India’s megacities face soaring temperatures brought on by urbanisation

ACs and automobiles are major contributors to what is known as the urban heat trap

By Trishna Sarkar
Published: Monday 26 June 2023
India’s megacities face soaring temperatures brought on by urbanisation

Metro cities across India are facing an increased challenge of rising temperatures. As these cities continue to industrialise, appliances like ACs and automobiles prove to be major contributors to deadly heat waves. 

This February 2023, India witnessed a temperature of 29.66 degrees Celsius, the hottest since 1901, according to the India Meteorological Department

India’s average annual temperature has increased at a rate of 0.62 degrees Celsius per 100 years between 1901 and 2020, according to data from the World Bank. Maximum temperatures have climbed even quicker at a rate of 0.99 degrees Celsius every 100 years. 

By 2100, India’s summer heat waves are projected to triple or quadruple while its average temperature is expected to rise by 2.4-4.4 degrees Celsius, according to a policy report by the International Food Policy Research Institute.

While India faces the threat of an overall rise in temperatures, a study by Delhi-based Centre for Science and Environment points out that India’s megacities have higher temperatures than other regions.

Heat waves have severe consequences. The Lancet Countdown on Health and Cimate Change reported that India has witnessed around 20,000 deaths in adults of age 65 in between 2000 to 2004, and the number grew to 31,000 from 2017 to 2021. 

These studies cast doubt on Indian cities’ abilities to achieve sustainable growth.

While the increase in city temperatures is widely attributed to only global warming, there are also contributing factors linked to urbanisation.

ACs are a main contributor to heat in India’s megacities. Delhi and Chandigarh top the list of places having the highest demand for ACs.

As per estimates, a house utilising air conditioning or emits 12,0000 British Thermal Units of heat in the surroundings. More the number of ACs, more is the heat generated. 

According to a report issued in February 2021 by Shanglio Sun, research expert at Statista, there is room for 9.7 million units of AC to be sold in the Financial Year (FY) 2023 in India. 

The second main contributor to heat is automobiles. 

Maruti Suzuki is India’s largest automobile manufacturer. In March 2023, the company sold a total of 170,071 units out of which 136,787 units were sold domestically, according to its press release. For the full FY 2022-23, the company posted its highest ever total sales of 1,966,164 units. 

According to the US Department of Energy in 2021, 68 per cent to 72 per cent of the energy from the fossil fuels in the vehicle’s tank is wasted as heat through the radiator and exhaust. This is in addition to heat-generating vehicular carbon dioxide emissions. 

The number of registered vehicles across India was around 295 million in FY 2019. 

Vehicle registrations grew at a compound annual growth rate of over 10 per cent between FYs 2007 and 2019, according to a research released in Februaru 2021 by Shangliao Sun, researcher at Statista.

More structures continue being developed and trees cut down, adding to the heat. And again to get rid of this heat, ACs are purchased. This vicious cycle of demand for ACs and autos has converged together to aggravate the temperature rise.

And to get rid of the acute guilt of actively contributing to heat creation, commemorating World Environment Day comes to our rescue. Before the future leaves us with no other alternative than to be burnt down, it is about time we start taking actions that are environment-friendly. 

Trishna Sarkar is an Assistant Professor (Department of Economics) at Dr BR Ambedkar College, University of Delhi

Views expressed are the author’s own and don’t necessarily reflect those of Down To Earth

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