Regional cooperation on climate change key to future of Eastern Himalayas

Posted on 17 November 2011 |

Thimphu, Bhutan – Regional adaptation to extreme weather events and the impacts of climate change on endangered alpine species like snow leopards featured prominently at a WWF-led session in the lead up to the Climate Summit for Living Himalayas today, a high-level event that aims to work out a ten year regional framework on climate change adaptation for the Eastern Himalayan nations of Nepal, India, Bhutan and Bangladesh.

“Climate change is placing extraordinary pressure on the Eastern Himalayas – its people, iconic landscapes and species are all being hit hard by changing weather patterns,” said Minister Dr. Pema Gyamtsho, Ministry of Agriculture and Forests, Bhutan. “The Eastern Himalayas is now in urgent need of a regional framework of cooperation that combines expertise from governments, NGOs and civil society. Himalayan nations must act now to avoid the worst impacts of climate change,” he continued.

Climate Summit for a Living Himalayas

The pre-summit stakeholder meet is part of a series of events leading up to the Climate Summit for a Living Himalayas – Bhutan 2011, which is being hosted by the Royal Government of Bhutan in the nation’s capital on 19 November 2011.

Broadly speaking, Nepal, India, Bhutan and Bangladesh are holding this high level meeting to work out an agreement on four main themes: securing biodiversity and ensuring its sustainable use; ensuring food security and securing livelihoods; securing the natural freshwater systems of the Himalayas; and ensuring energy security and enhancing alternative technologies.

The event hosted by WWF today was a moderated discussion on two specific issues – the rising threats of climate change and adaptation strategies in Eastern Himalayas, as well as snow leopard conservation in the face of changing climate vulnerabilities.

“Snow Leopards are valuable indicator of environmental health – their declining numbers is a sign that the places they live are also threatened. With only up to 7500 individuals left in the wild it is up to India, Nepal, and Bhutan to take the lead and create a regional conservation framework that helps protect the future of this iconic species and the Eastern Himalayas,” said Tariq Aziz, Leader of WWF’s Living Himalayas Initiative.

Moving towards sustainable solutions for the future

The discussion was well attended by over a hundred senior representatives from development partners, civil society and the four governments. The presence of youth at the event underscored the importance of involving younger generations in discussions towards sustainable solutions for the future.

“This gathering of policy-makers and development partners from India, Nepal, Bhutan, and Bangladesh is significant as it provides a crucial platform for agreeing on much needed approaches, investment and policies to help the Himalayan region adapt to extreme weather events,” said Ravi Singh, Secretary General & CEO, WWF-India.

WWF has been working in the Eastern Himalayas for close to 50 years to ensure that the region’s incredible diversity of life is preserved for generations to come. Through our Living Himalayas Initiative WWF works closely with the governments and people of Bhutan, India and Nepal to restore and protect ecological processes, reduce the human footprint and support local economies.

http://wwf.panda.org/wwf_news/?202420/Regional-cooperation-on-climate-change-key-to-future-of-Eastern-Himalayas

Challenges of Climate Change in the Mountains Highlighted in Cancun

Experts from leading institutions and government organisations working in the field of climate change in the Himalayan region called attention to mountain issues and challenges in the light of climate change. They linked these issues to the debate on how to mainstream the sustainable development agenda while planning adaptation and mitigation activities, including the management of risks and hazards in fragile mountain environments, and called on mountainous countries to join the Mountain Initiative promoted by the Government of Nepal.

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Mountain Initiative for Climate Change

The Mountain Initiative for Climate Change Adaptation in Mountain Regions was initiated by the Government of Nepal. ICIMOD is providing technical support.

Introduction
The rationale for the Mountain Initiative
Objectives and expected outcome of the Mountain Initiative
Steps taken by the Government of Nepal
Recent documents

Introduction
Mountains cover around 24% of the Earth’s land surface and host about 13% of the world population. Mountains are the providers of essential ecosystem services and play the role of water towers to billions of people living in downstream slopes, valleys and plains – directly and indirectly. In Asia, the Hindu Kush-Himalayan (HKH) mountain system, also referred to as the third pole, contains the largest volume of snow and ice outside the polar region. The Hindu Kush-Himalayas, Andes, Alps, Pamir, and Atlas mountain systems all play a critical role. As a source of water flows and river systems, the world’s mountain watersheds support livelihoods and food security for almost half of the global population. Notwithstanding the significant role of mountain ecosystems, the mountain agenda is not addressed adequately by the UNFCCC deliberations to reflect the needs of mountain livelihoods and environments. Realising this, the Prime Minister of Nepal in his address to COP 15 said:

“I therefore take this opportunity to call on all the mountain countries and stakeholders to come together, form a common platform and make sure that mountain concerns get due attention in the international deliberations. Let us make sure that our interests are prominently represented in future COP negotiations and let us make sure that our efforts towards adaptation obtain the required international support.”

Mountain people, particularly the disadvantaged and marginalised groups, suffer from increasing poverty, natural hazards, deprivation and socioeconomic conflicts. Climate change has exacerbated these challenges. Climate change, natural hazards and other forces threaten the functioning of the complex web of life and livelihoods that mountains support. The consequences of poverty and environmental degradation reach far beyond mountain communities, and escalating numbers of landslides, mudslides, catastrophic ἀoods and other natural disasters in highland areas adversely affect the densely populated lowlands. Moreover, the rapid melting of mountain glaciers and degradation of watersheds is reducing water availability and increasing conἀicts over dwindling natural resources and supplies. These changes will be felt most immediately by poor and isolated mountain communities, who have little capacity to cope with and adapt to these changes. The consequences for the billions of people downstream of major mountain areas who depend on critical environmental resources provided by mountains, mainly water, biodiversity and hydrological processes, will be equally severe.

The rationale for the Mountain Initiative
The ongoing UNFCCC processes on its key elements such as adaptation, mitigation, technology transfer, financing and capacity building, have so far not addressed the specific situation of mountain systems, especially the increased physical and socioeconomic vulnerability of its population. Countries that have large mountain areas have been raising issues individually in various COP sessions, Ad-hoc Working groups of the UNFCCC process and multilateral environmental agreements (MEA), but so far they have not been able to inἀuence the negotiation process in favour of the global mountain agenda in the context of the climate change. In order to bridge this gap and ensure that the benefit from climate change conventions accrues also to mountain ecosystems and the protection of the lives and livelihoods of their vulnerable and disaster-prone people, some of the mountain countries have realised the need to take a collective approach and bringing countries that have mountain ecosystems together in a single forum. Nepal in consultation with various regional and global stakeholders including the Mountain Partnership has launched this initiative. A proposal has been made to initiate a ‘Mountain Alliance Initiative for Climate Change’ to provide a framework within which mountain countries in collaboration with mountain specialized global and regional agencies can work together to understand better the changes occurring in mountains and comprehend the challenges they face as a result of climate and global changes. The Alliance will advocate for better attention and action in order to reduce the risk and build resilient mountain communities, while maintaining the vital mountain-based ecosystem services for the welfare of the billions of people living downstream.

Objectives and expected outcome of the Mountain Initiative
The Government of Nepal, in collaboration with major development partners including the Mountain Partnership (MP), ICIMOD and other key global and regional stakeholders especially among the Asian and Andean countries, will take the lead in this Initiative to further better communication of the anticipated impacts of climate change in mountains to global communities. Concerted efforts will be made to bring all the major mountainous countries from the HKH, Andean, Alpine, Pamir and Atlas regions on board with the objective of mobilizing meaningful support and ensuring solidarity to enable the Alliance to achieve the goal of securing global attention for the situation in mountain ecosystems and mountain populations. Through organization of stakeholder consultations and conferences at regional and global levels, the MAI aims to promote the specific concerns of mountain ecosystems and livelihoods within the ongoing UNFCCC negotiations. More specifically, the Alliance will document and analyse specific climate change scenarios and impacts in the high mountains and highlands, gather best practices and information about local knowledge and propose different options available, and share these in the preparatory meetings of MEAs, and Subsidiary Bodies (SBI and SBSTA) leading up to the COP 16 in Mexico and beyond. The aim is to see the outcome of these efforts included in the form of a resolution on specific climate adaptation related instruments, mechanisms and programmes for mountains that might then be included in the legally binding agreements under the UNFCCC and/or other MEAs.

Steps taken by the Government of Nepal
The Government of Nepal (GoN) endorsed this initiative in May 2010 and has designated the Ministry of Environment (MoE) as the focal ministry to carry forward the tasks of the Mountain Alliance Initiative. A Secretariat has been established within the Ministry to coordinate the related activities and mobilize support from the stakeholders. A Steering Committee to guide the MAI process, and an organizing committee to organize the Ministerial meetings of the mountain countries, have been set up. In view of the likelihood that such an ambitious goal may not be achievable within one year, the GoN has planned both short and medium-term activities with an initial planning horizon of three years.

Recent documents
•Global Climate Financing Mechanisms and Mountain Systems (2010)
•Mountain Initiative Status Paper (2010)
•International Expert Consultation Meeting: Mountain Initiative on Climate Change (2010)

Snow Leopard Survival Chances Melting Away Along With Glaciers, Kyrgyzstan

Snow Leopard Survival Chances Melting Away Along With Glaciers
Bişkek : Kyrgyzstan |
Nov 18, 2010 By Ljubica Vujadinovic

The 8,400 square kilometers of Kyrgyzstan’s glaciers, which account four per cent of the country’s territory, are now receding at a rate more than three times as fast as in the 1950s, the Institute of Hydro Energy at the National Academy of Sciences in Bishkek stated.

The melting, fuelled by global warming, threatens water supplies as all the main water resources are connected with glaciers. If the trend continues, the effects on wildlife could be as devastating.

In countries that depend on snowmelt for drinking water or agricultural, they also need the snow to come at the right time. The same applies to most wildlife.
Survival of some among world’s rarest animals that found their home in Kyrgyzstan, such as the Marco PoloMarco Polo sheep, the Himalayan brown bear and the endangered snow leopard, are closely linked to the melting glaciers, scientists said.
“These glaciers are part of often unique mountain ecosystems. In some places one can go from a dry desert to lush green pastures in the space of two hours’ drive. Glaciers are driving much of that,” Dr Stephan Harrison, associate professor of quaternary science at the University of Exeter in the UK, was quoted as saying by Al Jazeera.

The number of the endangered species facing extinction is ever increasing. And the list of those whose survival is directly threatened by global warming is not limited to polar bear and other animals that live in the coldest world’s regions. Indeed, the scientists said the Koala Bear, the Leatherback Turtle, Flamingos and many others are affected as well.

Few days ago a flock of African pink pelicans have mistakenly ended up in Siberia. Flying back to Africa from Kazakhstan, the birds, confused by the exceptionally warm weather, chose to go north instead of south. They were treating the recent changes the same way as the majority of nations in Kyoto – ignoring them.

http://www.allvoices.com/contributed-news/7375570-snow-leopard-survival-chances-melting-away-along-with-glaciers

Melting glaciers threaten wildlife in Kyrgyzstan

Kyrgyzstan is one of the most biodiverse areas of central Asia, but species are in danger from global warming.

Pavol Stracansky Last Modified: 17 Nov 2010 10:39 GMT

Glaciers cover more than four per cent of Kyrgystan, and scientists say the ice is melting [GALLO/GETTY]

Kyrgyzstan’s glaciers are receding at what scientists say is an alarming rate, fuelled by global warming.

And while experts warn of a subsequent catastrophe for energy and water security for Kyrgyzstan and neighbour states downstream reliant on its water flows, devastation to local ecosystems and the effects on plant and wildlife could be just as severe.

“Animals and vegetation will not be unaffected and the risks for some species will be great,” Ilia Domashov, deputy head of the BIOM Environmental NGO in Bishkek, said.

More than four percent – 8,400 square kilometres – of Kyrgyzstan’s territory consists of glaciers.

A natural process of water release from summer melting of the glaciers, which freeze again during the winter, feeds many of the country’s rivers and lakes.

Up to 90 per cent of water in Kyrgyzstan rivers comes from glaciers, local experts claim.

This flow of water is not just important to energy needs and farming, it also feeds interconnected ecosystems providing habitats for some of the world’s most diverse flora and fauna.

Kyrgyzstan’s biodiversity is among the greatest in the region and stretches through a variety of climatic habitats, ranging from glaciers to subtropical and temperate ecosystems.

Although it only covers 0.1 per cent of the world’s landmass, Kyrgyzstan is home to one percent of its species, according to reports submitted by the government to UN bodies.

A number of species are found only in Kyrgyzstan with endemic species and subspecies including over 200 plant species, more than 3,000 invertebrate species and 17 vertebrate species, as well as a further 47 sub-endemic vertebrates.

The country is home to some of the world’s rarest animals, such as the Marco Polo sheep, the Himalayan brown bear and the Siberian ibex, as well as the endangered snow leopard, whose habitat is closely linked to the glaciers.

The glaciers are a driving force behind these “unique” ecosystems in the region, scientists say.

“These glaciers are part of often unique mountain ecosystems. In some places one can go from a dry desert to lush green pastures in the space of two hours’ drive. Glaciers are driving much of that,” Dr Stephan Harrison, associate professor of quaternary science at the University of Exeter in the UK, said.

But scientists in Kyrgyzstan and at international climate monitoring bodies say that the glaciers have receded by as much as 35 per cent in the 20th century and the melting is becoming more rapid.

According to the Institute of Hydro Energy at the National Academy of Sciences in Bishkek the glaciers are now receding at a rate more than three times as in the 1950s.

Some groups say they have observed glaciers shrinking by 50 metres a year.

Local experts say glaciers have their own ecosystems.

Their melting water flows into the soil which affects vegetation which acts as food for animals at lower altitudes, some of which are prey for other animals and so on.

“Certain animals are deeply connected to the glaciers, such as the snow leopard, and they will be affected by the rapid melting. What will happen is that in the short term the level of underground water will rise but in the long term it will actually fall as glaciers disappear and this will have an impact on ecological systems around rivers,” BIOM’s Domashov said.

There are other serious threats to ecosystems from the process. As glaciers melt large deposits of sediment are deposited in valleys below.

This affects the local land and rivers and their existing ecosystems.

Glacial melting can also lead to huge floods as natural dams formed by the ice burst, sending lethal torrents down mountains and destroying entire forests.

There have also been warnings from local experts that the melting of the glaciers, combined with a predicted rise in temperatures, will lead to an increase in desertification.

The BIOM group told IPS studies it had been involved in predicted that climate change behind glacial melting could see a shifting of entire ecological belts with the altitudes of deserts, steppes, meadowlands and mountain regions shifting between 100 and 400 metres.

One of the country’s most prominent areas of biodiversity is the Issyk-Kul Lake.

At an altitude of 1,600 metres in the Tien-Shan mountains in the north of Kyrgyzstan it is the world’s second largest high mountain lake.

It has no water outlets and the rivers which flow into it are fed primarily by glacial waters.

It has over 20 species of fish in the lake alone.

A host of species live in the diverse landscapes around the lake which range from arid semi-deserts to the Tien-Shan mountain range – which is home to an estimated over 4,000 different native plant species.

The lake itself is also an important stop for migrating birds and as many as 80,000 water birds gather around it for wintering.

But its ecosystem could also be put in jeopardy by glacial melting.

Water level changes in the lake recorded in the last decade have been put down to melting glaciers.

Both falling and rising lake levels have been reported and some plant species have been destroyed by the changes to the water level.

In other cases the lake has been polluted as shoreside buildings were flooded and then toxins washed back into the lake.

In other areas locals say that they are already seeing the effects of glacial melting on the environment.

Farmers say rivers once fed by glaciers have begun to dry up and plants are dying out from lack of water in some areas.

Shepherds have told local media that they can no longer see some glaciers on mountains.

In Kyrgyzstan’s submission to the UN Framework Convention on Climate Change, published last year, it was predicted that the country’s glaciated area would recede by up to 95 per cent over the next century.

“Some of the glaciers will have gone by the end of our lifetimes. We must accept a degree of global warming now whatever we do because of all the CO2 in the atmosphere. All we can do is hope that it can be limited,” Dr Harrison said.

This article first appeared on the Inter Press Service News Agency.

http://english.aljazeera.net/indepth/features/2010/11/20101115135254194232.html

As the glaciers recede… (Ladakh)

Chennai,

MEENA MENON Ladakh has an unwelcome visitor: Climate change. Retreating glaciers, water scarcity and changes in traditional agricultural patterns are having an adverse impact on this fragile ecololgy.There’ s an old saying in Ladakh that only a dear friend or a serious enemy will reach here; the passes are so high and the land so harsh. Climate change falls in the latter category and is an unwelcome visitor to this remote region which tourists have happily discovered in the last few years or so. Water, or the lack of it, is the main worry for this generation and the next. While the world debates the effects of global warming, Ladakhis who are most vulnerable to the vagaries of nature, are living through it already. The many small glaciers in Ladakh have retreated, natural springs are reducing as also the water flow in the rivers. While there are no scientific studies yet to bear this out, it is the people who are living witnesses to this change.In the village of Stakmo near Leh, villagers testify to the receding glacier nearby, making agriculture very difficult. Over 80 per cent of the farmers in Ladakh depend on snow melt for their needs and any slight change in temperature is a catastrophe. High altitude wetlands are vulnerable to rising temperatures and Ms. Nisa Khatoon, Project Officer, Worldwide Fund for Nature (WWF) has led a study since 2000 to assess the impact of climate change on three major lakes in Ladakh, the Tso Moriri, Tso Kar and Pangong Tso. The lakes offer the only breeding grounds for the Black-necked Crane in India and key species found in the region include the snow leopard, Tibetan Gazelle, Tibetan Antelope, Musk Deer and Hangul. Highly endangered medicinal plants used in the Tibetan system of medicine also grow in the area.

Threat of tourism

The existing threat of climate change is exacerbated by tourism which coincides with the breeding season of the migratory birds, posing a major threat. For the first time, a regular uninterrupted survey on the status of the Black-necked Crane was conducted and during the survey, six new nesting sites were discovered, Ms. Khatoon points out. The study has produced data on the “Status and Breeding Productivity of Black-necked Crane” for more than eight years. Himalayan car rallies in wetland areas have been stopped in cooperation with tour operators too. Instead of this, to boost the local income, home-stays for national and international tourists have become popular.The WWF has also recorded widespread changes as a result of the rise in temperatures and the subsequent snow melt in Ladakh, mainly through oral histories. Eyewitnesses have spoken of glaciers like Siachen, Khardung and Stok in Ladakh, which have either receded or almost disappeared in about a decade. Along with this comes a change in migration routes of nomadic tribes and an increase in the frequency and intensity of pest attacks, particularly the locust, due to rising temperatures.In the Changthang region, where there are 22 wetlands, people of the nomadic tribe, the Changpas, acutely feel climate change. They are dependent on livestock and rear the famous Pashmina goats for their wool. Since about six years, the migration routes of the Changpas have changed due to decrease in pasture land. Untimely snowfall has led to a loss of livestock as well, says Ms. Khatoon. In the Tso Moriri and Tso Kar lakes, migratory birds are coming earlier than expected and one pair of Black-necked Cranes have not migrated. The wild rose blooms now in May instead of June. The Changpas used to extract salt from the brackish lakes but since the water level has risen over the years, this too has stopped. In the Tso Kar area there are 60 Changpa families which have to frequently migrate, while in Tso Moriri, 22 families have settled down there.The summers are getting warmer and winters too and pests like the coddling moth are now found everywhere, says Tundup Angmo of GERES India, an NGO. Rain and snowfall are showing a decreasing trend, according to a baseline survey in 20 villages in Leh and Kargil areas which was conducted by GERES along with experts. In Kargil, water shortage has hit farmers and two villages were relocated in the Zanskar as a result. The cultivation of wheat is now possible due to the warmer climate and the sowing of barely is now pushed to May instead of June.

Urgent concern

Water shortage has led to hotels in Leh digging borewells, some 100 feet deep for water supply and in the Karzu area in Leh, this has led to the drying up of natural streams, says Ms. Khatoon. Concern about water is uppermost in the minds of every Ladakhi. The Women’s Alliance of Ladakh, which spearheaded the successful campaign banning plastic bags in Ladakh, is one of the groups which has members in every village in Ladakh. Fifty-seven-year-old Kunzes Dolma, vice president of the Alliance formed 23 years ago, has been addressing local environmental concerns. Now it has teamed up with the NGO Navdhanya to conduct a survey on climate change in villages, based on a ready questionnaire which asks for information on awareness of climate change, evidence, and environmental changes, apart from changes in agriculture patterns, rainfall and snowfall. The Alliance has initiated several meetings on climate change already.

Lifestyle changes

Kunzes recalls colder winters when she was a child. Now the winters are warmer, she says. The quality of food was tastier then and now vegetables like capsicum, brinjal and cucumber are being grown. There is increased use of pesticides and the Alliance is campaigning against this as well.There is a huge concern about the melting glaciers, and lack of water and even livestock rearing is reducing now with more and more people preferring to look for jobs. The traditional “goncha” a warm woolen dress is not much preferred now. Traditional homes in Ladakh have been designed using ecological and climatic wisdom. However, those mud houses are being replaced by cement structures. Clearly, there is also a cultural aspect to the climate change here. “Our aim is to promote nature conservation and our culture. The modern generation is dropping all our old ways of life and the explosion of cars is damaging the environment,” says Ms. Dolma.Local and global links need to be forged to address climate change if regions like Ladakh are to be rescued from their vulnerability. The question is, who is listening?Keywords: Ladakh, Leh and Kargil, environment http://beta.thehindu.com/arts/magazine/article60508.ece


KYRGYZSTAN: By 2050, only 2% of glaciers may remain and temperatures could increase by 4-6 degrees centigrade by the end of the century

KYRGYZSTAN: Fewer glaciers = more deserts

BISHKEK, 16 November 2009 (IRIN) – Rapidly melting glaciers in mountainous regions of Kyrgyzstan over the next few decades could lead to increased desertification and land degradation, according to experts.

By the end of the century, we could see temperatures rising 4-6 degrees centigrade, and by 2050 the number of glaciers could fall from 8,200 to 142, Zukhra Abaikhanova, environment programme adviser with the UN Development Programme (UNDP) in Kyrgyzstan, told IRIN. The figures are also contained in Kyrgyzstan‘s submission to the UN Framework Convention on Climate Change.

“In the last few decades, we have witnessed the melting of our glaciers. Many have disappeared… The result could be desertification and soil degradation,” she said.

According to Bakyta Mamytova, a specialist in mountain soil biology at the Kyrgyz Academy of Sciences, such a temperature rise, assuming precipitation remains at its current level, would lead to increasing desertification.

The result would be soil erosion which “could affect living standards, the economy and the environment. We are experiencing this today already,” Mamytova said.

Deputy Director of the State Agency for the Preservation of the Environment and Forestry Aitkul Burkhanov said some of the land currently used in Central Asia for grazing and growing crops may not be fit for purpose in a few decades.

He said glacier melt would reduce the amount of water available for drinking and irrigation.

Agricultural zoning

Ninety percent of all water in the country is used for irrigation, said UNDP’s Abaikhanova. We need to reconsider “agricultural zoning” to ensure food security; and more efficient use of water at household and state level needs to be implemented, she said.

On “agricultural zoning” (moving crops to other areas or introducing new ones), Abaikhanova said work on that front was just beginning. “There will be a pilot project in the northern province of Chui. The main aim is to assess the prospects of agricultural adaption in the identified area, taking into consideration climate, temperature and humidity changes… We need to identify how the soil will change, what type of adaption measures will be needed in crop production, animal husbandry and preserving pasturelands in Kyrgyzstan.” A June 2009 World Bank report entitled Adapting to Climate Change in Europe and Central Asia warned that climate change’s impact in the Europe and Central Asia Region could be exacerbated by post-Soviet era environmental mismanagement and poor infrastructure.

Marianne Fay, the author of the report, said: “Increases in temperature are affecting hydrology, with a rapid melting of the region’s glaciers and a decrease in winter snows. Many countries are already suffering from winter floods and summer droughts – with both southeastern Europe and Central Asia at risk of severe water shortages. Summer heat waves are expected to claim more lives than will be saved by warmer winters.”

A joint report, entitled Global Glacier Changes: facts and figures, by the UN Environment Programme and the World Glacier Monitoring Service released on 1 September 2008 said mountain ranges in Central Asia function as water towers for millions of people. “Glacier runoff thereby is an important freshwater resource in arid regions as well as during the dry seasons in monsoonal affected regions,” the report said, adding that during the 20th century, the glacier area is estimated to have decreased by 25-35 percent in the Tien Shan area of Kyrgyzstan.

gm/at/jk/cbhttp://www.irinnews.org/Report.aspx?Reportid=87051

Climate change ‘fans Nepal fires’

By Navin Singh Khadka
BBC Nepali Service

At least four protected areas were on fire for an unusually long time until just a few days ago.

Nasa’s satellite imagery showed most of the big fires were in and around the national parks along the country’s northern areas bordering Tibet.

Active fires were recorded in renowned conservation success stories like the Annapurna, Kanchanjunga, Langtang and Makalu Barun national parks.

The extent of the loss of flora and fauna is not yet known.

Press reports said more than 100 yaks were killed by fire in the surrounding areas of the Kanjanchanga National Park in eastern Nepal.

Trans-Himalayan parks host rare species such as snow leopards, red pandas and several endangered birds.

Carbon source

More than the loss of plants and animals, the carbon dioxide emitted by the fires was a matter of concern, according to Ghanashyam Gurung, a director at WWF’s Nepal office.

Some of the national parks in the plains bordering India were also on fire, but those caused less concern among conservationists and forest officials.

“Fires in the protected areas in the plain lands can be controlled easily because we have logistics and manpower ready for that – and that is what we did this time,” said Laxmi Manandhar, spokesman for Nepal‘s Department of National Parks and Wildlife Conservation.

“But in the national parks in the Himalayan region, we could hardly do anything because of the difficult geography. Nor do we have facilities of pouring water using planes and helicopters.”

Forest fires in Nepal‘s jungles and protected areas are not uncommon during the dry season between October and January.

Most of the fires come about as a consequence of the “slash and burn” practice that farmers employ for better vegetation and agricultural yields.

But this time the fires remained out of control even in the national parks in the Himalayan region where the slash and burn practice is uncommon.

In some of the protected areas, the fires flared up even after locals and officials tried to put them out for several days.

High and dry

So, why were the fires so different this time?

“The most obvious reason was the unusually long dry spell this year,” says Mr Gurung, just back in Kathmandu from Langtang National Park to the north of the capital.

“The dryness has been so severe that pine trees in the Himalayan region are thoroughly dry even on the top, which means even a spark is enough to set them on fire.”

For nearly six months, no precipitation has fallen across most of the country – the longest dry spell in recent history, according to meteorologists.

“This winter was exceptionally dry,” says Department of Hydrology and Meteorology chief Nirmal Rajbhandari.

“We have seen winter becoming drier and drier in the last three or four years, but this year has set the record.”

Rivers are running at their lowest, and because most of Nepal‘s electricity comes from hydropower, the country has been suffering power cuts up to 20 hours a day.

Experts at the department said the severity of dryness fits in the pattern of increasing extreme weather Nepal has witnessed in recent years.

Had it not been for recent drizzles, conservationists say some of the national parks would still be on fire.

They point to “cloud burst phenomena” – huge rainfall within a short span of time during monsoons, and frequent, sudden downpours in the Himalayan foothills – as more examples of extreme weather events.

“Seeing all these changes happening in recent years, we can contend that this dryness that led to so much fire is one of the effects of climate change,” said Mr Rajbhandari.

Anil Manandhar, head of WWF Nepal, had this to ask: Are we waiting for a bigger disaster to admit that it is climate change?

“The weather pattern has changed, and we know that there are certain impacts of climate change.”

Gaps in the record

However, climate change expert Arun Bhakta Shrestha of the Kathmandu-based International Centre for Integrated Mountain Development (ICIMOD) was cautious about drawing conclusions.

“The prolonged dryness this year, like other extreme events in recent years, could be related to climate change but there is no proper basis to confirm that.

“The reason (why there is no confirmation) is lack of studies, observation and data that could have helped to reach into some conclusion regarding the changes.”

Indeed, there has been no proper study of the impacts of climate change on the region: not just in Nepal but in the entire Hindu Kush Himalayas.

This is the reason why the region has been dubbed as a “white spot” by experts, including the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change.

Limited studies have shown that temperature in the Himalayas has been increasing on average by 0.06 degrees annually, causing glaciers to melt and retreat faster.

The meltdown has been rapidly filling up many glacial lakes that could break their moraines and burst out, sweeping away everything downstream.

In Nepal and neighbouring countries, these “glacial lake outburst floods” and monsoon-related floods resulting from erratic rainfalls are at present the most talked-about disasters in the context of climate change.

If conservationists’ and meteorologists’ latest fears mean anything, forest fires may also be something that would be seen as one of the climate impacts.

In the wake of the 2007 United Nations climate change conference in Bali, Nepal has been preparing to join an international effort known as Reducing Emission from Deforestation and Degradation (REDD).

But if the forest fires it saw this year became a regular phenomenon, the country will instead be emitting increased carbon dioxide into the atmosphere – a case of climate science’s not very aptly-named “positive feedback”.

http://news.bbc.co.uk/2/hi/science/nature/7968745.stm

Seminar Announcement: The Challenge of Development in Energy-related Projects and Climate Change Adaptation Strategies in the Cold Regions of Asia

In partnership with the GTZ (German Technical Cooperation), the European Union, ADEME (French Environment and Energy Management Agency) and Fondation Ensemble, GERES (Group Renewable Energy, Environment and

Solidarity), an international French NGO specialised in energy and climate change issues, is organising a regional seminar on ‘The Challenge of Development in Energy-related Projects and Climate Change Adaptation Strategies in the Cold Regions of Asia’, to be held from April 21 to 24 2009 in Leh, Ladakh, Jammu&Kashmir, India. Should you wish to contribute(abstracts will be received until 2 February 2009) or participate, kindly visit our website on http://india.geres.eu/seminar.php for more details and registration.

If you need any financial support, you may request it and your demand will be reviewed by the organizing committee during the month of February.

For more information:

http://india.geres.eu/seminar.php

Download the official brochure

http://india.geres.eu/docs/seminar.pdf

Mr. Vincent Stauffer

v.stauffer@geres.eu

Country Representative