationing scheme in November as the Air Quality Index (AQI) failed to drop from ‘severe’ category.
The severe air pollution resulted largely from stubble burning in Haryana, Punjab and parts of Uttar Pradesh. Dense smog hovered over the northern region that heightened further due to Diwali celebrations and carbon emissions from vehicles.
5. Aarey deforestation
In a huge attempt to protect the environment, massive protests broke out on the streets of Mumbai’s Aarey Colony to prevent Mumbai Metro authorities from the tree-cutting drive in October. Notably, the agitation erupted hours after the Bombay High Court rejected all petitions against the felling of over 2,500 trees for a Mumbai metro depot after rejecting its review petition earlier.
Aarey colony, which is about 1,287 hectares and situated next to the Sanjay Gandhi National Park, is often termed as the “lungs of Mumbai”. Environmentalists had been protesting the decision by Mumbai’s civic body’s Tree Authority of constructing a car shed for Mumbai Metro at Aarey, which has more than five lakh trees.
The flashpoint that gained immense momentum on social media platforms for over a month subsided after Shiv Sena chief Uddhav Thackeray ordered to halt the Metro construction on his first day as the Chief Minister of Maharashtra.