Failures to cut emissions risk Himalayan species - GulfToday

Failures to cut emissions risk Himalayan species

Meena Janardhan

Writer/Editor/Consultant. She has over 25 years of experience in the fields of environmental journalism and publishing.

India's climate scene is extraordinarily polluted by greenhouse gases.

India's climate scene is extraordinarily polluted by greenhouse gases.

A recent study cautions that a failure to cut global greenhouse gas emissions will undercut species conservation efforts in the fragile region, as reported by Mongabay-India.

As much as 36% of 47 protected areas in the eastern Himalayas, especially those isolated higher up in the mountains, are highly vulnerable to climate change, the study published in ScienceDirect warns.

The Mongabay-India reports points out that Marked by a 1.3 degree Celsius rise in temperature from 1951 to 2014, a decrease in summer monsoon rainfall and an increase in the frequency of extreme weather events, all protected areas (PAs) in the eastern Himalayas shelter at least one species at high risk of global extinction as classified by the International Union for Conservation of Nature’s (IUCN) Red List of Threatened Species.

Climatic changes in the past 50 years are most pronounced in PAs in Sikkim, Arunachal Pradesh, Assam and West Bengal. Mouling National Park, for example, on the bank of the Siang river in Arunachal Pradesh, saw a one degree Celsius rise in its average annual temperature and an increase of 1.5 degrees Celsius in the average temperature in the coldest season. These changes are “alarming” and “likely to worsen”.

A recent analysis of 119 years of rainfall measurements at different rain gauge stations across northeast India, has also revealed a decreasing trend in summer rainfall since 1973, including in rainy Meghalaya, reputed for hosting the world’s wettest place, according to Mongabay-India.

As the abstract of the study titled ‘Assessing the vulnerability of protected areas in the eastern Himalayas based on their biological, anthropogenic, and environmental aspects’ states, protected areas are the cornerstone for biodiversity conservation in present times.

Considering this, the post-2020 global biodiversity framework aims to expand the network of PAs to cover 30% of the earth’s terrestrial surface by 2030. For effective biodiversity conservation, it is essential to bring in more areas under protection and systematically conserve the areas with greater biological diversity that are relatively more vulnerable to various environmental and anthropogenic stresses.

The researchers assess the vulnerability of montane forest ecosystems in the protected areas of the eastern Himalayan region of India. The study specifically classifies the PAs by their relative vulnerabilities, using established methods based on the number of imperilled species, anthropogenic pressure, and the degree of climate change.

The results show that a quarter of the PAs contain a high species richness of imperilled species; 36% of the PAs are highly affected by climate change, while only 10% are highly influenced by anthropogenic pressures.

Outlining the specific vulnerabilities for PAs would help determine the required management interventions and promote the judicious use of conservation resources. The analytical framework used in the study can be more widely applied to map the important sites for biodiversity conservation and identify the areas ideal for future expansion.

The 47 PAs covered in the study account for more than 80% area of the total PA network in this region, often embedded in a mosaic of agricultural fields, pasture lands, human settlements and infrastructure. The findings have implications for India, party to the Convention on Biological Diversity, amid the push to conserve 30% of Earth’s land and sea areas by 2030 (“30 by 30” plan of the proposed post-2020 Global Biodiversity Framework).

The study also finds that PAs with the highest overall vulnerability, overlap with areas of high population density. Human pressures were high where the population density of forest fringe communities was high and little forest land or resources were available outside Pas, which recently saw the return of the tiger following ecosystem restoration activities, including grassland management.

According to the study’s authors, efforts to build the resilience of these ecosystems to climatic changes like the creation of buffer zones and probably even assisted wildlife migration to suitable sites are needed.

They add that it will be “difficult” to mitigate the worst effects of climate change and conserve species unless stringent actions are taken to limit GHG emissions; the warning comes amid the emissions increase concerns flagged by a series of reports of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change.

The findings provide useful indications on the most vulnerable sites where conservation needs to be improved, where more funds can be allocated and areas that can be expanded, such as wildlife corridors and connectivity corridors that enable functional connectivity between these protected habitats. The eastern Himalayan region, in India’s northeast, is rapidly losing forested habitats, with even many protected tracts under siege from rapacious mining and illegal logging.

Related articles

Other Articles