The impacts of climate change in the Himalayas are real. Melting glaciers, erratic and unpredictable weather conditions, changing rainfall patterns, and increasing temperatures are impacting on the people and wildlife of the region.
Global temperatures and sea levels are rising, and possibly contributing to larger more devastating storms. This can all be contributed to climate change. Climate change is defined as gradual changes in all the interconnected weather elements on our planet over approximately 30 years. The data shows the Earth is warming and it’s up to us to make the changes necessary for a healthier planet.
Climate change is the long-term alteration of temperature and typical weather patterns in a place. Climate change could refer to a particular location or the planet as a whole. Climate change may cause weather patterns to be less predictable. These unexpected weather patterns can make it difficult to maintain and grow crops in regions that rely on farming because expected temperature and rainfall levels can no longer be relied on. Thus, climate change has a direct bearing upon the food security of vulnerable communities in low income countries like Nepal. Climate change has also been connected with other damaging weather events such as more frequent and more intense monsoon, floods, downpours, and winter storms.
In polar regions, the warming global temperatures associated with climate change have meant ice sheets and glaciers are melting at an accelerated rate from season to season. This contributes to sea levels rising in different regions of the planet. Together with expanding ocean waters due to rising temperatures, the resulting rise in sea level has begun to damage coastlines as a result of increased flooding and erosion.
The cause of current climate change is largely human activity, like burning fossil fuels, like natural gas, oil, and coal. Burning these materials releases what are called greenhouse gases into Earth’s atmosphere. There, these gases trap heat from the sun’s rays inside the atmosphere causing Earth’s average temperature to rise. This rise in the planet’s temperature is called global warming. The warming of the planet impacts local and regional climates. Throughout Earth’s history, climate has continually changed. When occurring naturally, this is a slow process that has taken place over hundreds and thousands of years. The human influenced climate change that is happening now is occuring at a much faster rate.
Himalayas: A global hotspot
The Himalayas is one of the world’s most sensitive hotspots to global climate change, with impacts manifesting at a particularly rapid rate. A situation that is predicted to intensify in coming years, with dire and far-reaching impacts on food, water and energy security, as well as biodiversity and species loss. Not just in the Himalayas, but throughout Asia and other continents.
The Water Towers of Asia
The Himalayan glaciers are the water towers of Asia, and the source of many of the world’s great rivers: The Yangtze, the Ganges, the Indus and the Mekong. Over a billion people depend directly on the Himalayas for their survival, with over 500 million people in South Asia, and another 450 million in China completely reliant on the health of this fragile mountain landscape.
Climate change in the Himalayas poses a serious threat to the source of these great rivers with dire and far-reaching impacts on biodiversity, food, water and energy security. Vulnerable nations must therefore move rapidly to build resilience to these impacts and adapt to the changing climate.
The Nepal Context: Climate Change and Food Security
Food insecurity and malnutrition is one of the major health issues caused by climate change. It is irrefutably the most important consequence to the poor and least developed countries like Nepal where about quarter of the population are living in poverty. When the underlying population is starving and the fact that food security directly impacts human health is evident, all other problems besides being food secure becomes secondary. To aggravate the situation further, the constantly changing climatic pattern is constantly threatening the major basis of livelihood of the country i.e. agriculture.
According to the Central Bureau of Statistics (CBS) of Nepal, “over the last decade, around 30,845 hectares of land owned by almost five percent of households became uncultivable due to the climate-related hazards”. Majority of the land under cultivation (76%) is rain-fed which has been affected by the erratic patterns of rainfall, drought, flash floods, landslide et cetera over the years. The reduced winter crop production due to lower post-monsoon precipitation directs a concern of food security amongst those residing in Hill and Mountain areas that are economically and environmentally highly vulnerable to climate changes.
Ranked 4th under Climate Vulnerability Index, it is not easier for Nepal to jump out of the vulnerable condition mainly due to the tough topographic barrier and low infrastructural sufficiency. The most relevant example of how unprepared we are to the climate-related risks is the occurrence of flash flood in 2017 which caused 80% of the southern agricultural belt to submerge in water causing a loss of about 57 million USD of agricultural crops and also claimed hundreds of lives.
Rice, which is a staple crop of the nation is also the crop which is most affected by water hazards. The food security of the country depends more on the production of rice than other crops which contribute 45% to the edible food grain production on a domestic scale. Looking at the extent of damage the current flash flood has done to the Terai “The Breadbasket of the nation” which occupies the largest share of rice producing area, it is not too difficult to imagine a food insecure future that our unpreparedness to disasters is certain to follow.
FAO (2006) reports that climate change will affect all four dimensions of food security, namely food availability, access to food, the stability of food supplies and food utilization. Climate variability and change could affect food security and nutrition through a combination of reduced food production, higher food prices, and lower food utilization due to increased infections and more intense and frequent climate-related disasters, which could negatively affect livelihoods and access to critical health and social facilities.
Poor diet diversity is a serious problem across much of Nepal where malnutrition plays a role in 60 percent of child deaths. About 518,000 children under five years of age are suffering from acute under-nutrition, or wasting, and have a heightened risk of morbidity and mortality. Food insecurity is more intense in remote mountain terrain outbacks where the lack of access to food combined with poverty, directly affects the nutritional status of the family.
Most of the families battling malnutrition are entrapped within the vicious cycle of poverty. Climate change not only affects agricultural production and availability of food in Nepal but also creates a negative impact on access to food for the poor, reducing their purchasing power and hence pushing them further towards the whirlpool of food insecurity and malnutrition.
The incidences like Glacier Lake Outburst Floods in Himalayan region, inundations in Terai, unpredictable weather incidences like the shift of monsoon period etc has been an evidence of increasing climate hazards. Though the Government of Nepal has a policy of increasing food production to meet the domestic food need, the food production is getting threatened by climate change affecting the mission to achieve long-term food security at the national level.
Mt. Everest Forest Botanicals Alliance (MEFBA) in strategic partnership with Federation of Community Forestry Users Nepal (FECOFUN) is working with the various actors and stakeholders of the Himalayas to reduce the negative impacts of climate change, whilst maintaining biodiversity and ecosystem services. We, in our climate action strategic partnership, fully adopt, endorse and embrace the following UN Climate Actions as key towards achieving the desired Sustainable Development Goal 13 targets. And further, the following ‘Framework of Cooperation’ will be the basic system of guiding principles for all of its community based interventions of livelihoods and environment conservation:
Themes of the Guiding Principles are :
- Ensuring food security and securing livelihoods.
- Securing the natural freshwater systems of the Himalayas.
- Securing biodiversity and ensuring its sustainable use.
- Ensuring energy security and enhancing alternative technologies.
Sustainable Development Goals: Their Impacts on Forests and People
Climate Action – SDG 13
Climate change causes changes in forests, their ecological functions and eco- system services. Many of these changes will negatively impact people, plants, animals and microorganisms that depend on forests. SDG 13 aims to reduce greenhouse gas emissions that cause climate change and to drive adaptation actions. Current commitments are insufficient to reach the Paris Agreement goals of restricting global warming to less than 2°C and increasing the resil- ience of vulnerable communities. Better forest and land management can con- tribute up to 20 percent of the Paris goals while increasing community and ecosystem resilience, and can therefore help progress towards reaching the Paris Agreement goals. Strong synergies between SDG 13 and forests can drive investment in sustainable forest management, forest restoration and forest conservation. However, achieving these synergies is challenged by unsustain- able forest exploitation and pressures to develop land for agriculture, urban areas and infrastructure. Maximising potential synergies between forests and SDG 13 requires long-term finance and local collaboration; currently, only 3 percent of climate finance is dedicated to forest actions, and much less is used for local implementation. Improved forest management and conservation can be achieved through a more efficient use of finances, increased investment from public and private sectors and stronger commitment to local actions.
Climate Action Goal 13: Take urgent action to combat climate change and its impacts
2019 was the second warmest year on record and the end of the warmest decade (2010- 2019) ever recorded.
Carbon dioxide (CO2) levels and other greenhouse gases in the atmosphere rose to new records in 2019.
Climate change is affecting every country on every continent. It is disrupting national economies and affecting lives. Weather patterns are changing, sea levels are rising, and weather events are becoming more extreme.
Although greenhouse gas emissions are projected to drop about 6 per cent in 2020 due to travel bans and economic slowdowns resulting from the COVID-19 pandemic, this improvement is only temporary. Climate change is not on pause. Once the global economy begins to recover from the pandemic, emissions are expected to return to higher levels.
Saving lives and livelihoods requires urgent action to address both the pandemic and the climate emergency.
The Paris Agreement, adopted in 2015, aims to strengthen the global response to the threat of climate change by keeping a global temperature rise this century well below 2 degrees Celsius above pre-industrial levels. The agreement also aims to strengthen the ability of countries to deal with the impacts of climate change, through appropriate financial flows, a new technology framework and an enhanced capacity building framework.
The UN Sustainable Development Goal 13 targets
13.1 Strengthen resilience and adaptive capacity to climate-related hazards and natural disasters in all countries
13.2 Integrate climate change measures into national policies, strategies and planning
13.3 Improve education, awareness-raising and human and institutional capacity on climate change mitigation, adaptation, impact reduction and early warning
13.A Implement the commitment undertaken by developed-country parties to the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change to a goal of mobilizing jointly $100 billion annually by 2020 from all sources to address the needs of developing countries in the context of meaningful mitigation actions and transparency on implementation and fully operationalize the Green Climate Fund through its capitalization as soon as possible
13.B Promote mechanisms for raising capacity for effective climate change-related planning and management in least developed countries and small island developing States, including focusing on women, youth and local and marginalized communities
*Acknowledging that the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change is the primary international, intergovernmental forum for negotiating the global response to climate change.