Climate Change Wreaks Havoc in North-East India

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    Stockholm (NordSIP) –  With the rising acceptance of the science about climate change and the increasing commitments to and endorsements of net-zero emissions, it is easy to forget how much still needs to be done. Then, tragedy strikes and reminds us all of the daunting scale of the task at hand and of the threat before us.

    On Sunday, February 7th, the melting of a portion of the Nanda Devi mountain (Pictured) glacier in the Indian state of Uttarakhand caused a flash flood in the Rishiganga and Dhauliganga rivers. The flooding reportedly killed 35 people as its swept through the Rishiganga hydropower project, which is owned by the National Thermal Power Corporation (NTPC). Another 175 people are reported missing.

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    The mountain is part of the Garhwal Himalayas mountain range, on the North-Eastern side of India’s Himalayas. Home to the Mount Everest, the earth highest peak, the ice and waters of the Himalayan mountain range is the source for some of Asia’s largest rivers including the Indus, the Yangtze, and the Ganga-Brahmaputra. The Rishiganga and Dhauliganga rivers feed into the Alaknanda river, itself a tributary of the Ganges river. The Himalayan glaciers are crucial to the stability of the world’s most populous countries – India and China.

    A Known Danger

    Unsurprisingly, the impact of climate change on the Himalayan glaciers is not a recent development. According to a study published in Science Nature, temperatures in the region in 2000 were 1°C higher than in 1975. Comparing declassified spy satellite photos from the 1970s with more recent footage taken by NASA reveals that the higher temperatures have melted as much as a quarter of Himalayan glacial ice in the past 40 years.

    “Our study reveals a robust signal of glacier ice loss linked to rising temperatures from climate change,” Joshua Maurer,  at Columbia University’s Lamont-Doherty Earth Observatory and the lead author of the report, told National Geographic in June 2019. “A one degree C increase is a huge change,” co-author Joerg Schaefer, also at Columbia University’s Lamont-Doherty Earth Observatory said to National Geographic. “In the middle of the last ice age the mean annual temperature was only 3 degrees C cooler,” he added.

    “The study did not include the huge adjoining ranges of high-mountain Asia such as the Pamir, Hindu Kush, or Tian Shan, but other studies suggest that similar melting is underway there as well,” according to National Geographic.

    A Call to Action

    Notwithstanding these risks to the fragile economic and geopolitical stability of the most populous region in the world, authorities seem to still not grasp the urgency of the problem. At the end of last year, we reported on how the State Bank of India was preparing to fund the development of a controversial coal mine in Austria by Adani in order to increase the availability of fuel to be burned in the sub-continent.

    While the balance between fossil-fueled economic development and climate change mitigation is a difficult one to strike, the stubbornness of the publicly-owned bank suggests the India government has decided to follow the myopic path, which may sadly be paved with the victims of more and more disasters of this kind.

    Image by Sumod K Mohan via Wikimedia Commons

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