NEC: Climate change needs policy intervention

Report: The monsoon that wreaked havoc and caused widespread devastation in southern dzongkhags is likely to repeat.

The swollen rivers and flash floods ruined bridges, roads, markets, and flooded settlements and cut off places for weeks.

With climate change, scientists at a regional conference in Thimphu last year warned that such phenomena would recur frequently in the future.

National Environment Commission Secretariat’s recent Bhutan State of Environment Report (BSER) 2016 warns about increasing rainfall in the southern parts of the country, triggered mainly by climate change.

“Rainfall is expected to particularly increase in the south of the country especially during the monsoon period when water is already abundant,” the commission’s BSER states.

The rapid melting of glaciers and increasing risk of GLOF is of particular concern, BSER said. Glaciers are reportedly melting at rates of 30-40m per year for debris-covered glaciers and 8-10 metres per year for debris-free glaciers.

ICIMOD’s experts said that the glacial lakes in the country increased by 8.7 percent, while the actual size of the glaciers shrunk by 22 percent between 1980 and 2010.

Projections from the Second National Communication to the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC) in 2011 indicate glacier retreat rates of 78.2 metres to 168 metres for the period 2010-2039 for debris covered glaciers and of 20.1 metres to 43.2 metres for the period 2040-2069 for debris free glaciers.

Memari Tsho, also known as Lemthang Tsho, burst on June 28 last year after two supraglacial ponds above the lake interconnected and drained.

“As a result of its impact on water, climate change threatens hydropower for clean energy and other socioeconomic activities,” the report states.

Some of the observed vulnerabilities and possible impacts are dwindling water sources, increasing pests, increasing incidences of forest fires and changing monsoon patterns.

“Higher temperatures, decreased soil moisture, extended periods of drought due to climate change enhances risk of wildfires, leading to air pollution,” NECS in its report said.

Researchers have observed Blue pine encroaching into spruce or maple or birch forests and decline of Abies densa forests on the mountaintops since the 1980s due to moisture stress.

The report suggests that the Montane cloud forests between Dochula and Bajo are also vulnerable to such increased incidence of moisture stress from rising temperature.

“This could lead to habitat loss for some important relic plant species like Taxus, Magnolia, Tetracentron and endangered bird species such as hornbills,” the report stated.

A study by Wangchuck Centennial Park in 2011 on the vulnerability in Wangchuck Centennial Park indicated considerable loss of habitats for the snow leopard and other endangered and globally significant birds.  Habitats of Black Necked Crane and White Bellied Heron are likely to be at additional risk. Intensity and incidences of pests and diseases is also likely to increase.

The country remains vulnerable in all key sectors of water, agriculture, human health, energy (hydropower), forests and biodiversity and natural disasters from climate change.

A lot seems to be happening, but more is needs to be done, going by the recommendations in the report.

The second National Adaptation Programme of Action (NAPA) project, currently under implementation, is expected to enhance national, local and community capacity to prepare for and respond to climate-induced multi hazards to reduce potential losses of human lives, national economic infrastructure, livelihood and livelihood asset.

Other mitigating measures include sustainable land management, livestock improvement, reforestation programmes and alternative renewable energy sources.

The country is developing action plans such as two low emission development strategies and three nationally appropriate mitigation actions to reduce emissions from industrial, transport, waste and building sectors to achieve the carbon neutral commitment.

NEC has drafted a proposal to develop Bhutan’s first National Action Plans and synchronise the plans with the five-year development planning cycles and also the reporting cycles of the Paris Agreement.

The country is preparing to participate in the REDD+ programme under the UNFCCC.

This mechanism is designed to reduce emissions from deforestation and forest degradation and to enhance carbon sequestration through sustainable management of forest resources, using market and financial incentives.

“REDD+ mechanism has potential to generate carbon revenues as well as non-carbon co-benefits and to contributes to Bhutan’s sustainable development through improved management of forest resources, forest law enforcement and governance,” the report states.

One of the recommendations from the report is to have a climate change policy or a long-term comprehensive strategy covering mitigation, adaptation and means of implementation.

There is also a need to look at ways to integrate climate change adaptation and disaster risk reduction, mitigation with health, gender and other cross-cutting issues.

Improving coordination to access climate finance is another critical avenue that needs work.

The report points to the need to build capacity of the national institutions in research to empower local experts on climate change issues.

Tshering Palden 

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