Climate Change in Western Ghats: 4X4 Report and Beyond

Background

“No country in the world is as vulnerable, on so many dimensions to climate change as India. We need to build our own independent and credible research capacity on these issues.”

-Jairam Ramesh, erstwhile Union Environment Minister in Preface to CLIMATE CHANGE AND INDIA: A 4X4 ASSESSMENT: A SECTORAL AND REGIONAL ANALYSIS FOR 2030s

As India is struggling to cope with the extent and scope of the Uttarakhand Disaster[1], it is high time that we take the very real and urgent challenges of Climate Change seriously. India has several regions and communities significantly vulnerable to climate change. Himalayan glaciers are receding faster than global averages, precipitation across India is becoming more intense and unpredictable, biodiversity is under stress, sea levels are rising affecting thousands of coastal communities. And despite all this, destructive development in fragile regions is happening with utter disregard to this reality.

Maximum impacts of climate change are being faced by local poor communities and ecosystems.

With this in mind, we take a look at 4X4 Climate Assessment report (4X4 Report for short), brought out in 2010 by Ministry of Environment and forests (MoEF) which assessed Climate Change impacts by 2030 on four ecologically sensitive sectors: the Himalayan region, Western Ghats (WG), Coastal areas and North-east regions of the country and four issues: Agriculture, Forests, Human health and Water together. We also look at other reports on climate change in Western Ghats and compare these with actual challenges faced by WG. Till date this report remains the only official and definitive report about assessment of impact of climate change in India, to the best of our information (Readers, please let us know if there are other relevant reports in this regard).

The report is prepared by Indian network on Climate Change Assessment (INCCA)[2], which consists of 120 Indian Institutes and research laboratories, geared towards data analysis and impact predictions of the climate change scenarios. The network was launched by MoEF on 14th October 2009. 4X4 Report was published in November 2010 when Mr. Jairam Ramesh was the Union Minister for Environment and Forests.

Athirappilly Falls 1

A1 B Scenario Predictions

The climate change impact predictions need the to assume of socio-economic context for which predictions are made. IPCC has classified socio-economic scenarios under A & B categories with further sub-divisions under each of them. 4X4 Report uses the A1B prediction scenario for India. This scenario assumes significant innovations in energy technologies, which improve energy efficiency and reducethe cost of energy supply with a balance across all sources. A1B assumes drastic reductions in power generation costs through the use of solar, wind, and other modern renewable energies and end use products.[3],[4].

Ironically, this assumption of A1B scenario for 2030 seems baseless when we look at the current dependence on non-sustainable energy sources like coal based thermal and large hydro.

PRECIS (Providing Regional Climates for Impact Studies)[5] tool used in this report considers data from large time scale of 5-7 decades in order to predict impact for coming 3-4 decades.

We look at Water in Western Ghats and what the Report predicts for this most populated biodiversity hotspot in the World.

1.       Western Ghats: The Water Tower of Peninsular India

Western Ghats (WG) are one of the oldest mountain ranges– older than the Himalayas- occupying around 6 % of Indian landmass. According to High Level Working Group Report on Western Ghats (HLWG/Kasturirangan Committee Report), geographical area of WG is over 1,64,280 sq. km. WG harbor high degree of endemism with more than 78% of amphibian and about 41% fish species[6] and similar high RET (Rare, endemic and Threatened) floral and faunal groups. They also support numerous tribal and forest dwelling communities. In 2012 UNESCO has declared 38 sites from Western Ghats as World-heritage sites. Most of the Peninsular east flowing or west flowing rivers originate from Western Ghats making it the water tower of peninsular India. Millions depend on these rivers like Krishna, Godavari, Cauvery, Malaprabha, Ghataprabha, Bhima, Tungabhadra for water and ecosystem goods and services. West flowing rivers are shorter and swifter. Examples include Vaitarna, Ulhas, Kali, Sharavati, Chalakudy, Pamba, Bharatpuzha, Nethravathy, Hemavathy, Bhawani etc. There are many complex community- water relationships which could be found in the region.

Rivers from Western Ghats drain almost 40% of Indian drainage. Therefore, it is essential to understand the impacts of the climate change on water resources in Western Ghats.

Pristine Forests set for submergence under the 24 MW Kukke Mini hydel Plant in Dakshin Kannada, Karnataka. Photo: SANDRP

Pristine Forests set for submergence under the 24 MW Kukke Mini hydel Plant in Dakshin Kannada, Karnataka. Photo: SANDRP

  1. 2.       Predictions from 4X4 Report for Water and Western Ghats for 2030s

2.1   Precipitation and temperature:

In the Western Ghats, annual temperatures are likely to increase to 26.8 °C–27.5 °C in the 2030s. The rise in temperature with respect to the 1970s will be between 1.7° C and 1.8° C. The mean annual rainfall is likely to vary from 935± 185.33mm to 1794±247mm, which is an increase of 6%–8% with respect to the 1970s. The minimum temperatures may rise by 2.0 °C to 4.5° C, with minimum increase in those parts of Karnataka that lie in the Western Ghats. Within the region bordering the state of Kerala, the maximum temperature is likely to rise by 1° C–3° C.

The number of rainy days are likely decrease along the entire Western coast, including in the Western Ghats.

The intensity of rainfall is likely to increase by 1-2 mm/day.

2.2   Water yield, sedimentation the predictions for Western Coastal region, including the Western Ghats:

The west coast region exhibits a wide variability in the change in precipitation under the 2030s scenario. The northern portion of the west coast, consisting of areas of Gujarat and Maharashtra, shows an increase in precipitation for the 2030s scenario, and the increase varies from 4% to over 25%. However, areas of Karnataka and Kerala show a marginal decrease upto 4%.

The west coast region shows a general reduction in Evapotranspiration (ET), which varies from a very nominal value to about 5% for the 2030s scenario. Areas of Gujarat and Maharashtra, which had shown an increase in precipitation, still show a reduction in ET perhaps because of high intensity of the rainfall.  

The reduction in water yield for Karnataka and Kerala is up to about 10%. Gujarat and Maharashtra areas see an increase in water yield[7], and the magnitude is up to about 50%.

The west coast region also shows a considerable increase in the sediment yield for majority of the areas. Even those areas that are expected to receive less precipitation show an increase in sediment yield of up to 25%. The increase in sediment yield in these areas can possibly be explained due to an increase in the intensity of precipitation. This will have major impacts on water resource projects.

It is also seen that there is an increase in the moderate drought development for Krishna, Pennar, and Cauvery basins, which have either predicted decrease in precipitation or have enhanced level of evapo-transpiration. The maximum water withdrawal takes place from Godavari and Krishna river basins in Western Ghats in all the years[8]

2.3   Flood Analysis According to 4×4 Report, all the regions show an increase in the flooding varying between 10 to over 30% of the existing magnitudes. This has a very severe implication for the existing infrastructure such as dams for the areas and shall require appropriate adaptation and dam safety and operation measures to be taken up.

2.4   Impacts on crops:

a.       Coconut: Coconut yields are projected to increase by up to 30% in majority of the region. Increase in coconut yield may be mainly attributed to projected increase in rainfall (~10%) and relatively less increase in temperatures. However, some areas like south-west Karnataka, parts of Tamil Nadu and parts of Maharashtra, may lose yield up to 24%.

b.      Rice: Productivity of irrigated rice in Western Ghats region is likely to change +5 to –11% depending upon the location. Majority of the region is projected to lose the yield by about 4%. However, irrigated rice in parts of southern Karnataka and northern-most districts of Kerala is likely to gain. In the case of rain-fed rice, the projected change in yield is in the range of –35 to +35% with a large portion of the region likely to lose rice yields up to 10%.

c. Maize and sorghum: Climate change is likely to reduce yields of maize and sorghum by up to a whopping 50% depending upon the region.

Surprisingly, the report has no insights to offer to spice, coffee and tea plantation across Western Ghats. ( For impact of Climate Change on spices and plantations in Western Ghats: Dr. Latha Anantha and Unnikrishnan: http://sandrp.in/wtrsect/Water_Sector_Options_India_in_Changing_Climate_0312.pdf)

Plantations in Western Ghats Credit: Thinkstock

Plantations in Western Ghats Credit: Thinkstock

 

2.5   Impacts on forests:

The entire Western Ghats region is covered by 54 grids, out of which 10 (18%) are projected to undergo change. 18% forested grids in the region are projected to be vulnerable to climate change. The projection of the NPP (Net Primary Productivity) for the Western Ghats region is projected to have approximately 20% increase in NPP on an average.

2.6   Temperature Humidity Index (THI) and its possible impact on biodiversity:  While the report uses this index for studying analyzing impacts on livestock, its conclusions can also be used for biodiversity and fisheries. The report predicts “A severe thermal discomfort and stress is expected in most parts of Western Ghats and the Coastal region in the month of May.” This will not only affect the biodiversity, but also fisheries. However, the report makes no such correlation.

Seetha Nadi, free flowing river in Karnataka Western Ghats. Photo: SANDRP

Seetha Nadi, free flowing river in Karnataka Western Ghats. Photo: SANDRP

3.       Limitations and Way Forward:

The report accepts its limitation in terms of data sources, details which have been gathered, lack of integration of existing data, etc. The authors seem aware that the report in this form is of little use to policy makers or communities.

4.       Conclusions:

While the report has its severe gray areas, and there are variations within Western Ghats, it is clear that for Western Ghats:

  • Precipitation will be more intense with less rainy days
  • Temperatures will see a gradual increase
  • Crops will be affected
  • Forests (and dependent biodiversity) will be made more vulnerable
  • Sedimentation will increase sharply
  • Incidence of floods and droughts will rise sharply

 5.       Problems with 4 X 4 Assessment:

Apart from the limitations admitted by INCAA, the report suffers several other limitations.

  • It does not offer any recommendations for policy makers.
  • Neither does it hold any recommendations for communities. In fact in its way forward, when it mentions that cooperation has to be sought from several departments and organizations, it does not even mention local communities who will face major impacts!
  • No mention of adaptation and mitigation measures that communities can adapt, except some very limited mentions. This is a huge gap. (More on Water Sector Options for India including a paper on plantations in Western Ghats can be found here:http://sandrp.in/wtrsect/Ex_Summary_WATER_SECTOR_OPTIONS_FOR_INDIA_IN_CHANGING_CLIMATE_MARCH_2012.pdf)
  • In the task of assessing impacts and devising solutions to mitigate and adapt to impacts of climate change, local communities have proved to be extremely adept. At the same time, the impacts of climate change affect these communities the most and hence they have to be made a part of ongoing research. 4 X 4 Report does not even attempt this.
  • Some big questions:

The report says that “The northern portion of the west coast, consisting of areas of Gujarat and Maharashtra, shows an increase in precipitation for the 2030s scenario, and the increase varies from 4% to over 25%. Gujarat and Maharashtra areas see an increase in water yield, and the magnitude is up to about 50%. As per the maps, this region also includes the Western Ghats.

Now Northern Western Ghats is exactly the same region where Indian Institute of Tropical Meteorology (IITM, also a part of INCA) has said that there have been drastic, ongoing reductions in rainfall!

In fact, Centre for Climate change, IITM has said that in the last 110 years (1901-2011) rainfall in Mahabaleshwar, origin of five rivers in northern Western Ghats has decreased by 800 mm! In northern Westenr Ghats of Maharashtra, rainfall has decreased at the rate of 2% per decade while the rate of decrease is lower in Southen Western Ghats for Kerala at 1%.[9]

This aspects needs some more clarity.

  • No reference to the ongoing destructive development in Western Ghats: Western Ghats are facing severe threat from Mining, Hydropower projects, Irrigation Projects, mini hydel projects, which affect water cycle, sedimentation, forests and biodiversity of the region and displacement and impoverishment of very large number of people. However, the report does not dwell on any of these practical problems and their impact in compounding climate change challenges.

    Mining in Goa Photo: Damodar Pujari

    Mining in Goa Photo: Damodar Pujari

 

  • No reference to biodiversity, freshwater fisheries: The report has no predictions or recommendations to offer for biodiversity in Western Ghats. While there is a section on coastal fisheries, there is no mention of rich freshwater fisheries in Western Ghats!

 

  • A1B Scenario: There is no evidence that India is adopting the A1B scenario which considers growth through a mix of energy sources like solar and wind, etc. We still depend heavily on non-sustainable energy sources like Thermal and large hydro. Hence, this assumption itself is flawed and predictions based on this assumption cannot be considered seriously. In fact, the actual predictions, looking at India’s and Western Ghat’s track record, (with over 10 coal based thermal power plants, several other nuclear power projects, ports and large dams coming up in Maharashtra, concentrated and non-sustainable mines in Goa) could be much more severe.

 6.       Impacts of climate Change on Western Ghats from Western Ghats Expert Ecology Panel report and High Level Working Group on Western Ghats Report:

  • Western Ghat Expert Ecology Panel Report: WGEEP does not refer to 4 X 4 Report. It considers A2 and B2 scenarios, and concludes that northern region of Ghats is more sensitive to climate change than southern region. Though the report does not deal with climate change in detail, the recommendations of WGEEP are extremely climate friendly.
  • High Level Working Group Report:  HLWG report has considered 4×4 Report in its analysis and includes a Chapter on Climate Change. This chapter is more effective in dealing with ground challenges than the 4×4 report. However there are some major problems in this.

The HLWG Report states:

a.       “Biodiversity: In the Western Ghats, climate change is expected to increase species losses.  Changes in phenology are expected to occur for many species. Ecosystems dominated by long-lived species (like forests in WG) will be slow to show evidence of change and slow to recover from the climate related stress

b.      Water, Irrigation and Hydro Power: Impacts of climate change and climate variability on the water resources are likely to affect irrigated agriculture, installed power capacity, environmental flows in the dry season, and higher flows during the wet season, thereby causing severe droughts and flood problems. “It is seen that there is an increase in the moderate drought development   for Krishna, Pennar, and Cauvery  basins, which have either predicted decrease in precipitation or have enhanced level of evapo-transpiration. The maximum water withdrawal takes place from  Godavari and Krishna river basins in Western Ghats in all the years.”

c.       Hydro capacity “is expected to increase, but its share decreases from the total installed capacity by 2100. The slow growth in capacity is due to barriers of high investment requirements and long gestation periods. A number of socio-environmental issues are related to dam construction, flooding of areas, damages to the ecology, and resettlement and rehabilitation of the population.”

Though HLWG dedicates an entire chapter to Climate Change Impacts on Western Ghats, it still does not comment on destructive hydropower projects and such other plans which decrease resilience and adaptation capacities of ecosystems and communities and in fact contributes to climate change by deforestation and methane emissions! In fact, by not opposing projects like 163 MW Athirappilly and 200 MW Gundia, the HLWG report supports projects which have huge potential on increasing climate change impacts[10],[11],[12]

Shockingly, the HLWG report certifies all hydro as green and renewable source of energy, something that even developed countries or UNFCCC does not do.

According to the Second National Communication on Climate Change (NATCOM, 2012), the Western Ghats is expected to experience increase in temperature regimes, rainfall and extreme events due to climate change. There is also a high probability of significant decrease in the duration of the precipitation (NATCOM, 2012). The projected changes in the precipitation may induce changes in the hydrological regimes especially increase in evapo-transpiration and increased runoff .

7.       Way Forward of Water, communities and ecosystems in Western Ghats

India has been witnessing several climate related disasters in the recent years. Instead of going into a ‘climate change or no climate change’ debate, it is time to adopt no-regrets strategies and build climate resilience of communities and ecosystems. Unfortunately, we do not see evidence of decreasing emissions or adopting climate friendly strategies from India, or even other developed countries which support and fun destructive projects in India.  The Clean Development Mechanism introduced by UNFCCC has in fact been supporting and pushing destructive projects in developing countries, while legitimizing pollution in developed countries.

 Some possible measures:

  • Natural ecosystems are resilient in coping with climate change challenges: natural ecosystems like rivers, streams, forests need to be protected for their resilience to climate change impact as well as the goods and services they provide to local communities, who are most vulnerable and least able to cope with the climate change implications.
  • Free flowing rivers are more resilient than their dammed counterparts: Free flowing rivers in western Ghats need to be protected on priority
  • Fragmented Forests are more vulnerable to climate change impacts: Deforestation and fragmentation of forests in Western Ghats should be avoided at all costs. Large Hydro power, irrigation projects, mini hydel, mines, hills station projects affecting forests should be dropped urgently. Local projects should be considered only with free, prior and informed consent of the communities. All projects related t the mega Inter Linking of Rivers in the western Ghats should be dropped, including Par Tapi Narmada, Damanganga Pinjal, Nethrawati, Hemawati, Pamba, Achankovil, among others.
  • Old and unsafe large dam projects like the Mullaperiyar and others should be considered for decommissioning as recommended by WGEEP.
  • The diversion of east flowing rivers to the west in Maharashtra should be reversed in a time bound manner and no more such projects should be considered.
  • All projects in Western Ghats: large or small should be brought under the ambit of environmental clearance which should look specifically at climate change impacts on these projects and should also require FPIC.
  • Community water harvesting systems, traditional water harvesting systems, watershed measures need to be encouraged. Western Ghats is rich in these examples
  • Efficient and water saving measures like System of Rice Intensification should be adopted for the entire Ghat region.
  • Recommendations of WGEEP need to be implemented urgently
  • Most importantly, communities need to be made an integral part of decision making surrounding natural resources. Currently, mega projects like Athirappilly, Gundia, Talamba and Tillari dams in Maharashtra, drinking water dams near Mumbai, etc. completely neglect community concerns. Communities will not only face direct impacts of displacement and losing rights, the long term impacts on adaptation and mitigation capacities of communities will also be jeopardized due to destructive projects.

 

Damodar Pujari

with inputs from Parineeta Dandekar

South Asia Network on Dams, Rivers and People

 

 

 

 

 

 


[2] INCAA- Indian Network for Climate Change Analysis.

[4] High Level Working Group Report, Part I, Page 20

[6] Western Ghats Ecology Expert Panel Group: WGEEP

[7] Water yield (water crop or runout). The runoff from the drainage basin, including ground-water outflow that appears in the stream plus ground-water outflow that bypasses the gaging station and leaves the basin underground. Water yield is the precipitation minus the evpotranspiration. (http://water.usgs.gov/wsc/glossary.html)

[8] HLWG Report, Part 1, Page 24

One Comment on “Climate Change in Western Ghats: 4X4 Report and Beyond

  1. I was wondering if you ever considered changing the
    layout of your blog? Its very well written; I love what youve got tto say.
    But maybe you could a little more in the wayy of contfent so people could connect with
    it better. Youve got an awvul loot of text foor only having one or 2
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    Like

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