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Climate Change, Environment

Three climate threats that can become opportunities for Bhutan

The Kingdom of Bhutan has a strong approach towards environmental sustainability, but its fast growth is making this increasingly demanding.
Here are three climate risks for Bhutan that also offer opportunities for a green reset.
In many ways, Bhutan’s unique development approach and institutional structures support the country’s ambitious climate policy. Today, Bhutan claims to not only be carbon neutral, but carbon negative.

It has achieved these aims while adhering to its development policy of Gross National Happiness, which asserts that economic growth must be equitable and inclusive, that good governance is essential to make this a reality, and – most radically – that economic growth must be coupled with conservation of the environment.

Pro-climate policies are embedded even in Bhutan’s constitution, which mandates that 60% of its land must be under forest cover.

However, as one of the fastest-growing economies in South Asia and one set to become a middle-income country by 2023, Bhutan has also experienced amplified urbanization and consumption, along with growing alienation from nature.

This year, keeping the climate crisis on top of the country’s agenda has become even more demanding, as the COVID-19 pandemic challenges the country’s economic resilience.

In this article, we speak to three climate risks that are also green reset opportunities for Bhutan as it sets out on a path towards a sustainable economic recovery.

Of the approximately 3,000 lakes that exist in Bhutan, 24 may burst their banks sooner than expected due to the accelerated rate of melting glaciers causing glacial lake outburst floods (GLOF).

In a country in which the entire river system is fed by glaciers and where around 60% of the population rely on agriculture and more than 80% live along the river valleys, GLOFs can have devastating impact. Furthermore, GLOFs also put the country’s largest source of income – hydropower – at risk. The COVID-19 pandemic has propelled the conversation about data analytics to the top of the global agenda, which may be an impetus for countries to strengthen their technology and data policies and investments. For Bhutan, it may mean developing resources to enable the production of high-quality historical, as well as real time, climate data. This is vital because a lack of historical data on flood frequencies, for instance, has hindered the construction of cost-effective flood protection. The upfront investments required to modernize the country’s hydro-meteorological sector will be worthwhile, as the cost-benefit ratio in the long-term is favourable both monetarily and socio-economically.

Apart from the hydropower sector, which is directly vulnerable to GLOFs, every other top-earning sector in Bhutan, including agriculture and tourism, stands to benefit from high-quality data on climate conditions for planning and mitigation. Investment in capabilities to produce sophisticated climate data is an opportunity for Bhutan to supply a professional cadre of climate data service providers – including data scientists, AI experts, ICT technicians, early warning systems operators and policy specialists – who can monitor, assess, predict and communicate critical climate data not only in Bhutan, but in other countries where GLOFs are a threat. Furthermore, businesses, such as insurance companies, have expressed willingness to pay for such data to develop financial products to mitigate the damages caused by floods.

Healthy, energy-efficient housing must become the norm
With 50% of its population projected to live in urban areas by 2030, the built environment in Bhutan is growing proportionately. However, Bhutan’s modern construction norms are largely ill-suited for the local environment. Accounting for 42%, Bhutan’s built environment is the largest national consumer of energy. The lack of a market ecosystem for green construction, and a perception that green buildings are expensive, are stifling the credibility and growth of a green construction sector in the country.

The building sector presents a high-impact opportunity for climate change adaption, if done right. Energy-efficient buildings could save an estimated annual 300 million kWh in energy consumption every year. The construction sector is also beginning to converge on the agreement and alignment of the need to green the building sector. Consequently, there is a small but growing ecosystem of energy-efficient designers, contractors, vendors and maintenance businesses. This growth could be exponential if coupled with the right kind of incentives and enforcements; for example, the Government could invest in building energy-efficient public housing.

Increasing vehicle ownership equals higher emissions
The transport sector is a major consumer of fossil fuel in Bhutan, and accounts for 34.1% of the total energy consumed in the country. It is projected that if the status quo remains, vehicular greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions could triple by 2030. This is directly correlated to the annual 15% rise in vehicle ownership in Bhutan. In growing urban areas, particulate matter (PM) and nitrogen dioxide (NO2) pose a major public health concern. Since 2009, PM levels in Thimphu, Bhutan’s capital city, have consistently been higher than the standards set by the World Health Organization. For Bhutan to remain carbon negative or neutral for years to come, immediate measures must be taken to reset the current vehicular fossil fuel consumption and GHG emission levels.

It starts with improving the standards for fuel imported into the country from India,. Fortunately, it is projected that by 2021, India will reduce the amount of sulphur – a major pollutant – in its fuels, a move that could effectively reduce sulphur dioxide emissions by 95%.

Currently, the uptake of electric vehicles also remains low in Bhutan, despite having abundant hydroelectricity; price and a lack of infrastructure, such as charging stations and maintenance facilities, are both major factors here. Bhutan needs a concerted, low-carbon transportation strategy with a focus on accessible electric mobility of taxis, public buses, and urban freight vehicles.————–by Thinley Choden
Founding Curator and Curator, Thimphu Hub,
Namgay Choden
Impact Officer, Thimphu Hub,

Climate Change

Curbing climate change: Coronavirus lockdowns can reduce a country’s pollution levels

New Delhi: The Coronavirus outbreak has threatened the world, as well as disrupted global economies, causing severe economic and market dislocation. Even as toxic pollution levels fell significantly in China between January and February (scientists think Coronavirus is a large part of the reason), satellite images collected by the National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA) and the European Space Agency (ESA)—and shared by NASA’s Earth Observatory—have shown a dramatic decline in pollution levels over China. This is partly due to an economic slowdown prompted by the Coronavirus, says NASA.

The images show falling levels of nitrogen dioxide amid record declines in China’s factory activity. Scientists believe that the reduction in levels of nitrogen dioxide—a noxious gas emitted by motor vehicles and industrial facilities—was first apparent near the source of the outbreak in Wuhan city, but then spread across the country. The report by the US agency has compared the first two months of 2019 with the same period this year. The space agency noted that the decline in air pollution levels coincided with restrictions imposed on transportation and business activities, and as millions of people went into quarantine. “This is the first time I have seen such a dramatic drop-off over such a wide area for a specific event,” Fei Liu, an air quality researcher at NASA’s Goddard Space Flight Center, said in a statement published on BBC News. She observed a decline in nitrogen dioxide levels during the economic recession in 2008, but that decrease was more gradual. NASA noted that China’s Lunar New Year celebrations in late January and early February have been linked to decrease in pollution levels in the past, but they normally increase once the celebrations are over. “This year, the reduction rate is more significant than in past years and it has lasted longer,” Liu said.
Factory activity in China fell at a record rate in February. The official measure of manufacturing activity—the Purchasing Manager’s Index (PMI)—dropped to 35.7 from 50 in January. It shows the virus is having a bigger impact than the financial crisis that shook the world in the last decade. PMI figures are a key indicator of a county’s economic health and can move financial markets.
The outbreak in China has affected every sector of tech manufacturing, leading analysts to reduce production estimates for everything from TVs and smartphones to laptops and videogame consoles. While there is no clear evidence, it is also believed that climate change triggered the virus to jump from animals to humans. As climate change is likely to increase the number of future epidemics caused by viruses, scientists feel the rising temperatures are making the immune system less effective.

Apart from China, Italy’s air quality and emissions have been affected. The worst out of all European countries, Italy saw a steep fall in industrial activity and road traffic, amounting to a drop in air pollution. According to the European Space Agency’s Copernicus Sentinel-5P satellite, which tracked nitrogen dioxide emissions over the continent from January 1 until March 11, north Italy’s Po Valley, the most industrialised part of the country, saw a clear decline in air pollution. All this came after a complete shutdown of services, including bars, pubs, restaurants and other venues, resulting in a reduction in traffic, air and industrial pollution.

As per air quality monitoring website, London also saw a drop of nitrogen dioxide from 96 on March 15 to just 20 on March 16. However, the European Public Health Alliance (EPHA) warned that dirty air in urban areas that causes hypertension, diabetes and other respiratory illness could lead to a higher overall death toll from the virus. Emissions from petrol and diesel engines were still at ‘dangerous’ levels that could imperil the most vulnerable during future pandemics.

The global health crisis has made many countries announce lockdowns. Millions have cancelled travel plans, affecting the hospitality and tourism sector, disrupting events and social gatherings. Schools have been shut too. Flights cancelled, factories closed, and several events linked to the fossil fuel industry have been postponed.

Can less travel lead to less emission? A report published last year in Reuters said commercial flying accounts for about 2.5% of global carbon emissions today but without concrete steps, that number will rise if global air travel increases. The aviation industry has set out a four-pronged plan to achieve carbon-neutral growth from 2020 and halve net emissions from 2005 levels by 2050.

If flying less or the health crisis could help reduce carbon emissions, are we prepared to face the future impact of global slowdown in the long term to achieve a low-carbon path? The financial losses due to the Coronavirus all over the world will surely drain the resources. Think about it.

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Climate Change

South Asia faces increased flood risks, UN report warns

Dhaka; UN warns South Asian countries of devastating flood in forthcoming years. The countries, especially Bangladesh and India, face increased risks of more frequent and severe flooding because of climate change, a UN report said.
Bangladesh and India are among vulnerable nations that will be hit hard by droughts too due to the increased concentration of pollutants and low-quality groundwater sources.
The World Water Development Report 2020 by UN-Water, published on March 21, provides a global study of freshwater sources and analyzes the link between water and climate change.
Climate will continue to change and affect societies globally as it “will affect the availability, quality and quantity of water for basic human needs, threatening the effective enjoyment of the human rights to water and sanitation for potentially billions of people,” the report noted, urging states “to make more concrete commitments to address the challenge.”
The report pointed out that monsoon flooding in 2017 affected 40 million people in Bangladesh, India and Nepal, claiming nearly 1,300 lives and putting 1.1 million people in relief camps.
“Floods could cost South Asia as much as US$215 billion each year by 2030. Floods are also expected to contaminate water sources, destroy water points and sanitation facilities, and therefore pose a challenge to universal access to sustainable water and sanitation services,” it added.
According to Chandan Kumar Duarah, the science editor of Asomiya Pratidin, sealevel rising, cyclones and lightining death attributed to climate change will increase migration pressure in neighbouring Northeastern India, specially the adjoining province of Assam.It is seen in Assam that climate change alters habitats so that the carrying capacity of lands can no longer maintain the indigenous population. The changing situation forcing Bangladesis to migrate to resource-rich locations in adjoining northeastern India. There are few unsettled locales left on earth, so these migrants inevitably come into contact with local populations. If resources are strained already, new additions to the community are generally unwelcome. Dissimilar cultural and religious beliefs exacerbate enmity between the groups, as they fear the dissolution of their identities. This is what Assam and various populations around the world are currently experiencing.
In low-lying riverine nation like Bangladesh, flooding is a common natural disaster that affects millions and kills hundreds every year, but there are few efforts to address flooding with long-term and concrete planning, experts say.
“Since 2016, we have seen a change in weather — a gradual increase in rainfall while the level of seawater is on the rise. These are the symptoms of climate change that the UN study warns about. Sadly, our country does not have a long-term plan to address annual flooding apart from some short-term plans such as relief and rehabilitation after flooding,” Sukleash George Costa, regional director of Catholic charity Caritas Rajshahi, which covers flood-prone northern Bangladesh, told UCA News.
Dykes and river embankments are often substandard and cannot withstand strong flooding, while disaster management planning fails to address local situations due to a centralized approach, he noted.
As major rivers in South Asia are transboundary rivers, so all states in the region need to formulate and follow a joint framework for river control for greater welfare of people, Costa added.
In most cases, state and NGO efforts to tackle flooding fall flat due to a lack of proper community involvement and accountability, said a professor of geography and environmental sciences at state-run Begum Rokeya University.
Experts express serious doubts whether policymakers have enough concerns about the future state of their countries in terms of climate change compared to observers. There is no doubt about more flooding and more damage as predicated, but they don’t have a long-term plan.

Climate Change

Javadekar: Why Ask India to Step up When Others Won’t Meet Their Climate Goals?

Madrid: A couple of days after he arrived in Madrid, India’s Union environment minister Prakash Javadekar set the proverbial cat among the pigeons when he said countries shouldn’t be expected to revise their emissions reduction targets when nearly every other country is not on track to meeting their nationally determined contributions (NDCs) to the fight against climate change.

His words go against one of the UN’s key objectives at COP 25: to have all countries party to the Paris Agreement raise their ambitions vis-à-vis reducing emissions.

Speaking at COP25’s opening ceremony, UN secretary general António Guterres said he expected countries to show a “clear demonstration of increased ambition and commitment showing accountability, responsibility and leadership.”

“It is futile to talk about new targets right now, futile to talk about new ambitions or new programmes, unless we are able to implement our current targets under the Paris Agreement,” Javadekar said on Monday.

The UN’s recent emissions gap report estimated that if we continue to emit greenhouse gases at our current pace, the world’s surface could warm by 3.2º C on average by 2100. This is 1.7º C warmer than the Paris Agreement’s ideal threshold, which its ratifiers are expected to help meet, and 1.2º C warmer than the hard upper-limit.

According to another report by the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, we have already warmed Earth’s surface by 1.1º C.

“We should concentrate more on implementing the Paris Agreement rather than bring up new issues and new subjects at this stage,” Javadekar said. He added that he thought Guterres’s expectations would be unfair to countries like India, among the very few in the world on track to achieve its self-determined Paris Agreement targets.

“We are walking the talk. On all our three targets – reduction of emissions intensity, deployment of renewable energy and the creation of carbon sinks – we are doing well. We will not only achieve our targets but overachieve them,” he said.

Follow The Wire’s coverage of COP25 here.

It’s true that India is doing better than most countries vis-à-vis meeting its Paris Agreement goals but Javadekar’s other claims are premature, to say the least. The growth of renewable energy in India has slowed in the last few years, although it remains on track to meet its sector-specific targets by 2030, but not anytime sooner, as has Javadekar claimed.

India has also faltered in the creation of new carbon sinks; its claims to having increased forest cover were padded with data that included plantations as forests.

But in a scenario where other countries, particularly developed nations, aren’t doing nearly enough to meet their NDCs, Javadekar’s argument holds in principle, that expecting India to do even more could be unfair.

He also said countries should forget their pre-2020 pledges under the Kyoto Protocol, the climate agreement in force before the Paris Agreement came to be in 2015. (The protocol required only developed countries to cut emissions.) “The rich and developed countries are falling way behind their targets. Many of them have not even fulfilled their pre-2020 targets under the Kyoto Protocol and now they want us to forget those because 2020 is already here,” Javadekar said.

“Let them start implementing their Kyoto targets even now, and fulfil them over the next two to three years. We don’t mind an extension of deadline. But the targets cannot be sidelined or pushed aside.”

This is another contentious issue at COP 25 and on which India is taking a tough negotiating stance. Developed countries haven’t delivered on their mitigation obligations under the Kyoto Protocol. With the Paris Agreement set to enter into force next year, developed countries want the slate to be wiped clean, allowing them to start over. In opposition, India and multiple less-developed countries have been demanding that developed countries achieve their emissions reduction targets.

“Every study is showing that we are nowhere close to being on track to meet the Paris targets. There is a very clear gap between what needs to be done and what is being done,” Ravi Shankar Prasad, an additional secretary at the Union environment ministry and India’s chief negotiator at COP25, told The Wire.

India wants a work programme to be set up in Madrid to ensure a framework is in place for developed countries to be able to meet their Kyoto targets even after the regime has ended. “So they can do it, say, over two years. But it needs to happen. It’s a question of equity,” Prasad said.

Javadekar is expected to raise these and other issues when he makes a statement on India’s behalf at a high-level segment at COP25 on Tuesday evening. After that, he will have to cut short his trip and come back to India to vote in the Rajya Sabha on the controversial Citizenship Amendment Bill.

Kabir Agarwal is in Madrid at the invitation of the Global Editors Network to cover COP25.

Climate Change

Himalayan lakes are exacerbating glacial melt

Himalayan lakes are exacerbating glacial melt
Figure 1: A typical situation in the Himalaya: glaciers have largely retreated, and lakes now cover the area where the glacier tongue was in earlier times – Garlung Co lake in Central Himalaya. Photo taken by J Pronk in October this year during a joint expedition with Chinese colleagues from the Institute of Tibetan Plateau Research. Credit: University of St Andrews


The rate glaciers are melting in the Himalaya is being significantly accelerated by lakes already formed by glacial retreat, new research led by the University of St Andrews has found.

The study, published in Scientific Reports, concluded that the  which have flowed into the lakes in recent decades are retreating and thinning at a much greater rate than any other glaciers in the Himalaya.

These glaciers are responsible for as much as 30 percent of the ice loss in different parts of the mountain range, despite comprising just 10 to 15 percent of the total glacier population.

The behavior of glaciers provides the clearest indication of climatic change in high mountain regions. Long-term atmospheric warming has caused the recession of glaciers across the Himalaya.

Meltwater from glaciers in this region sustains the flow of river systems on which hundreds of millions of people depend for their basic needs.

Not all the meltwater instantly drains to downstream catchments and thousands of  have developed and continue to expand high in the Himalaya. Until this study, the influence of glacial lakes on glacier behavior has not been thoroughly investigated in the Himalaya, despite the rapid increase in  area and number.

  • Himalayan lakes are exacerbating glacial melt
    Figure 3: Where lakes formed, glaciers retreated significantly: Lake Garlung Co, Central Himalaya. Credit: J Pronk
  • Himalayan lakes are exacerbating glacial melt
    Figure 2: A large lake formed where once a glacier was: Lake Garlung Co. Credit: T Bolch, University of St Andrews
  • Himalayan lakes are exacerbating glacial melt
    Figure 3: Where lakes formed, glaciers retreated significantly: Lake Garlung Co, Central Himalaya. Credit: J Pronk
  • Himalayan lakes are exacerbating glacial melt
    Figure 2: A large lake formed where once a glacier was: Lake Garlung Co. Credit: T Bolch, University of St Andrews

Now, scientists have used declassified US Hexagon spy satellite imagery, data from the Shuttle Radar Topographic Mission in 2000 and data from modern satellites to examine the relationship between glaciers and glacial lakes since the 1970s.

The results show that glacier mass loss has occurred since at least the 1970s and has accelerated since the millennium. Glaciers in contact with glacial lakes, showed significantly higher mass loss and terminus retreat rates and are therefore likely to be driving the accelerating mass loss from the region.

Dr. Owen King, of the School of Geography and Sustainable Development at the University of St Andrews, said: “Further enhanced mass loss is very likely should the increases in the total number and area of glacial lakes continue.”

  • Himalayan lakes are exacerbating glacial melt
    Figure 5: Significant retreat of a glacier and growth of its proglacial lake in Sikkim Himalaya: comparison of the situation years 1974 based on Hexagon KH-9 US spy satellite data and 2017 Pleiades satellite data. Credit: University of St Andrews
  • Himalayan lakes are exacerbating glacial melt
    Figure 4: Lake Jialong Co in Central Hiamalya. Credit: T Bolch, University of St Andrews
  • Himalayan lakes are exacerbating glacial melt
    Figure 5: Significant retreat of a glacier and growth of its proglacial lake in Sikkim Himalaya: comparison of the situation years 1974 based on Hexagon KH-9 US spy satellite data and 2017 Pleiades satellite data. Credit: University of St Andrews
  • Himalayan lakes are exacerbating glacial melt
    Figure 4: Lake Jialong Co in Central Hiamalya. Credit: T Bolch, University of St Andrews

Dr. Tobias Bolch, also of the School of Geography and Sustainable Development, added: “Our results have important implications for future projections of ice loss from the region, as the interaction of glaciers and glacial lakes has not previously been considered in future glacier  estimates.”

The paper, “Glacial lakes exacerbate Himalayan glacier ,” by Owen King, Atanu Bhattacharya and Tobias Bolch, is published in Scientific Reports.

Explore further

Disappearing Peruvian glaciers

More information: Owen King et al. Glacial lakes exacerbate Himalayan glacier mass loss, Scientific Reports (2019). DOI: 10.1038/s41598-019-53733-x

Journal information: Scientific Reports
Climate Change

Climate financing or debt traps?

M Zakir Hossain Khan, senior program manager (Climate Finance Governance) at Transparency International Bangladesh (TIB), speaks to Dhaka Tribune’s Mehedi Al Amin about climate financing ahead of the COP25. This is the final instalment in a three-part series.

What is climate finance and how is it progressing?

The Copenhagen Accord and the Paris Agreement defined climate finance should be “New” and “Additional” to Official Development Assistance from the developed countries to the vulnerable least developed countries (LDCs) or developing countries. Unfortunately, that pledge was not fulfilled by the developed countries. Of the total approved projects under global climate funds, LDCs have only 23% share of the total pledged amount.

The 10 most vulnerable countries including Bangladesh have received only $1.3 billion from the Global Climate Fund (GCF). However, altogether around $10.3 billion has been pledged to GCF, and around 10% of the fund is mobilized through United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC) channels including the GCF.

What is the present scenario of climate finance for vulnerable countries? Is the 50:50 ratio of climate finance for adaptation and mitigation guaranteed?

So far, rich countries have pledged an equivalent of $30.4 billion, but only $6.8 billion has been actually disbursed. From the GCF, around $2.8 billion have been approved against the demand for around $20 billion, where Bangladesh alone needs $2.5 billion per year. There is no clear direction on how projects will be granted or in what form they will be allocated. It was already decided that the ratio of mitigation and adaptation would be 50-50, but only 24% of funds have been allocated for adaptation.

Also Read – ‘Only 2% of global climate change funds reach most vulnerable people’‘

Bangladesh is one of the most vulnerable countries to climate change. What kind of role should the nation play at the COP25 to negotiate for adequate climate finance?

We are observing that usually the developed countries are pushing the loan in contrary to the need for the most vulnerable LDCs. You might know that from the allocation of the GCF around 41% of total funding was the loan. That is contradictory to the “Polluters-Pay-Principle” of the UNFCCC. LDCs including Bangladesh should raise their voices for more grant-based finance for adaptation. Transparency and accountability of the GCF decision-making authority also need to be discussed.

How can Bangladesh properly address the loss and damage due to climate change?

The Warsaw International Mechanism for Loss and damages was adopted in the Paris Agreement. But not a single fund so far has been allocated to the growing climate change-induced loss and damage. In reverse, several international financial institutions are trying to impose insurance which will be burdensome for the climate-vulnerable community. I believe that Bangladesh along with other LDCs should demand grant-based funds to address the loss and damage. At the same time, LDCs must generate proper scientific evidence to claim their dues.

Is climate change financing a political tool in providing finance to projects to the poor countries under the harsh condition of loans?

This is a very crucial point. If you see the top 10 most vulnerable countries of the world, seven of them are either developing or poor countries. Therefore, integrated funding should be mobilized for both climate adaptation as well as development purposes. If the developed countries try to push loans as climate finance for climate-vulnerable poor countries, they would be in the “Climate-Debt-Trap,” a concern we have been raising since 2017.

Also Read – ‘Allocation, and disbursement of climate funds must be simplified’

Bangladesh has recently invested heavily in coal-based power plants which are blamed for global warming, while negotiating for climate financing as a vulnerable country. How would you explain it?

The way Bangladesh has planned to set up coal-based power plants, they will be like “carbon bombs.” After the Paris Agreement, there is no room to establish a single coal-based power plant anywhere in the world.

Bangladesh has committed to generating 100% power from renewable energy. There is plenty of opportunity in both solar and also 22,000MW wind power. Most importantly, due to several coal-based power plants near the Sundarbans, the natural shield against any natural disaster will be endangered and ultimately adaptation costs will increase.

Coal plants will not only be economically burdensome, but also devastating for the environment. Bangladesh has created an example of responsibility to address climate change issues from its resources, they should maintain that.

Climate Change

IPCC’s special report on Oceans and Cryosphere in a changing climate : Key takeaways for Hindu-Kush Himalayan Region

Image result for hindukush


The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) has recently released a special report on the Ocean and Cryosphere[1] in a Changing Climate (SROCC). This report assessed the latest scientific knowledge about the physical science basis and impacts of climate change on ocean, coastal, polar and mountain ecosystems, and the human communities that depend on them. It also evaluated their vulnerabilities and adaptation capacity and determined that the ocean and cryosphere play a critical role in sustaining life. In particular, it shows that the ocean has taken up more than 90% of the heat generated by greenhouse gas emissions and is reducing warming on land. Ocean warming, together with ocean acidification (from carbon dioxide uptake), loss of oxygen, and changes in nutrient supplies is affecting the distribution and abundance of marine life in coastal areas, including in the open ocean and at the seafloor. Glaciers and ice sheets all around the world are losing mass at an increasing rate. Warmer ocean water causes several parts of the Antarctic ice sheet to lose mass.  At the same time, Greenland is losing mass due to increased surface melting. Melting ice sheets and glaciers now contribute more to the global mean sea level rise than the expansion of warming ocean waters. This shows that climate change is rapidly changing these two systems which has larger implications for humanity if remains unchecked. With this context in mind, in this piece, I will highlight the key takeaways for Hindu-Kush Himalayan Region.

Changing Cryosphere: What is in for Hindu Kush Himalayan (HKH) Region?

The term Hindu Kush Himalayan (HKH) region – which covers the high mountain chains of Central, South and Inner Asia that includes the Tien Shan, Kun Lun, Pamir, Hindu Kush, Karakoram, Himalayas, and Hengduan and the high-altitude Tibetan Plateau — has one of the world’s largest renewable supplies of freshwater. The Himalayan region has the largest reserve of water in the form of ice and snow outside the Polar Regions; this is why it is called the ‘third pole’. Based on the latest available government data sources and projections, in 2017, the population of the mountain and hills of the Hindu Kush Himalaya was about 240 million people. The total population in the ten major river basins with their headwaters in the HKH was about 1.9 billion, including the 240 million in the mountain and hills of the HKH. These big river systems, which originate in the HKH region, support irrigation in agricultural areas and provide drinking water to millions of rural and urban populations. These systems are major economic engines of the region, especially due to their large freshwater reserve, which makes it a natural resource support for the billions of people living downstream. Therefore, what happens to Himalayan glaciers has an impact on the two billion people living in Asia. It is clear that climate change is impacting the region with increased intensity, and further impacts will have severe ramifications for the economy, livelihood and ecosystem.

Below, I provide 6 important points which is reemphasised by SROCC and come from earlier findings coming from the recent researches in the region.

  1. Water gaps are increasing: A study by HI-AWARE shows that in the 21st century alone, water consumption in downstream areas of the Indus, Ganges, and Brahmaputra (IGB) basins is projected to increase by 24%, 42% and 107%, respectively. Water use for industrial and domestic purposes is projected to increase three to seven-fold. The increase in water availability will be stronger in the upstream parts which will increase the dependency of downstream water users on upstream water resources. For example, the current blue water gap, based on unsustainable groundwater withdrawals, is 83 km3/year in the Indus and 35 km3/ year in the Ganges, and will increase by 7% and 11% towards the end of the century. There are three areas in which this process of changing climate will impact the people downstream: the water gap will increase due to socio-economic development and population rise. Secondly, while the demand will reduce, flood events will increase, and finally, heat waves will continue to rise. All these will impact those already living below poverty line the most. #2 and #3 are detailed below:
  2. Flood events will increase: Floods will become more frequent and severe in the mountainous and downstream areas of the Indus, Ganges and Brahmaputra river basins, because of an increase in extreme precipitation events. Depending on the severity of climate change, flood events are expected to more than double towards the end of the century.
  3. Rising temperatures: HKH regions are extremely susceptible to temperature increase. Under a 1.5 °C global warming scenario, the areas are projected to warm up by more than 2 °C on average by the end of this century. At higher altitudes this warming will be even more marked, due to the elevation dependent warming. A 2 °C global warming scenario could lead to a warming of around 2.7 °C in glaciated river basins. Currently, more likely climate change scenarios — which are specific for these river basins — suggest regional temperature increases between 3.5 and 6 °C by 2100. Most of the projections also indicate overall wetter conditions in the future and increases in extreme precipitation events. This will lead to significant losses in glacier volume, from 36 to 64%, depending on the warming scenario, and impact timing of water flows and water availability. Therefore, the rate of risk is extremely high in the present emission scenario. Heat waves are expected to increase in intensity and duration in South Asia. Already, the heat thresholds in cities have exceeded previous limits. Individual solutions for keeping houses and neighbourhoods cool will not be enough: concerted efforts are needed at the urban landscape, community and individual levels to address the challenge of increasing urban heat in South Asia.
  4. People living far from oceans and glaciers are also impacted: It is sometimes forgotten that even people living far from the ocean or cryosphere depend on these systems. Snow and glacier melt from high mountains helps to sustain the rivers that deliver water resources to downstream populations. Due to global warming and its implications in the water resources in the HKH region, three sectors will be directly affected: water for domestic use, agriculture and hydroelectricity.
  5. Climate uncertainties will rise: Due to variability in rainfall patterns and glacier melt, there is a large-scale uncertainty in the system. For example, floods and droughts will be more frequent, and will have implications on people who are largely dependent on agriculture and water for domestic use including drinking. Recent information shows that the flood events have increased during last decade and if this scenario continues, it will have huge impacts on economy. For example, hydropower systems have to be tuned to these changes and future projects have to build climate resilient infrastructure.
  6. Women and poor people: One of the most striking impacts of climate change is on of women, as they are at the forefront of the economy, particularly in mountain areas. This is because men from the mountain regions are often migrants; this leaves women to manage household work and other tasks related to agriculture, natural resource management, community, and other public sphere related work—such as in markets or public institutions —that were traditionally men’s work. Land tenure and employment policies undervalue rural women’s critical roles in food security, sustainable agriculture, and natural resource management, despite women taking on the major role in these sectors. In most cases, women throughout the region do not have corresponding decision-making rights or control over resources despite shouldering both productive and reproductive workloads and responsibilities.

Possible Solutions

A combined strategy of adaptation with mitigation is key. It is unlikely that the process of climate change will be reversed, so it is best to focus on adaption. Serious policy changes and careful planning can create a climate-resilient infrastructure. The current lack of coordinated planning is currently, a major obstacle: for instance, the HKH region is trans-boundary in nature, with many watersheds are spread across different countries. Management of shared water at a trans-boundary level has its own challenges, especially when countries that fall in the watershed do not share relationships of trust. This process leads to inadequate water management at almost every level in the HKH region. At the national level, water management is marked by short-term approach, with seemingly little attention to long-term consequences. At the regional level, there is a huge scope for countries to come together — at least on river basin levels — to generate scientific knowledge in a coordinated fashion, and exercise joint policies for conservation of trans-boundary aquifer systems. This approach could benefit from system-based thinking which is lacking in the present approach. At the local level, building the community’s capacity to adapt and making infrastructure resilient is the key.

[1] Cryosphere is the frozen parts of our planet that includes ice and snow on land, continental ice sheets found in Greenland and Antarctica as well as ice caps, glaciers, snow and permafrost.

Climate Change

Tree rings can predict climate change

Reconstructions of past responses of vegetation from different ecosystems can predict the impact of climate change on weather and other environmental parameters, scientists said at the 6th Asian Dendrochronology Conference being held at the Birbal Sahni Institute of Palaeosciences in Lucknow. This is the first time that the conference is being held in India. The studies presented and deliberated at the conference were mostly from different ecological niches within Asia.

Dendrochronology is the study of tree rings that hold a wealth of information about not only a tree’s past but also that of the ecosystem in which it lives. Tree rings are layers of growth that a tree acquires in a year. The colour of old wood is always darker than a comparatively newer wood which creates a contrasting pattern of rings year on year. In the years of good growth, characterised by a healthy supply of resources, the ring is thick. It is thin when the ecosystem has dearth of resources. Trees can be great records for past and recent climates, much better than climate records as their density in a region is much greater than climate observatories and their information close enough to actual conditions.

Many of the presented papers showed a close relationship between temperature, precipitation and tree ring width. For instance, a paper on the tree growth rates in the Hengduan Mountains of South West China by Ze-Xin Fan from the Chinese Academy of Sciences (CAS), showed reduced coniferous tree ring growth under recent warming and drying climate, a phenomenon known as divergence. The paper further stated that tree growth in high latitudes and elevations is sensitive to temperatures in summer and winter season whereas tree growth in lower latitudes and elevations is sensitive to moisture in the spring season.

Another study, which brought out a 226-year long chronology of teak trees from southern Myanmar, showed that intense floods and droughts have periodically occurred in the region and their continuation or even intensification in a warming climate can lead to adverse effects on traditional agriculture and forest based economies. The authors also correlated the extreme events to large scale climate phenomenon like El Nino Southern Oscillation (ENSO), Pacific Decadal Oscillation (PDO) and sea surface temperatures of the Pacific and Indian Ocean.

Eryuan Liang, also from CAS, showed that competition among vegetation species that grow close to trees at the upper-most altitudes, often known as the treeline, could counteract the general upward movement of trees due to global warming. His research analysed the treeline position of 20 plots and found that the treelines had shifted by 0.56 m-1 m in the past 150 years. Another interesting study by Somaru Ram from Indian Institute of Tropical Meteorology, Pune, showed that increasing heat index and mean temperature during summers in Sikkim has had an adverse effect on tree growth due to high potential evapotranspiration—the rate at which plants loose water through their leaves. Such studies help scientists understand the impact of climate change at the local scale and a network of such chronologies can also help them understand climate change impacts across countries and continents. The researchers also called for the establishment of enhanced tree ring chronology networks for better cooperation.

Climate Change

Italy Makes Climate Change Mandatory Part of Curriculum in Schools

Italy will now make climate change a compulsory part of education, Education Minister Lorenzo Fioramonti announced on November 5th.

Starting next September, all state schools will require 33 hours each year to climate change. This amounts to one hour a week of instruction on sustainability and climate change. According to Fioramonti, Italy is the first country to make an education change like this.

Fioramonti told Reuters in an interview, “The entire ministry is being changed to make sustainability and climate the center of the education model. I want to make the Italian education system the first education system that puts the environment and society at the core of everything we learn in school.” He said that lessons in geography, math and physics would also be taught through the lens of sustainable development.

An outspoken climate change activist, Fioramonti received criticism for encouraging students to skip school to take part in the climate protests, according to Reuters. He said that “The 21st-century citizen must be a sustainable citizen.”

The climate change curriculum will be developed over the coming year and will include input from environmental experts. It will also vary by age group, high school will focus on the United Nations’ 2030 Sustainable Development Agenda, middle school will be learning technical information and elementary school will connect environmental stories to cultures.

In another move to help the planet, Italy said this month it would tax plastics and sugar starting in 2020.

Read more about climate change in schools, including New York City Schools Ban Processed Meats! and Tel Aviv Schools Ban Single Use Plastic for Meals.

The United Nation recently released a report warning countries about the dangers of climate change and has urged people to eat more plant-based as a way to curb it. We highly recommend downloading the Food Monster App on iTunes — with over 15,000 delicious recipes it is the largest meatless, plant-based, vegan and allergy-friendly recipe resource to help reduce your environmental footprint, save animals and get healthy! And, while you are at it, we encourage you to also learn about the environmental and health benefits of a plant-based diet.