Climate and Environment

India court urges national emergency declaration for heatwaves

Agence France-Presse
India court urges national emergency declaration for heatwaves
A woman with her face covered walks past air coolers kept on display outside a shop during a hot summer day amid severe heatwave in Varanasi on May 30, 2024.
AFP/ Niharika Kulkarni

NEW DELHI, India — An Indian court has urged the government to declare a national emergency over the country's ongoing heatwave, saying that hundreds of people had died during weeks of extreme weather.

India is enduring a crushing heatwave with temperatures in several cities sizzling well above 45 degrees Celsius (113 degrees Fahrenheit).

The High Court in the western state of Rajasthan, which has suffered through some of the hottest weather in recent days, said authorities had failed to take appropriate steps to protect the public from the heat.

"Due to extreme weather conditions in the form of (the) heatwave, hundreds of people have lost their lives this month," the court said Thursday.

"We do not have a planet B which we can move onto... If we do not take strict action now, we will lose the chance of seeing out future generations flourish forever."

The court directed the state government to set up compensation funds for relatives of any person who dies as a result of heat ailments.

Ruling on the current heatwave and such events in the future, it also said India should begin declaring them "national calamities".

This would allow the mobilisation of emergency relief in a similar manner to floods, cyclones and natural disasters.

India is no stranger to searing summer temperatures but years of scientific research have found climate change is causing heatwaves to become longer, more frequent and more intense.

As temperatures in the capital New Delhi shot up this week, power usage in the city of an estimated 30 million people surged to a record high on Wednesday.

Researchers say human-induced climate change has driven the devastating heat impact in India and should be taken as a warning.

The world's most populous nation is the third-biggest emitter of greenhouse gases but has committed to achieving a net zero emissions economy by 2070 -- two decades after most of the industrialised West.

For now, it is overwhelmingly reliant on coal for power generation.

The government under Prime Minister Narendra Modi, who is seeking a third term in ongoing elections, says the fossil fuel remains central to meeting India's rising energy needs and lifting millions out of poverty.

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