Global warming is the gradual rise in earth’s surface temperature due to the effect of greenhouse gases released from burning fossil fuels and deforestation. Over the period of 1880-2012, the combined land-ocean temperature increased by 0.85° Celsius. Global average temperature is expected to rise between 1.4 – 5.8°C in the next 100 years.
A recent report by Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) confirmed that human activities are ‘dominant cause’ of global warming since 1950s (IPCC, 2014).The climate change alters hydrological systems through precipitation change or melting of snow or ice and affects the quantity of available water, seasonal activities, and migration patterns.
In this post, I focus on global warming’s consequences in South Asian regions and the imminent need to collaborate to identify and reduce climate change related risks.
Serious Consequences of Global Warming
Impact in glaciers melting: The temperature rise is accelerating snow melting rate. The Himalayan glaciers lost 174 gigatonnes of water between 2003 and 2009 (Gardner et. al, 2013). China experienced 5.5% shrinking of its total glaciers, an equivalent to more than 3000 sq km of ice (Bajracharya, 2008). Bhutan saw 8.1% decrease in its 66 glaciers during 1963 to 1993 (Karma et al., 2003). Similarly, Nepal’s Khumbu and Shorang regions’ glaciers shrank by 8 m/year and 5-10 m/year, respectively.
Melting of ice and snow also increases water volume in the glacial lakes. The glacial-lake outburst floods pose significant threats in downstream by damaging infrastructures, agriculture lands, and human lives.
Change in rain patterns and precipitation levels: Increase in global temperature shifts snow melting (run off water) earlier in the spring or winter. As a result, there will be reduced flows during dry summer season (Barnett et al., 2005). The main causes of recent droughts of California and Colorado are less snowfall in winter and early melting in winter/spring.
Floods, landslides, and rise in sea levels: The recent heavy rains and shift of Monsoon seasons have caused massive casualties all over South Asian regions. Some of the recent incidents are:
- Uttarakhanda’s flash flood and landslides resulting in thousands of casualties and economic loss of US$500 million to $2 billion (Pandit, 2013).
- Monsoon flood in Pakistan in 2010 took 2000 lives with a cost of $40 billion.
- Nepal’s flood and landslides of August 2014 affected 34,760 families (173,800 people), of which 5,936 families (29,680 people) were displaced.
- Rise in sea levels and its impact in Maldives (see documentary Island President) and Bangladesh.
Downstream Water availability and water sharing: Himalayan melted snow is the source of water for most of the rivers flowing in South Asian region. The Hindu Kush–Karakoram–Himalayan glaciers are a source of water for the quarter of global population that lives in south Asia (Laghari, 2013b).There will be less water available in future due to shrinking glaciers. Water distribution between countries will be tricky and political. And even within a region, prioritizing water across different sectors will be challenging.
Impact on Energy Sector: The decrease in water availability in rivers affects countries that heavily depend on hydro-generated electricity. A reduction of 1% flow of water will decrease electricity output by 3% (Laghari, 2013a). Nepal is already experiencing demand-supply difference between dry and wet season and this gap will only going to increase in future. It will be challenging to maintain a reliable and adequate electricity system without diversifying Nepal’s electricity resources. I will write about this in detail in next post.
Serious consequences, but no consensus
The climate change topic gathers lot of attention and discussions in inter-governmental meetings. The recent UN Convention, Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation meeting, and G-20 meeting are just few examples. However, why can’t global leaders work together to reverse the global warming trend? This is a situation of ‘tragedy of commons’ – an economic phenomenon where individuals act in their self-interest in contrary to whole group’s long term best interest. The local economic activities fuels global warming, however its impact is shared across regions. Moreover, there is also argument from lesser developed countries that the observed global warming impact is caused by economic activities of developed countries. And they argue that the moral responsibility of addressing climate change falls primarily to developed economies.
South Asian Countries most vulnerable
Climate Investment Funds of World Bank ranks Nepal fourth most climate vulnerable country due to its wide variation topography, largely poor and resource dependent population, and weak institutional capacity to manage such risks (Climate Investment Funds, 2014). A separate UN report lists India, Sri Lanka, Pakistan, and Bangladesh in as one of the ‘12 Countries Most at Risk’ for drought, flood, storm, and agriculture. There is a need of regional co-operation to join forces in implementing tougher energy policies and minimize risks associated with the climate change.
Regional cooperation is the Key
The South Asian Association of Regional Cooperation (SAARC) can be a perfect place to find a common agenda. Nepal being one of the most vulnerable countries should initiate conversation. Some of the ways that regional governments can cooperate are
- Seek a collaborative approach for developing a robust model to track snow melting, river flows, and predict flood risks.
- Create international network
- Generate awareness about human, capital, and geological risks associated with global warming and its threat to the Himalayan region.
- South Asian countries should press harder on India to share more responsibility in addressing global warming issues. It is understandable that India would like to use cheap fossil fuels to meet its energy demands. However, being the biggest democracy in the world and major carbon emissions emitter in the region, they can’t just shy away and ignore the implications of global warming.
In this post, I discussed the inevitable climate change and its implication in South Asian regions. The risks of global warming are massive – increased in snow melting, flood, and landslides; change in rain patterns; and reduction in downstream water availability. It is imperative that regional governments work together to better identify and minimize catastrophic events triggered by climate change.
 The 90% confidence interval of temperature growth is [0.65 °C to 1.06 °C].
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Gardner, A. S., Moholdt, G., Cogley, J. G., Wouters, B., Arendt, A. A., Wahr, J., … & Paul, F. (2013). A reconciled estimate of glacier contributions to sea level rise: 2003 to 2009. Science, 340(6134), 852-857.
IPCC (2014). “Climate Change 2014.” (n.d.): n. pag. 2 Nov. 2014
IRINnews,. (2014). GLOBAL: Twelve countries on climate change hit-list. Retrieved 17 November 2014.
Laghari, J. Climate Change: Melting Glaciers Bring Energy Uncertainty. Nature.com. Nature Publishing Group, 30 Oct. 2013. Web. 13 Nov. 2014.
ReliefWeb,. (2014). Nepal: Landslides and Floods Information Bulletin n°1 (as of 17 August 2014). Retrieved 17 November 2014.