Alexandre Moniz Barbosa
Get this: Goa’s mean annual temperature has increased by over 1°C since the beginning of the 20th century till date (1901-2018) and is projected to increase by 2°C by the 2030s. This is not a forecast or a prediction being made by climate change or environment activists, but is the conclusion of a study conducted by NABCONS, a consultancy service appointed by the State government to prepare the State Action Plan for Climate Change (SAPCC), project concept note and detailed project report. The study further states that the mean annual rainfall in Goa has increased by 68 per cent over the period 1901-2015. With the increasing rainfall, the inter-annual rainfall variability in the State has also increased, especially since the 1970s. Will, at least now, the government and the people in charge take climate change seriously? Or will, as happens with a large number of the issues in Goa, this too be brushed aside for action as other matters arise?
The State has finally approved and adopted the State Action Plan for Climate Change for Goa, which will enable the State to take adaptation and mitigation measures to deal with climate change. With this, Goa becomes the last State in the country to finalise its action plan for climate change. Though tardy in finalising it, the plan, prepared by Goa State Biodiversity Board, significantly makes the claim that nearly 15 per cent of the land, especially in coastal zones, is vulnerable to flooding in case of extreme rainfall or rise in sea level. This one declaration makes it very important that every decision taken by the government on development projects, especially in the coastal areas, has to take into consideration the vulnerability of the land to not just climatic changes, but also ecological ones that can hasten alterations in the weather patterns. Pertinently, the plan has recommended that large infrastructure projects must be assessed for climate vulnerability.
What the report says is, “The flood vulnerability analysis from the State reveals that 14.73 per cent of the land is under 15 metre elevation, much of it in the coastal zones and are severely vulnerable to flooding both from extreme rainfall events and sea-level rise. In terms of vulnerability from floods and sea-level rise the talukas Salcete, Tiswadi and Bardez are most vulnerable.” Given this assertion in the report, shouldn’t the government reconsider the double tracking of the South West Railway line that cuts through Salcete, some few kilometres being in the coastal areas? Further, the report states that Goa’s direct greenhouse gasses (GHG) contribution to the national GHG inventory is not significant since Goa does not produce power but purchases it. That is the good news, but could the power transmission plant proposed at Mollem, for which thousands of trees will be cut, change this? Suddenly there are more questions that need to be answered.
And if we go back just a month we can get an idea of just how the monsoon continuously rained upon Goa for four months creating history of the highest rainfall in a century. And the report, prepared before this monsoon, has said that there will be an increasing frequency of very heavy and exceptionally heavy rainfall events in Goa, which will be one of the key impacts of climate change in the State. Though the report uses the future tense by saying ‘will be’ perhaps we can already use the present and say we are experiencing it already. Not only was the monsoon of 2020 heavy, it was also an extended one and withdrew from the State and the entire country only on Oct 28, long after its usual withdrawal date. Another pertinent observation in the report is that moderate and light rainfall nourishes life-forms and ecosystems, whereas very heavy and exceptionally heavy rainfall creates devastation and chaos to life-forms and ecosystems in the State.
The action plan to tackle climate change is now in the details of the policy document that establishes the goal towards resilient measures for climate change, adaptation and mitigation by the State. It should ideally be treated as the manual for all climate change issues that will come up in the years ahead. The question is, will it? The action plan was mandated by the Central government and Goa delayed formulating it, an indication that it is not at all serious about climate change. Goa requires a government that is responsive to the situation, and not one that works only when mandated to do so by the Centre. Every plan of the State that the government has had to formulate has been delayed. The Coastal Zone Management Plan is another example that is currently in the news. So can Goa expect that the climate change action plan that has been formulated will not remain just a document, but will actually be implemented in the State?
Climate Change is an issue that has been overlooked by the State, a reason why this action plan has been delayed by so many years. Other States had completed and sent their plans to the Union Ministry of Environment, Forest & Climate Change by 2016. Goa is late by four years. However, the plan makes a provision for setting up a Climate Change Secretariat with a separate budget and financial assistance from the State, besides what will be received from the MoEF&CC. It also involves government departments, seeking that each of the departments appoint a nodal officer on climate change to interact and deal with the secretariat that will be set up, so as to ensure prompt and timely reporting. This will yield results only if the secretariat is manned by persons who are concerned with making a change and who understand the vulnerability of the State to any changes in the climate.
Ultimately, it will be the people who will have to compel the government to act on this, much like in the very many other issues in the State. The action plan does make people’s participation essential, but will that part be fully implemented of will it remain just a proposal? It is too early to say, but every day that passes is a day too late to begin on the climate change mitigations measures.
Alexandre Moniz Barbosa is Editor, Herald. He tweets at @monizbarbosa