Kashmir, Jammu and Ladakh could heat up by 7 degrees Celsius by 21005 min read . Updated: 05 Aug 2020, 11:22 AM IST
According to a new report, the western Himalayan region comprising Jammu, Kashmir and Ladakh could heat up to catastrophic levels by the end of the century due to climate change
The 2015 Paris Climate Agreement, under the auspices of the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC), stipulated that UN member states should work together to limit global temperature rise to a 2 degree Celsius above pre-industrial levels, by 2100. A more optimistic goal set by the UNFCCC urged countries to further limit this rise to 1.5 degree Celsius. The landmark Hindu Kush Himalaya Assessment report (2019), prepared by the International Centre for Integrated Mountain Development (ICIMOD), found that due to higher altitudes, an 1.5 degree Celsius rise would result in the Himalayan region heating up by 2.1 degree Celsius on average.
A new study, Twenty-First Century-End Climate Scenario of Jammu And Kashmir Himalaya, India, Using Ensemble Climate Models published in the Climatic Change journal on 29 July, takes a closer look at warming scenarios in the western Himalaya. Prepared by a team of researchers from the University of Kashmir, the report presents an overview of the Kashmir Himalaya, comprising the Pir Panjal Range, the Greater Himalayan Range, the Kashmir valley, and the Zanskar, Ladakh and Karakoram Ranges.
According to the report, the region could heat up by 3.98-6.93 degrees Celsius by 2099. The models depicting this range of heating have been prepared keeping in mind variable future greenhouse gas (GHG) emission scenarios, called representative concentration pathways (RCPs). Under the mid-emission RCP4.5 scenario, the region will heat up by almost 4 degrees Celsius. Under a business-as-usual emission scenario of RCP8.5, the heating could rise to almost 7 degrees Celsius. The region, which is home to the full spectrum of Himalayan climate zones, from sub tropical areas to cold deserts, will be severely affected. While sub tropical climatic zones would increase by 7.8%-13.1%, cold deserts like Ladakh would shrink by 8.3%-21.9%. According to the ICIMOD report, even a 2.1 degree rise in temperaturesin the Himalaya would result in 90% of the snow disappearing by 2100.
The report was prepared as a part of a research project under the National Mission of Himalayan Studies, funded by the Ministry of Environment, Forests and Climate Change (MoEFCC). Shakil Ahmad Romshoo, a geoscientist with the University of Kashmir, is the lead author of this study. Mint spoke to Romshoo on the findings of the study, the impact of the projected temperature rise on the life and biodiversity in the region, and mitigation and adaptation strategies. Edited excerpts:
How reliable are these projections?
There’s always uncertainty in the projections but not necessarily because of the science involved. It’ll be on factors like who the next prime minister of India will be, whether he will tax power and gasoline, or what the prevalent socio-economic factors will be. We never imagined there will be a covid-19-like situation or that our GDP will reduce because of political undercurrents, for example. But the projections are based on an average of seven likely IPCC (UN Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change) scenarios.
What are be the possible consequences of such drastic rise in temperature?
This study focuses on Jammu, Kashmir, Ladakh as well as the part of J&K across the border (as per the Indian map). One of the most important things in the region is glaciers. Increase in temperatures will increase the melting of glaciers. It would mean the cold desert region in Ladakh and Gilgit-Balochistan will shrink. A 6-7 degree Celsius rise will affect biodiversity, it will make the area more feasible for vegetation. The area under agriculture will also likely increase.
The Kashmir valley has a temperate climate. There are places like Pahalgam and Gulmarg, where you feel cold even in July or August. As per this study, you will not have this situation. The temperate climate zone in Kashmir might not exist by the end of the century.
Jammu has a sub-tropical climate. Here, some eco-zones and climate zones too might vanish. All of these factors will affect biodiversity and water availability in the region.
How will it impact the life of people in the region?
In Kashmir, we have the highest per capita water availability. But as per these projections, we’ll have a severe water crisis. Water will be rationed. As the availability reduces by the end of the century, it will affect the hydropower generation as well.
The projections also show an impact on agriculture, horticulture and tourism. We’re a rice-eating people. We might have to start importing rice. Horticulture today gives a revenue of Rs9,000 cr. The government says it has the potential to grow up to Rs30,000 cr. If we invest in this and there are no efforts to resist climate change, it will be an economic disaster. Similarly, the winter tourism might reduce because of little snow, summer tourism might reduce because of little water in places like Dal lake.
What are the mitigation scenarios to prevent this rise in temperatures?
We have to keep in mind how climate change has impacted us over the past century. It’s increased around 1 degree Celsius globally (1.2 degrees Celsius) but up to 1.4 degrees in Kashmir. Now we’re saying up to 7 degrees. If you allow this situation to exist, 84% of glaciers will not be there.
Climate change is a global phenomenon. Actions taken should also be global. Regions like the Himalayas will be the worst hit. One way to bring down global warming is to increase green cover. We should also look at the air quality deterioration. Development is okay, but it needs to strike a balance between with the environment. We can take lessons from Bhutan on how to conserve the environment. Or from Japan, that has 68% country under forest.
India projects itself as one of the leading investors in renewable energy. Are the ongoing efforts enough?
At a policy level, we’re doing okay. For example, coal power is a big source of energy in India. We’ve committed significantly to reduce its consumption in Paris Agreement. But how far it is implemented on ground is a different story.
We’ve committed to increasing the use of renewable energy but there should be efforts to make it mainstream. The government buildings, for example, come with solar panels, but how much of that is an alternative to coal? The climate commitments should reflect in the scale of implementation.