For the Himalayas, hydrologic variability poses problems that range from migrating plant species to drought to monsoon flooding. Although not all of these are necessarily driven solely by climate change, they will almost certainly be impacted by a changing climate. And while these changes will impact nearly 1/5 of the world’s population, the way in which precipitation and temperature are likely to change in the future is not well known. The complex terrain and steep climatic gradients of the Himalayas make pinpointing probable changes difficult.
The International Center for Integrated Mountain Development (ICIMOD) – a regional intergovernmental organization consisting of Afghanistan, Bangladesh, Bhutan, China, Myanmar, Nepal and Pakistan – recently announced that they are launching a three-year study on the state of the Himalayas. The proposed study is reminiscent of a regional IPCC report in that it aims to address the state of scientific knowledge on the impacts of climate change for the Himalayas, and how the mountain range may be preserved as a resource for future generations.
The announcement comes as a welcome indication of how intergovernmental bodies can provide regionally relevant scientific consultation to policy makers, even as the countries involved continue to focus on developing their resources. As I discussed in my previous post, many of the countries involved (including Bhutan) are already experiencing the impact of climate change on their water resources. The dependence of Himalayan countries on the mountain water storage and runofff puts them in a particularly vulnerable position when it comes to climate change. Any change in glacial water storage or patterns of rainfall impacts not only their water – and therefore agriculture and food security – but also their power generation.
I strongly believe that the development of national and intergovernmental organizations aimed at better understanding regional changes in climate will benefit not only the countries involved, but the wider climate science community. The most immediate impact of such organizations will be the focused scientific attention devoted to a regional issue, but I believe the impact of such science will pale in comparison to the indirect effects. Such efforts are likely to encourage an interest in the sciences from the general population and policy makers, but perhaps more importantly they will provide a national sense of pride in scientific achievement. If making decisions based on climate science becomes a priority, then these nations are likely to invest in developing technical infrastructure and training future scientists, both of which will benefit the community at large in the long run.