ATREE: The Himalayas are assumed to be undergoing rapid climate change, with serious environmental, social and economic consequences for more than two billion people. However, data on the extent of climate change or its impact on the region are meagre. Based on local knowledge, we report perceived changes in climate and consequences of such changes for biodiversity and agriculture. Our analyses are based on 250 household interviews administered in 18 villages, and focused group discussions conducted in 10 additional villages in Darjeeling Hills, West Bengal, India and Ilam district of Nepal.
There is a widespread feeling that weather is getting warmer, the water sources are drying up, the onset of summer and monsoon has advanced during last 10 years and there is less snow on mountains than before. Local perceptions of the impact of climate change on biodiversity included early budburst and flowering, new agricultural pests and weeds and appearance of mosquitoes. People at high altitudes appear more sensitive to climate change than those at low altitudes. Most local perceptions conform to scientific data. Local knowledge can be rapidly and efficiently gathered using systematic tools. Such knowledge can allow scientists to test specific hypotheses, and policy makers to design mitigation and adaptation strategies for climate change, especially in an extraordinarily important part of our world that is experiencing considerable change.
The results of this study have been published in the latest issue of Biology Letters, a journal of the Royal Society: Local perceptions of climate change validated by scientific evidence in the Himalayas. By Pashupati Chaudhary of University of Massachusetts, Boston, USA and Kamaljit S. Bawa, University of Massachusetts, Boston, USA; Sustainability Science Program, Harvard University, Cambridge, USA; and Ashoka Trust for Research in Ecology and the Environment, India
Himalayan Farmers Give Early Pointers On Climate Change
PARIS—Himalayan villagers have won the backing of climate science for their suspicions that snow cover, water resources and the ecosystem are changing in their region, a study published Wednesday said.
The authors of the research carried out by Britain’s Royal Society say this is the first time that subjective perceptions about climate change have been put to a wide scientific test.
And, they argue, it shows that local knowledge, far from being snubbed or sidelined, can be a useful tool for combatting the climate threat.
Researchers interviewed 250 people living in 10 villages in Singalila National Park, in the Darjeeling Hills of India’s West Bengal state, and in eight villages in Ilam district of Nepal.
They asked them about 18 possible indicators of climate change in the past decade.
These interviews were then followed up with a looser-structured questionnaire in meetings at 10 other villages in the same area, the aim being to cross-check the results.
Three-quarters of the interviewees said they believed the weather had been getting warmer over the past 10 years, while two-thirds said the onset of summer and the monsoon had advanced.
Nearly half the respondents thought there was less snow on the mountains than before and 70 percent said water was less plentiful.
Roughly half said they believed that some plant species were budding earlier than before and that mosquitoes had appeared in villages where none had been seen before. At least a third said new crop pests or new weeds had emerged in places where they farmed.
These observations tally with scientific studies on temperature, rainfall and species carried out in the Himalayas or other regions, although there is no confirmation that the onset of monsoons has advanced, said the paper.
Those who lived at high altitude (between 2,000-3,000 meters, 6,500-9,750 feet) were far likelier to say they had seen changes compared with those who lived at low altitude, considered to be below 2,000 meters (6,500 feet).
This, too, chimes with scientific predictions that mountainous and snow-covered areas are likelier to experience climate impacts before lowland areas.
The paper, published in the journal Biology Letters, marks the biggest attempt yet to dissect local knowledge on climate change and compare it with scientific evidence.
Local knowledge usually has poor standing in climate science because it is often sketchy, short-term or skewed by personal experience.
For instance, if a farmer suffers two or three bad harvests, he may wrongly blame climate change, which is a long-term phenomenon, rather than poor farming techniques or a run of bad luck with the weather, which is short term.
But the paper says that intimate knowledge of the local environment can be a useful resource for testing theories and policies on such problems as flood, drought and invasive species.
The Himalayas are exposed to climate change because changes to monsoon patterns and higher temperatures affect snow cover, which in turn affects water resources for humans.
Its 15,000 glaciers feed Asia’s eight largest rivers, five of which – the Indus, Ganges, Brahmaputra, Yangtze and Yellow rivers – are likely to be hit by worsening water stress in coming decades, with consequences for more than 1.4 billion people.
“Despite the immense likely environmental, economic and social costs, reliable information about the extent and magnitude of climate change and its consequences in the Himalayas are not well known,” said the paper.
The authors are Pashupati Chaudhary, a graduate student of biology at the University of Massachusetts at Boston (UMB) and Kamaljit Bawa, a professor of biology at the UMB and president of the Ashoka Trust for Research in Ecology and the Environment (ATREE) in Bangalore, India.
Started in year 2010, ‘Climate Himalaya’ initiative has been working on the mountain and climate related issues in the Himalayan region of South Asia. In the last two 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 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>>