The average annual rainfall in Himachal Pradesh is projected to rise by 5.9 per cent with an increase in the average annual temperature by a maximum of 1.4°C, according to the Representative Concentration Pathway (RCP 4.5) data for greenhouse gas concentration, prepared by the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC). This means that by 2050, these changes are expected to be in place.
The highest increase in rainfall in the state is likely in Shimla and Sirmaur districts. Shimla town is likely to experience high-intensity rainfall, closer to 2050 and beyond. Cloudburst incidents may also take place, so the preparedness of infrastructure should be such that effective drainage provisions must be ensured and blockage of drains should be properly removed and checked to avoid any loss and damage.
In winters, the minimum temperature is projected to go up in Shimla by 1.8°C by 2050, which is quite alarming in terms of health issues and biodiversity loss. Winters will not be very prolonged and the intensity of precipitation will increase significantly. That means there are expectations of uprooting of trees and loss of various species which we would not be able to re-grow.
Major parts of Himachal Pradesh are under forest cover –approximately 36 per cent– and grass/shrub-land – 29 per cent, followed by 10 per cent of agricultural land. This forest land provides a great opportunity for working on building favourable micro-climatic conditions. I strongly feel if people of the state are more oriented toward the livelihoods of the natural resource sector, there are tremendous opportunities for future generations with a secure and safer climate.
In particular, the soil moisture deficit index (SDMI) of Shimla, calculated over 30 years of simulated soil moisture data from baseline (1980-2010), reveals that by mid-century (2050) and end-century (2100), drought-like conditions will increase.
From the available research data, we can safely reach the conclusion that Shimla is highly exposed to rainfall variability, extremely wet days, dry days, flood discharges, drought weeks and sensitivity to heat stress, besides rising seasonal crop water stress by 2050 and onwards.
Global issues are certainly contributing to changing climate, but that does not absolve us of our local contributions. We cannot just do away with our responsibilities by just saying that it is a global impact or a natural process. The point is not changing climate or shifting of poles, but the rate of change, which has risen unprecedentedly, and hence, needs to be controlled.
In India, Himachal Pradesh has undertaken climate change vulnerability assessment at the river basin level using panchayat as a unit. The main purpose of this is to identify and prioritise regions and sectors which are likely to be adversely affected by climate change, to enable the development of adaptation plans, practices, and strategies to support mainstreaming the of climate change in the planning. But this all can only be achieved once we start following these outcomes and adopt suitable pathways that inform and facilitate the decision-making process.
Microclimate or local climate can play a major role in controlling these changes, while effective developmental planning and planned forestation can minimise threats considerably. Efforts must be made to conserve and save Shimla's green cover. Each and every plant should be protected with utmost care and that’s something which is not possible unless every individual in Shimla comes out in a mission mode.
Shimla has low social sector vulnerability along with lower exposure to extreme climatic conditions, which provides a great opportunity to build resilience. But it all depends on how we individually and as a society perceive such outcomes.
(The writer is a principal scientist, GoHP, and an expert on climate change. The story is written with inputs from Kirtiman Awasthi, senior policy advisor at GIZ, and Monika, junior advisor, Climate Adaptation Finance in Rural India)