Dr. Anjal Prakash, Research Director and Adjunct Associate Professor at the Indian School of Business, is lead author of the ongoing 6th Assessment report of UN's Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change.
In an interview with TNIE’s Richa Sharma, Prakash said projects in Himalayan region should be evaluated for strict environmental impacts for minimising disturbance and maximising benefits for the people.
What is the reason behind the glacial avalanche in Uttarakhand?
It is very early to draw any conclusion but what we know from various reports is that a section of a hanging glacier in the upper reaches of Uttarakhand broke, probably due to snowfall or bedrock failure. This may have led to the landslide and the avalanche. However, I would wait to get more reports to understand this better.
Do you see it as possible impact of climate change?
Prima-facie, this looks like a climate change event due to global warming. It is no brainer now, after a series of reports from IPCC, that the global warming has huge impact on glaciers. Majority of glaciers are retreating and a recent estimate show that about two-thirds of the glaciers will melt if we continue to have policies that contributes to global warming.
Given the infrastructure projects happening in Uttarakhand like hydro-road, how much does that impact?
This event has happened in very high mountainous regions which are inhabitable for humans. The infrastructure development such as roads and hydropower is being done in downstream areas. What we need is an understanding about the climate-related risks and what impacts it has on the development projects. So, the development projects must take climate change and its impacts into account while planning and executing any project including infrastructure. These projects will be at much greater risk, so we need meticulous planning and execution.
What should be the future strategy?
The Himalayan region is very fragile and so it needs very careful ways of harvesting its potential sustainably. The changes we see now is due to climate plus human-induced changes. They (experts) must examine each of our projects on strict environmental impacts so as to minimise disturbance and to maximise benefits and profits for the people.
How important is planning for infrastructure in fragile mountainous region?
The Himalayan region is also home to one of the poorest people who have least access to basic infrastructure such as roads, health care and educational facilities. So, infrastructure planning, at least the basics, is an utmost necessity from the people's perspective. However, big projects which destruct the environment and make irreversible damage need to be checked. Alternate model for development which is environmentally benign must be at the centre of our developmental discourse.
What lessons do we learn from this disaster?
I would like to focus on three aspects — one is to accept that climate change is real and is impacting our lives and in many ways. Second, we need to focus a lot on adaptation while working towards mitigating some of the impacts of climate change, which is a long-term phenomenon. Third, the Himalayan region is one of the least monitored regions. We need to have more focus on monitoring our glaciers and have more resources directed towards it. The more we study, the more we know the implications which will help us in charting out policy measures to protect ourselves from these climatic events.