Home >Lounge >Features >Climate Change Tracker: Protecting the Himalaya

In last week’s column we looked at the effects of a rapidly warming climate on melting Himalayan glaciers and the dire effects that is having on high-altitude forests and animals. Slowly being squeezed out of their ecological niche, they will be endangered in a matter of decades. Since near-term climate change predictions are made for 2050, the time to protect glaciers is probably already past. But what of that familiar and beloved Himalayan landscape of rhododendron groves, burrowing pikas, sweeping griffons and valleys full of wildflower blooms?

The landmark Hindu Kush Himalaya (HKH) Assessment Report from the International Centre for Integrated Mountain Development (Icimod), which was published in February, has some suggestions. Of the eight Asian countries that are part of Icimod, China and India account for the largest numbers of protected areas (PAs), 221 and 135, respectively. In India, the cumulative area under PAs is 62,417 sq. km, including such important areas as the Nanda Devi National Park in Uttarakhand and the Khangchendzonga National Park in Sikkim.

The Icimod report suggests that for conservation in the age of climate change, apart from PAs, governments need to change focus to encourage participatory forest resource management practices, which protect rural livelihoods, and give real credence to the role played by traditional knowledge to help conservation. According to Icimod, regions with robust community-based approaches have largely had positive ecological, economic and social impacts.

Again, given the very nature of the HKH region, transboundary international cooperation is key. There are some good examples of this, including two programmes that Icimod runs. One is the Kailash Sacred Landscape Conservation and Development Intiative (KSLCDI), a regional cooperation framework between India, Nepal and China. Its job is to establish mechanisms for cross-border cooperation to protect connected ecosystems, reduce threats to biodiversity and improve livelihoods. The KSLCDI, which began in 2012, covers 31,252 sq. km, and an altitude range of 390-7,694m and 14 major watersheds. There’s a similar Khangchendzonga Landscape Conservation and Development Initiative (KLCDI) between India, Bhutan and Nepal in the Eastern Himalaya.

The HKH Assessment Report advises member countries to closely monitor changes within PAs brought about by global warming, so that conservation policies adapt to changing needs and pressures. According to the report, we will be better equipped to save our biodiversity by integrating Himalayan peoples and their knowledge and tradition systems.

Time is, as usual, of the essence, because of what’s at stake. For instance, the Nanda Devi National Park in Uttarakhand, one of the HKH’s many PAs. A Unesco World Heritage Site, it also includes the Valley of Flowers, and together covers 712.1 sq. km of two different valley systems, forming a transition zone between the Great Himalayan Range and the trans-Himalayan Zaskar Range that fringes the Tibetan plateau. It covers a staggering number of glaciers, many major headwater tributaries of the Ganga and a huge variety of flora and fauna from both the Palearctic and Indomalayan biogeographic realms. It’s also home to the Bhotiya people, with their rich and unique cultural practices. A climate change-led breakdown will affect them all.

In next week's column we discuss Diwali and air quality. Follow the series with #MintClimateTracker

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