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The Changing Himalayas
Conclusions uncertainties, to other related and unrelated environmental
changes, and to ecological surprises, whether through
The Himalayan region contains one of the most dynamic
mobility of people and land uses, or flexibility in livelihood
and complex mountain systems in the world. This mountain
strategies and institutional arrangements. Mountain people
system is extremely vulnerable to global warming
have lived with and survived great hazards such as flash
(Bandyopadhyay and Gyawali 1994). Uncertainties
floods, avalanches, and droughts for millennia. Building
about the rate and magnitude of climate change and
the capacity to adapt and strengthen the socio-ecological
potential impacts prevail, but there is no question that
system in the face of climate change is extremely important
climate change is gradually and powerfully changing the
and an important step in achieving sustainable livelihoods.
ecological and socioeconomic landscape in the Himalayan
Climate change, as a public and global issue, has evolved
region, particularly in relation to water. Business as usual
from a narrow interest in the hydro-meteorological sciences,
is not an option. It is imperative to revisit and redesign
to a broad recognition that both the social consequences
research agendas, development policies, and management
and policies in response have implications for all aspects
and conservation practices, and develop appropriate
of human development. Adaptive policies and major efforts
technologies. The mitigation of carbon emissions should
to reverse the human drivers of climate change have to be
be a responsibility shared between citizens and the private
incorporated into all sectors: land use, water management,
sector in the mountains, as elsewhere. Adaptation and
disaster management, energy consumption, and human
mitigation measures intended to cope with climate change
health. Hazard mapping would help both decision-makers
can create opportunities as well as offset the dangers of a
and local communities to understand the current situation
warming planet; but they must be identified and adopted
and, through this, it would be possible to anticipate or
ahead of, rather than in reaction to, dangerous trends.
assess the flexibility to adapt to future changes through
Policies should be ‘adaptation friendly’.
proper planning and technical design.
Himalayan uncertainty: We speak of uncertainty on a
Linking science and policy in climate change: Good
Himalayan scale recognising the lack of studies and basic
science based on credible, salient, legitimate knowledge
data. In no context is this more relevant than in predicting
can often lead to good policies in the context of climate
what climate change will entail. The physical manifestations
change and mountain specificities, and vice versa
of climate change in the mountains include locally, possibly
(Thompson and Gyawali 2007). By credible, we mean
regionally, extreme increases in temperature and in the
knowledge that has been derived from field observations
frequency and duration of extreme events. It seems certain
and tested by local communities. Salient information is
that there will be appreciable changes in the volume and/
information that is immediately relevant and useful to policy-
or timing of river flows and other freshwater sources. There
makers. Legitimate information is unbiased in its origins
is, however, great uncertainty about the rate, and even
and creation and both fair and reasonably comprehensive
the direction, of these changes, because so little is known
in its treatment of opposing views and interests. Policy is a
about the dynamics of Himalayan topo-climates and
formula for the use of power and application of knowledge.
hydrological processes and their response to changing
The question then is who has the power and who has
climatic inputs. The global circulation models used to model
the knowledge, scientific or local, or a combination of
climates capture global warming on a broad scale, but
both? Scientific knowledge is useful, but limited and full of
do not have adequate predictive power for even large
uncertainties on the complex Himalayan scale. So, ‘nobody
Himalayan drainage basins. To reduce uncertainty, we
knows best’ becomes the model (Lebel et al. 2004)
need well-equipped baseline stations, long-term monitoring,
(Table 6). Alternative perspectives carry their own set of
networking, open data exchange, and cooperation
values and perceptions about who should be making the
between all Himalayan countries. ICIMOD can play a
rules, where the best knowledge lies to guide decisions,
role in facilitating knowledge generation, exchange,
and about what other knowledge is needed. Four
and cooperation with international mountain research
contrasting perspectives – state, market, civil society and
programmes such as the Global Observation Research
the greens, and locals – merge together in decision-making
Initiative in Alpine Environments (GLORIA), Global Mountain
processes. In such processes, scientists have to generate
Biodiversity Assessment (GMBA), UNESCO Biosphere
new knowledge with reduced uncertainty and facilitate
Reserves, Monsoon Asia Integrated Regional Studies
dialogue with balanced perspectives. The role of different
(MAIRS), and the Mountain Research Initiative.
actors in contributing to resolving scientific uncertainty,
adaptation, mitigation, and public engagement through
Adaptation: Adaptation is the need for flexibility and
this approach can be summarised in the form of the matrix
resilience. Climate change is not new to Himalayan people.
in Table 6. In such processes, international cooperation
During very long time periods every aspect of life has been
is essential for the transfer of technology from outsiders
adapted to, or stressed by, changing temperature regimes,
to locals, to build regional cooperation into a global
water availability, and extreme events. Himalayan farmers
programme, and to develop the capacity to downscale
and herders have a long history of adapting to these
important results to the regional HKH scale.
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