THE RISK, THE REMEDY

Greater Kashmir

Climate Change In Jammu & Kashmir

CLIMATE change will have impacts not only on environment but also on society and economy. That is why climate change has been rightly identified as a thrust area of research by global community. The potential consequences of climate change have been established beyond any doubt at the global level.  The argument that this change is natural and has nothing to do with the humans is simply not tenable in light of the plethora of research that has been conducted in every nook and corner of the globe over the last few decades. So while we cannot absolutely exclude natural variability as the cause of global warming over the past few decades, and it may have played some role, it is very unlikely that this would have been the sole reason. The changes in the average global temperature during the last century are larger than can be explained by the natural changes alone. For example, 11 of the last 12 years have been hottest since the recording of temperature started in 1850. Looking at the ice cores, the levels of Co2 have been 35% greater than they have been for at least last 0.65 million years. From the chemical composition of these gases, we know that this is mainly due to the burning of fossil fuels, production of cement and the widespread burning of forests in the tropics. These results enabled International Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) to pronounce that “…… most of the observed warming over the past 50 years is likely to have been due to the increase in greenhouse gas concentrations.” IPCC thus concluded that most recent warming, observed globally, is due to man’s activities.
Climate change impacts on different sectors in the state of Jammu and Kashmir are already evident and need to be assessed scientifically for each sector. Preliminary results from the research carried out in University of Kashmir suggest that, depending upon the level of future emissions, the average temperature increase in valley by end of the 21st century may be between 2 and 3 degree Centigrade. Glaciers are receding at a faster rate in the state compared to other glacial regions in the world. In Suru basin alone, we have lost about 16% of glaciers for the last 40 years. Similarly, we have lost 18% of the Kolhai glacier, the main source of drinking water and irrigation in valley, during the same period. Climate change is likely to affect a number of sectors, particularly irrigated agriculture, horticulture, and hydropower capacity in the state. Changes in flow magnitudes are likely to raise tensions between India and Pakistan, in particular with regard to reduced water flows in the dry season and higher flows during the wet season, posing increased risk to hydropower development and higher frequency of floods in both parts of Kashmir. The valley is experiencing erratic snowfall and hotter summers for the last decade or so.  Climate variability and change of both precipitation and temperature will, therefore, affect livelihoods at both local and regional scale through effects on stream flow. An analysis of the stream flow in most of the upper catchments indicates direct relationship with the climatic variables. Changes in the amount and distribution of snow precipitation have potentially serious implications for the glaciological, hydrological and agriculture processes in the state. Therefore, understanding and assessment of climate change impacts on water resources is critical for water resources planning, hydropower development and protection against flooding. Further, because of the large differences between the regions in the state, it is necessary to identify the sectors and regions that need more detailed studies.
We need to address such questions as, how is our environment changing? How does the environment respond to the natural and human induced climate changes? What are its consequences for the people?  How are people adapting or can better adapt to the climate change? The answer to these questions would facilitate the solution of our environmental problems. But the answers would not come in vacuum. We would have to utilize all the available tools employing scientific methods to look for the answers. If we understand the processes leading to the environmental changes occurring in the state, we can help ourselves to mitigate the effects through improved planning, improved response and more efficient adaptation strategy. There is a need to analyze the trends in environmental, economic and social indicators over the last few decades to link the climate change to the socio-economic development of the state. We have a culture and history of quick reactions and this is also practiced when prescribing the environmental mitigation initiatives. We are always in a hurry to suggest and execute remedial measures, having been tested in a different environmental set up, without first thoroughly researching and understanding the problems for working out alternative and befitting solutions. This needs to be done away with.
We, in Jammu and Kashmir, do not have any coordinated and established practice of data observations on any of the natural resources, whether it is water, soil, forests, glaciers, agriculture, meteorology, geology or other related disciplines. Mountainous regions require much greater density of observations than the neighbouring flat lands to achieve same reliability of aerial estimates. In Kashmir Himalayas, the existing network of observation stations falls short by more than an order of magnitude as per the World Meteorological Organizations (WMO) recommendations. Though, we have a time series of historical hydrometeorological observation records for some of the stations like Gilgit (1893), Skardu (1893), Leh (1882) and Srinagar (1893) but most of the other stations in the valley have recorded observations dating back to only mid of the last century. It should be a matter of concern to all of us that the state lacks a long historical time series of hydrometeorological observations. Though modern scientific data analysis and climate models do allow us to simulate hydrometeorological observations based on the past and existing time series but the opportunity to observe such variables in the past has been lost forever. At least now, we should rise to the occasion and build, on priority, an adequate network of observations for environmental variables related to primary processes of atmosphere, land, water, snow etc. throughout the state to deliver a functioning system for distribution of data and information resulting from these observations.
For knowing the scientific reasons behind the local climatic variations or any other environmental problem, we need to build up databases of our resources. And once built, they need to be monitored and updated using space inputs, ground observations and models to understand the natural and human induced effects on such resources. We need to have detailed information about our forests, soils, surface and subsurface water resources, agriculture, horticulture, geology, meteorology, urbanization, erosion and other land surface processes. We should regularly model our carbon, energy and water budgets that are so essential for understanding the local climate variations. It is very important to make such data freely available to the prospective researchers irrespective of their affiliations. This could be accomplished by pooling our resources- financial, material and mental. There is a need for inter and intra-departmental coordination in data gathering and dissemination mechanisms in the state of Jammu and Kashmir.
The impacts of climate change in Himalayas are expected to be considerable. Though it would be scientifically unethical to attribute the local/regional climate changes to one or the other reasons in absence of any long time observations or simulations but nevertheless, there is a need to understand the mechanisms that bring about these climatic variations. We can understand the climate change phenomena only when we observe, understand and then based on such understanding model and predict it. We need to look deeper inside the system to know the reasons for these local climatic variations. Earth system changes are global phenomena. Yet the system comprises many micro-scale processes and the most significant and apparent manifestations are regional. Thus studying such changes requires a global view at regionally discernable resolutions. At the University of Kashmir, we have identified climate change as a thrust area of research and are seeking collaborations and partnerships with the reputed national institutes like ISRO, DRDO, TERI, Indian Institute of Tropical Meteorology and international institutes including Cambridge University, University of California and Newcastle University to initiate a long term research program on climate change on Kashmir Himalayas. The University of Kashmir has recently formed the Working Group on Climate Change that shall suggest a strategic plan that outlines the policies and actions required to be taken by the different organizations in the state to mitigate and adapt to the climate change effects. An international workshop on “Fixing Climate Change in Kashmir Valley,” with collaborative support from these institutes is being organized by the University this year. A regional Climate Change Model developed by the UK’s Hadley Centre for Climate Prediction and Research is being set up at the University to predict the future climate change scenarios and their impacts on water resources availability in the state. Similarly, we plan to use regional crop growth model driven by the simulations from the Climate Model to predict the changes in the yields of main agricultural crops under the predicted climate scenarios. The model is also being used to generate impacts of climate change on vegetation, biodiversity and land use / land cover in the state. It is expected that these collective efforts and research collaborations would contribute to the better understanding of the climate change linkages to the local environmental problems and ultimately lead to the development of a strategy to mitigate and adapt the climate change in the region.

Dr Shakil Ahmad Romshoo
Associate Professor, Dept. of Geology and Geophysics,
University of Kashmir