Climate Change and Himalayan Ecosystem

Apr 1st, 2010 | By | Category: Adaptation, Agriculture, Biodiversity, Climatic Changes in Himalayas, Development and Climate Change, Disasters and Climate Change, Governance, India, International Agencies, Livelihood, Publication, Water, Website-eNews Portal

October 2009, Solution Exchange India

Ama Sofi does not make his livelihood by selling ice cram in Srinagar any more. The glacier ice that he would use to make ice cream is no more found in summer months. This livelihood option for a number of women in the outskirts of Srinagar who supplied him glacier ice also disappeared. This experience was shared during the discussion on the query on Climate Change and Himalayan Ecosystem. Fast melting and receding of glaciers is a direct impact of Climate Change on the Himalayan Ecosystem. Members highlighted changes in rainfall pattern and intensity, increase in average winter temperatures, changes in forest composition and cropping pattern and shifting of seasons as other impacts.

The rainfall distribution in Himachal Pradesh has undergone drastic changes along with increase in frequency of extreme weather event like cloudbursts and floods. While monsoon has shifted to late August, the winter rains have got delayed to March and April. The winter days have reduced drastically and average winter temperatures have increased.

These changes have hampered apple production in Bajaura, located in the lower part of the Kullu
Valley and once known for good quality apples. The apple belt in the valley is moving up. Early rain in April affects pollination as the rain, washes away the pollen. This directly affects the fruit production. Higher winter temperatures are not good for meeting the chilling requirement of apple crops, a prerequisite for bud breaking. Reduction of flow in rivers/ streams due to receding glaciers has led to conflict over water in Kullu Valley.

In Uttarakhand, monsoon in last few years has shifted from July/August to August/September and winter precipitation from December/January to January/February. These changes are affecting production of Amranthus (a good cash crop of high altitudinal village of the Uttarakhand) and winter crops like barley and wheat. Change in average winter temperature has led to early flowering in Rhododendron in Uttarakhand, affecting availability of flowers for annual rituals. The Chamba fruit belt once famous for apple orchards, in Uttarakhand, has seen complete change in cropping patterns. The Himalaya in Uttarakhand and Himachal Pradesh has seen invasion of pine forests upwards into oak forests, affecting fodder availability for livestock and people’s livelihood. In some areas tree line is moving upwards as it is observed in Lohajang area of Chamoli district. In Kashmir, melting glaciers and erratic rainfall is affecting water availability. This is affecting agriculture which was traditionally heavily dependent on abundant water resources in the region.

Lately Himalayan region has seen unprecedented infrastructure development activities including construction of many dams. These activities along with unchecked exploitation of natural resources have aggravated adverse effects of Climate Change. These activities are further destroying already climate-affected pasture lands.

Communities have been taking adaptive measures to safeguard their livelihood. While farmers in Kullu Valley are finding it difficult to diversify to other crops, farmers in Uttarakhand have shifted to cultivation of “off season” vegetables. However, shifting to crops that are suited to the changing climate conditions still needs to be worked out by most. Furthermore, the cultivation practices for current crops as well as alternate crops are to be established urgently. Thus role of planning and research in agriculture has become more crucial in the wake of Climate Change. The agricultural scientists engaged in research and extension work in Kullu Valley have started recognizing the importance of Climate Change. Local traditional knowledge of climate can be useful in formulating strategies to adapt to the impact of Climate Change.

In the forestry sector, it is important to look into plantation strategies that help maintain green cover and meet the timber and wood requirements of the community and other dependents. Promoting bamboo plantation as a coping mechanism to Climate Change by organisations like Uttarakhand Bamboo and Fibre Development Board (UBFDB) is an effort in that direction. While bamboo can be used as construction material, props, fodder etc to reduce dependence on trees and conventional materials, it can also be effectively used for carbon sequestration.

However there may not be many community interventions towards adaptation, primarily because, the magnitude of change in Himalayan ecosystem due to Climate Change is not very clear. Earlier campaigns like Chipko movement in Uttarakhand and programmes like Nagaland Empowerment of People through Economic Development (NEPED) in Nagaland has awakened mountain communities towards conservation of natural resources and practicing sustainable agriculture. In the present situation, these processes have capability to help communities adapt to Climate Change. Other organisations from Himalayan region like G. B. Pant Institute for Himalayan
Environment and Development in Uttarakhand, North Eastern Regional Institute of Science and Technology (NERIST), The International Centre for Integrated Mountain Development (ICIMOD), Prakriti Group and Himalayan Action Research Centre, Resource Himalaya, Amrita, are making significant contributions for sustaining the Himalayan Eco-system.

The Mountain Institute programs in Asia started in mid-1980s with the “Heart of the Himalaya” initiative. A consortium of organisations is working on a situation analysis project to investigate status, trends and relationships in poverty and ecosystem services for India and the Hindu Kush- Himalayan region. IUCN India is working towards formulating a strategy and developing a suitable action plans for tackling Climate Change in the Himalayas. UN agencies like Asian and Pacific Centre for Transfer of Technology (APCTT) promotes technology transfer through enhanced usage of clean technologies. It has also established an Asia-Pacific Traditional Medicine and Herbal Technologies Network for Conservation of biodiversity, traditional knowledge and enterprise development using sustainable agricultural practices for the medicinal and herbal plants. UNESCO is involved in variety of programmes under its Climate Change Knowledge Partnership in the Himalayas specifically in biosphere reserves and natural heritage sites. It is working on mechanisms for coping with environmental uncertainties arising from Climate Change.

The discussion indicated lack of multi-dimensional/ integrated approach for sustainable development that incorporates ecology, economy and communities. It is important to identify key action points for implementation. The National Action Plan for Climate Change did specifically form a mission mode plan for Mountain Ecosystem but a participatory approach to plan is lacking. Investments made in these regions need to be carefully evaluated considering fragility of the region.

It is possible to address Climate Change through regional cooperation. This can be done through a consortium of stakeholders involving NGOs, academic institutions, and the communities along with the relevant government departments that addresses critical steps to enhance the conservation issues. Increasing green cover to arrest further degradation of the Himalayan Ecosystem is another critical issue. In the scenario, where temperate species tree line is moving up, an immediate measure to quickly fill this gap needs to be taken. A proposal to initiate agro forestry and silvi-agri-pastoral species in the vacant/ agriculture lands could be an alternative. In conclusion it can be said that substantial efforts across National boundaries are required to conserve and sustain entire Himalyan region that supplies water to about 2 billion people in Asia feeding into 6 major rivers that run through 10 countries.








Started in year 2010, ‘Climate Himalaya’ initiative has been working on Mountains and Climate linked issues in the Himalayan region of South Asia. In the last five years this knowledge sharing portal has become one of the important references for the governments, research institutions, civil society groups and international agencies, those have work and interest in the Himalayas. The Climate Himalaya team innovates on knowledge sharing, capacity building and climatic adaptation aspects in its focus countries like Bhutan, India, Nepal and Pakistan. Climate Himalaya’s thematic areas of work are mountain ecosystem, water, forest and livelihood. Read>>

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4 Comments to “Climate Change and Himalayan Ecosystem”

  1. But as climate research has become a high priority, even puny glaciers have become important. Blue Ecosystem

  2. Tarun Punetha says:

    new researchers need to focus on to analyze the impact of climate change on himalaya instead of giving fact of climate change , and how to adapt ourselves according to climate change , and to find out new simple alternative measure to lower down the rate of change .

  3. What Tarun Punetha has mentioned is the need of the hour and CHI is working in this direction, during its 2nd and 3rd phase. However, initially we are focusing on awareness generation aspect. Thanks Tarun for your valuable observations.

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