Climate Change Impacts and Vulnerability in the Eastern Himalayas

Little is known in detail about the vulnerability of mountain ecosystems to climate change. Intuitively it seems plausible that these regions, where small changes in temperature can turn ice and snow to water, and where extreme slopes lead to rapid changes in climatic zones over small distances, will show marked impacts in terms of biodiversity, water availability, agriculture, and hazards that will have an impact on general human wellbeing. But the nature of the mountains – fragile and poorly accessible landscapes with sparsely scattered settlements and poor infrastructure – means that research and assessment are least just where they are needed most. And this is particularly true for the Hindu Kush-Himalayas, the highest mountains in the world, situated in developing and least developed countries with few resources for meeting the challenges of developing the detailed scientific knowledge needed to assess the current situation or make projections of the likely impacts of climate change.

Supported by the MacArthur Foundation, the International Centre for Integrated Mountain Development (ICIMOD) undertook a series of research activities together with partners in the Eastern Himalayas from 2007 to 2008 to assess the vulnerability of this region to climate change (for details see ICIMOD 2009). Activities included surveys at country level, thematic workshops, interaction with stakeholders at national and regional levels, and development of technical papers by individual experts in collaboration with institutions that synthesised the available information on the region. Available climate models were used to develop climate projections for the region based on the observed data. This publication presents a summary of the findings of the assessment.

Clearly much more, and more precise, information will be needed to corroborate these preliminary present findings. Nevertheless, the assessment highlighted the vulnerability of the Eastern Himalayan ecosystems to climate change as a result of their ecological fragility and economic marginality. It is hoped that it will both inform conservation policy at national and regional levels, and stimulate the coordinated research that is urgently needed.

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