The International Centre for Integrated Mountain Development (ICIMOD) recently released the Hindu Kush Himalaya (HKH) Assessment report.

Findings of the report:

  • Regions in higher altitudes tend to warm faster than low-lying lands. So, a global temperature increase of 1.5ºC could mean at least a 1.8ºC temperature rise in the Hindu Kush Himalayas.
  • More than 35 % of the glaciers in the region could retreat by 2100, even if the global temperature rise is capped at 1.5º C.
    • This could destabilise the hydrology of large parts of South Asia, China and Myanmar.
    • This will have a major bearing on the ice-fields, which are the largest repository of permafrost outside the polar regions.
  • Since the region’s snow is the source of 10 major river systems, large-scale warming could drastically alter the river flows in these countries.
  • The receding glaciers could cause a deluge in the rivers during the monsoon while the flows are likely to reduce during the dry seasons, with serious implications for irrigation, hydropower and ecosystem services.
  • Hindu Kush Himalayan region is a heat sink in summer and a heat source in winter, and this influences the Indian summer monsoon. So, the receding glaciers might be the reason for the changing monsoon.
    • The number of intense precipitation days and intensity of extreme precipitation have increased overall in the last five decades.
    • If these trends persist, the frequency and magnitude of water-induced hazards in the Hindu Kush Himalaya region will increase.
  • The HKH is sensitive to climate change — air pollutants originating within and near the HKH amplify the effects of greenhouse gases and accelerate melting of the cryosphere through the deposition of black carbon and dust, and changing monsoon circulation and rainfall distribution over Asia.

Impact on India:

HKH covers 3500 kms across eight countries – Afghanistan, Bangladesh, Bhutan, China, India, Myanmar, Nepal and Pakistan – and is the source of ten major river basins including the Ganges, Brahmaputra and Indus in India. Two billion people are dependent on the HKH for their water needs across Asia.

  • As a result of climate change, “a consistent increase in stream flow is expected at large scales for the upstream reaches of the Indus, Ganges, and Brahmaputra rivers until at least 2050.
    • In the Indus, this increase will result from increased glacial melt for a limited period, while in the Ganges and the Brahmaputra; it is expected to result mainly from increased precipitation.
    • Pre-monsoon flows are expected to decline, with implications for irrigation, hydropower, and ecosystem services.”
  • Such inverse impact on monsoon may directly impact Indian agriculture and Indian economy. It may increase losses in agriculture and increased farmers suicides rates.
  • The groundwater depletion may cause drinking water crisis.
  • Drought induced migration.
  • Water wars among international countries and fight among states within India for waters of interstate rivers.
  • Shift in cropping pattern as per changing monsoonal patterns.
  • Warming may cause tropical diseases induction in Himalayan states of India.

Steps taken by India to control global warming:

  1. National Action Plan for Climate Change: one component id National Mission of Preservation of Himalayan Ecosystem.
  2. Signatory of Paris Climate Summit and launch of International Solar Alliance to reduce dependency on carbon fuel – major source of global warming.
  3. Moving towards e-vehicles to reduce transportation induced global warming. Also, India is moving rapidly towards Bharat Stage VI based fuel, which is much cleaner and environment friendly.
  4. Green Highway Mission – planting more trees.

What should be done?

  • The need is now for informed science-driven advocacy for urgent climate action and immediate conservation efforts.
  • Political differences between these countries should not come in the way of joint efforts to build resilience of vulnerable communities and shore up the region’s water security.
  • Such cooperation must go alongside meeting the Paris Climate Change Pact’s goals.
  • Success in meeting the Paris Climate Pact’s target might not be enough to prevent a serious meltdown in the Hindu Kush Himalayas.
  • in addition to global emissions reductions to reduce temperature rise, enhancing adaptation to climate change requires transformative adaptation policies, including mainstreaming of adaptation into planning and budgeting processes.
  • Through the deposition of black carbon and dust, air pollution is speeding up the melting of ice. Mitigating air pollution requires investment in clean technologies and infrastructure according to the report.
  • The report states that Improving energy efficiency – particularly that of biomass which is widely used in the region – is the most cost-competitive strategy to meet the energy needs of the HKH.
    • Another option is to explore the full potential of hydropower and other renewables to combat its energy poverty and attain energy security, while also ensuring climate resilient development.

Hence, more realistic targets specific to the region are needed, with the consensus of all the nations surrounding this part of the Himalayan region.

Effective environmental governance – the way formal and informal institutions act to manage the environment – is the key to address these multifaceted challenges in the Hindu Kush Himalaya, according to the report.

This involves equitable sharing of the environmental resources – forests, water, biodiversity, agriculture – as well as the costs, and risks.

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