DRP News Bulletin

DRP News Bulletin 19 August 2019: Anyone for better Rainwater management?

Southwest Monsoon provides about 75% of our water and yet we have not learnt how to manage that rain water, without creating avoidable flood disasters, without using submergence as weapon to displace people as is being attempted in case of Sardar Sarovar Project in Gujarat, without allowing water to flow to Pakistan, which is against all the rhetoric of the top most government persons and without the needless push for more big dams or interlilnking rivers or such mega centralised projects and programs? If we go through this week’s DRP News Update, it does not seem like we have. All the contrary elements are there for all to see.

It is certainly possible to manage the rain better so that more of it is available beyond the monsoon in a decentralised manner, as decentralised as the rainfall itself. The elements of it all well known:  harvest rain where it falls, recharge groundwater, create local water systems, desilt existing such systems, protect wetlands, forests, increase soil’s capacity to hold moisture through increasing carbon/ organic conent of the soils (we know how this can be achieved), use the created large reservoirs judiciously, ensure all the dams in a basin are filled up simultaneously and not sequentially, ensure water flow in the river for maximum period as that will also help recharge groundwater, reduce deforestation in the catchments, increase forest area in the catchments where possible, protect local water systems everywhere including Urban areas, protect flood plains and ensure rivers have capacity to carry floods that it is required to carry, have better and more accurate rainfall forecasts (including riverbasin wise/ sub basin wise forecasts), coordinated actions across river basins and states. There is some minor improvements here and there as we see in this bulltin, but no major change.

It’s more optimal rain water management that will help better water security, sustainable water availability, food production, livelihoods and agricultural security, among others. What is the road map to learn this and learn fast? There is no immediate light to the end of the tunnel.

Continue reading “DRP News Bulletin 19 August 2019: Anyone for better Rainwater management?”

Dams · DRP News Bulletin

DRP News Bulletin 15 October 2018: Reuters Corroborates that Dams Played Major Role in Kerala Floods

International news agency, after independent research, have corroborated what SANDRP has been saying: Mismanagement of dams played big role in worsening Kerala floods.

-“The release could have started earlier so that by Aug. 9 there would have been left-over capacities in the reservoirs to store the water,” said Biswajit Mukhopadhyay, director of water resources at U.S-based engineering firm IEA, who analysed some of the publicly available data at the request of Reuters.

– Still, dozens of flood victims interviewed by Reuters, who live in villages dotting the banks of Kerala’s biggest river, the ‎244 km Periyar, say they faced no floods despite torrential rain in late July and early August. All of them said waters only rose overnight on Aug. 15. That was when more intense rainfall forced KSEB to rapidly ramp-up releases of water from Idukki and Idamalayar reservoirs, which feed into the Periyar.

– Kerala’s revenue secretary and head of disaster management, P.H. Kurien, told Reuters he has twice written to KSEB requesting EAPs and has yet to receive them. KSEB’s Pillai said EAPs and dam operation manuals were still being prepared. CWC said it was working with Kerala’s government to speed this up. The Kerala Chief Minister’s office did not respond to requests for comment. https://widerimage.reuters.com/story/did-dams-make-indias-once-in-century-floods-worse  (11 Oct. 2018)

And this fantastic infographic: https://fingfx.thomsonreuters.com/gfx/rngs/INDIA-FLOOD/010080MF18N/index.html  (11 Oct. 2018)

Continue reading “DRP News Bulletin 15 October 2018: Reuters Corroborates that Dams Played Major Role in Kerala Floods”

Climate Change

IPCC report says deafening fire alarm is on, 1.5° C goal is improbable. But we are busy lighting new fires

The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) has released a special report[i] titled “GLOBAL WARMING OF 1.5° C”. In the official Press Release on Monday, Oct 8, 2018[ii] from Incheon, South Korea, IPCC said: “Limiting global warming to 1.5° C would require rapid, far reaching and unprecedented changes in all aspects of society, the IPCC said in a new assessment.” In reality, the world is experiencing much bigger impacts of 1°C rise than what IPCC projected and that would also be true for 1.5° C. Continue reading “IPCC report says deafening fire alarm is on, 1.5° C goal is improbable. But we are busy lighting new fires”

Climate Change · Dams

COP21: Climate Initiatives Must Not Include Large Hydropower Projects- NGOs

Asia Indigenous Peoples Pact (AIPP), Interamerican Association for Environmental Defense (AIDA), International Rivers, South Asia Network on Dams, Rivers and People (SANDRP)

December 3, 2015

In a global manifesto released today, a coalition of more than 300 civil society organizations from 53 countries called on governments and financiers at the Paris climate talks to keep large hydropower projects out of climate initiatives such as the Clean Development Mechanism, the World Bank’s Clean Investment Funds, and green bonds. Continue reading “COP21: Climate Initiatives Must Not Include Large Hydropower Projects- NGOs”

Climate Change · Ministry of Environment and Forests

Climate Change and Rising Sea-Levels: Real Threats coupled with Govt’s inaction

Above: Child playing on the Ghormara island in Sunderbans, which is being increasingly affected by rising sea levels    Photo: Phys.org

Global ocean levels have risen by about 19 cms in the past century[i]. Over 1961-1993, the global average sea level rose at a rate of 1.4 mm per year. But in the recent past, the rate of rise has gone up.  Over 1993-2003, it was observed that the average rate of rise more than doubled to about 3.1 mm per year[ii]. As the earth gets warmer, the threat of land inundation due to sea level rise also increases.

So what is the cause of this rise? According to scientists, this is caused due to thermal expansion of the ocean water and due to melting of glaciers and of ice caps. The amount these have contributed to the above is only speculative as the data available for such estimations is spotty and does not date back far enough. But what is somewhat known is the loss this creates and might create in the future in terms of land inundation, though not really accounting for the loss  in the lives of various people, especially the ones living along coasts. The problem today is not that this is happening, the problem is that we do not seem to be doing enough to mitigate the impacts of the sea level rise, nor do we seem to do anything to adapt to it.

In the case of the Indian subcontinent, according to a report published by a group of ecologists led by Dr. M Zafar-ul Islam, there may be a loss of about 14,000 sq. km. of land in case the sea levels rise by one metre[iii]. The report also warns that marine intrusion might affect 18 of the 48 eco-regions in India. This report mainly assesses the losses in the case of sea levels rising by one metre and six metres. In the one metre scenario, which is the estimated rise by 2100, the Sundarbans may lose about half of their area, while the Godavari-Krishna mangrove region is estimated to lose about a quarter of its land. It is also estimated that seven protected areas – Bhitarkanika, Chilka Lake, Point Calimere, Interview Island, Lothian Island, Sajnakhali and Pulicat Lake- would be about 50% flooded in case of a 1 metre riseiii.

The Bhitarkanika Mangrove System is a rich repository of biodiversity, while providing shelter from coastal erosion Photo fro Vagabound images
The Bhitarkanika Mangrove System is a rich repository of biodiversity, while providing shelter from coastal erosion Photo from Vagabound images

In the Sundarbans part of the largest riverine delta of the world, the villagers are struggling to protect their lands as more and more land is being claimed by sea water, sinking villages. The people living on the banks of these islands have observed that the river has widened and is eating into the island on a regular basis, constantly reshaping them. A study by Professor Sugata Hazra, director of the School of Oceanography, Jadavpur University, found that the total land area of 6402.090 sq. Kms of Sunderbans in 2001 was found to be reduced to 6358.048 sq kms in 2009. This would mean an approximate loss of about 44.042 sq kms. This has led to the displacement of approximately 7,000 people in the last 30 years according to this study[iv], but this seems like an under-estimation. The MoEF’s (Union Ministry of Environment and Forests) Climate Change Assessment report, also called 4 X 4 report (since it looks at 4 Sectors in 4 most vulnerable regions), prepared by the Indian Network of Climate Change Assessment, quoted a 2000 study by Goodbread and Kuehl, which said that the rise in sea level can be attributed partially to the subsidence of the Ganga-Brahmaputra delta at the rate of about 4mm/year, as estimated by sedimentological studies[v].

 

From Peter Caton's remarkable Photo documentation of teh Sea Level rise in Sunderbans Photo: Peter Caton/ Greenpeace
From Peter Caton’s remarkable Photo documentation of the Sea Level rise in Sunderbans Photo: Peter Caton/ Greenpeace

Deltas as sinking as sediments are trapped by dams The sinking of deltas due to upstream interventions are also contributing to impacts felt in the coastal areas, in addition to the impacts due to rising sea levels. In many cases like the above, part of the driving force for effective rise in sea levels is the sinking deltas due to the absence of sediments from the upstream. According to a report by SANDRP earlier this year, the Ganga-Brahmapuptra delta, carrying one of the highest sediment loads of the world, has experienced a 30% reduction in sediment over the past century. Thus the impacts seen in case of the Sundarbans is a mix of two factors: rising sea level and delta sinking. The driving force behind sinking deltas is damming of rivers in the upstream, which blocks sediments from entering the river channel and effectively, the Delta. The reduction in water flow to the deltas due to upstream diversions adds to this.

pic1

Source: http://www.nature.com/news/floods-holding-back-the-tide-1.15013

These dams trap the sediment that should have come downstream with the river and deposited on the delta. Moreover, due to water diversions in the upstream, less and less water is flowing in the deltas, and less flow means less capacity to carry sediment to the deltas. Due to these reasons, the deltas are experiencing reduced silt deposit which then leads to their sinking and the sea eating away the remaining area. According to the report, in the last 50 years, the combined annual sediment flux of the large Chinese rivers has reduced from 1800 million tons (Mt) to about 370 Mt mainly due to the construction of a large number of dams[vi]. The Yellow river delta in China is sinking so fast that the local sea levels are effectively rising by upto 25 cms/year, nearly 80 times the global average.i

Deltas_Coverpage

It is also interesting to note that in places like Jakarta, Indonesia, which is home to almost 10 million people, the heavily populated areas have sunk by as much as six and a half feet as groundwater is pumped from the earth to drink[vii]. This increases their risk of flooding and even more so if the groundwater levels continue to drop. With this drop in groundwater levels, the river flow in downstream areas decrease. This reduces the capacity of the river to carry silt, thus making the condition even worse[viii].

An estimated half a billion people live on or near deltas, constituting the highly vulnerable populations. The government needs to alter its development plans to suit the vulnerabilities and needs of these people. With its constant imposition of building large dams and barrages without taking into account the impacts they are going to have downstream, the government is just adding to the existing impacts and threats faced due to climate change. Moreover the governmnet anyways refuses to acknowledge that large sections of Indian people, particularly the poor and weaker sections are suffering due to the impacts of climate change, it refuses to identify people who are vulnerable to climate change, it refused to compensate them when they suffer for no fault of theirs and it refuses to demand from the climate polluters in the west and within India to pay for the losses.

Pic2

Above: A woman wades across water in the Ganga Brahmaputra Delta. The dams hold back sediments crucial to the delta formation. Source: http://www.thethirdpole.net/dams-responsible-for-south-asias-sinking-deltas/

Reports: IPCC In the recent past, there has been much interest in sea levels rising and some research has gone into this direction. The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change has been assessing and publishing about the various impacts of climate change and through their assessment reports, but it is not the only body doing this. In fact, it has come under a lot of criticism lately with people outside the body, especially ones who use semi-empirical models for study, showing that the figures of the IPCC under estimate the risk at hand.

In the 4th Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) report, 2007, global sea levels were observed to be on the rise with the projected rise being about 18-59 cms by 2100. After facing criticism for this figure seen as an underestimation, IPCC came out with a 5th report on climate change. In this, the predictions of global rise in sea level have gone up by 50% and now stand at 28-98 cms by 2100. This is the wide range. For high emissions, the IPCC predicts that there will be a rise by 52-98 cms, whereas, even with emission reductions, the rise is predicted at 28-61 cms[ix]. These projections are made for the global sea level for 2081-2100 relative to 1986-2005. This then puts a lot of low-lying areas at the risk of flooding. These estimates are speculative to some extent due to the complexities inherent to the models used for study and spotty data. These estimates are also likely to be under estimates.

Other reports predict higher sea level rise The models that the IPCC uses for study are process models. This range given by them is derived from these models in combination with climate projections and literature assessment of glacier and ice sheet models. Some other studies done using ‘semi-empirical’ models, give different results. These studies look at how temperatures have changed over hundreds of years and the way sea levels have corresponded to it. They extrapolate based on this and their figures have come to be almost twice as high as what the IPCC found. They argue that the sea levels will rise by as much as 2 metres, and cause floods affecting roughly 187 million people[x]. The IPCC has dismissed these models as divergent and inaccurate, perhaps themselves adopting a more conservative approach than they should.

Pic3

Maale, capital of the Maldives, an Indian Ocean archipelago that is the lowest, flattest country on Earth is now protected by a seawall. By 2100 rising seas may force Maldivians to abandon their home. Photo: George Steinmetz. Source: http://ngm.nationalgeographic.com/2013/09/rising-seas/steinmetz-photography#/08-maale-maldives-670.jpg

Not being able to put a finger on it: One of the problems pointed out about the IPCC is that it does not provide the upper limit for sea level rise. For instance, if the collapse of marine-based sectors of the Antarctic ice-sheet is initiated, then the sea level could rise by several times more than projected during the 21st century[xi]. Scientists have estimated that the ice caps in the poles and Greenland hold enough water to raise sea level by 65 metresi. In the case of Greenland, scientists have assessed that the entire island is losing weight. The warm shore water is causing glacier calving into the sea. In a recent press release on a study conducted on ice sheets in Antarctica and Greenland, Veit Helm, glaciologist at the Alfred Wegener Institute (AWI) in Bremerhaven said that ice sheets are losing volume at the rate of about 500 cubic km per year[xii]. This study found that the volume loss in Greenland has doubled since the year 2009. At the same time, the loss of the West Antarctic sheet has tripled. This then means that the estimated rise in sea levels needs to be relooked at.

It is the responsibility of the governing authorities to take measures to try and minimize the damage that is occurring and will occur from climate change and its own skewed development projects. The government needs to identify, acknowledge and safeguard the already vulnerable communities and not make them more vulnerable in the face of the dangers they face from climate change. There is a need to integrate these climate change warnings and mitigation measures into planning and development, especially in the coastal areas. This is clearly not happening. There is little effective steps from Indian government to protect mangroves, deltas, or  coastal areas either from dams and diversions in the upstream or from sea-level rise in the downstream. On the contrary, the government plans are for accelerating the dam construction in the upstream and destructino of mangroves due to coastal projects. India’s National Action Plan on Climate Change or the state Action Plans on Climate Change do not have any credible assessments or mitigation or adaptation plans in this context.

There have been increased instances and intensities of tsunamis, floods and cyclones in the recent past. In the case of rising sea levels and deltaic changes, the warnings have been there for a long time. It is not going to be a sudden catastrophe, but is a well established danger which lurks on our coasts. Therefore, there is no excuse to let it go unaddressed. There is no excuse for inaction.

Padmakshi Badoni, SANDRP,  padmakshi.b@gmail.com

The mud men of the Sunderbans, trying to repair their river banks. Photo Peter Caton
The mud men of the Sunderbans, trying to repair their river banks. Photo Peter Caton

 

END NOTES:

[i] http://e360.yale.edu/feature/rising_waters_how_fast_and_how_far_will_sea_levels_rise/2702/

[ii] http://www.moef.nic.in/sites/default/files/fin-rpt-incca_0.pdf

[iii] http://www.thehindubusinessline.com/news/14000-sqkm-land-at-risk-with-rising-sea-level-report/article4826559.ece

[iv] http://economictimes.indiatimes.com/news/environment/global-warming/villagers-struggle-to-save-land-as-islands-shrink-in-sundarban/articleshow/27238842.cms

[v] http://www.moef.nic.in/sites/default/files/fin-rpt-incca_0.pdf

[vi] https://sandrp.in/Shrinking_and_sinking_delta_major_role_of_Dams_May_2014.pdf

[vii] http://timesofindia.indiatimes.com/home/science/Worlds-coastal-megacities-sinking-10-times-faster-than-rising-water-levels/articleshow/34389492.cms

[viii] For a recent update on the groundwater situation in India, see:  https://sandrp.wordpress.com/2014/08/11/groundwater-falling-levels-and-contamination-threaten-indias-water-lifeline-urgent-need-for-community-driven-bottoms-up-management/

[ix] http://www.realclimate.org/index.php?p=15875

[x] http://e360.yale.edu/feature/rising_waters_how_fast_and_how_far_will_sea_levels_rise/2702/

[xi] http://www.realclimate.org/index.php?p=15875

[xii] http://www.downtoearth.org.in/content/record-decline-ice-sheets-antarctic-and-greenland

Climate Change · Maharashtra

Maharashtra State Action Plan on Climate change: Farmers Suffer, State and consultant TERI unaffected

Even as rural areas in otherwise-drought hit Maharashtra (as also in neighbouring areas of Karnataka, Madhya Pradesh and Chhattisgarh) are trying to cope with the immense damages due to untimely rain and hailstorms in Feb-March 2014, the IPCC Assessment Report 5 by Working Group II warns that extreme weather events may increase in their frequency. This was also supported by the IPCC Special Report on Extreme Events in 2012.

Sr No Event Date
1 NAPCC made public June 30, 2008
2 Mah state council on CC formed by a GR Sept 2008
3 Work awarded to TERI “to assess Climate Change Vulnerability and Adaptation Strategies for Maharashtra State and to prepare a Climate Change Adaptation Action Plan for the State” at the cost of Rs 98 lakhs; to include six case studies Aug 20, 2009
4 Maharashtra govt order regarding TERI (6 members in addition to Dr Pachauri and Dr Leeana Srivastava as advisors) given above task, along with Met office, Hadley Centre, UK (2 members) and formation of state coordination committee for this under the chairmanship of Chief Secretary Nov 26, 2009
5 Dept of Environment conducted decision makers workshop CC adaptation and mitigation Feb 24-25, 2011
6 State advisory committee on CC created with chief minister as chair July 8, 2011
7 First meeting of State advisory committee on CC Feb 2013
8 Meeting (latest) held on draft climate change action plan with Chief Secy in chair Oct 7, 2013
9 Mah Env department gives RTI response to SANDRP: “The final action plan on climate change is not yet submitted by TERI to Govt of Maharashtra” Apr 2, 2014

Back to back in two years, Maharashtra faced a drought (in 2012-13), touted to be worst in past 40 years, to a hail and rain event which broke records of past hundred years (and perhaps even more) several times over. Studies are pointing out that the coastal region and the traditionally drought-affected part of Marathwada and Vidarbha is specifically vulnerable to climate change.

Drought 2013. Photo: Mint
Drought 2013. Photo: Mint

It is also highlighted by the IPCC reports, experienced painfully by Maharashtra that: “Risks are unevenly distributed and are generally greater for disadvantaged people and communities in countries at all levels of development.”

So how prepared is Maharashtra to face, adapt to and mitigate the challenges put forth?

Information obtained by SANDRP under RTI underlines the fact that respective governments have given no priority, time or importance to consider climate change or its impacts on societies and ecosystems.

The Maharashtra State Council on Climate change was formed in Sept 2008 by a GR, its Chairperson was the then Chief Minister and included ministers from Agriculture, Water resources, Industries, etc. This Council awarded work related to State Action Plan on Climate Change to TERI on 20th Aug 2009 and TERI was supposed to complete this Study in two years,  that is by Aug 2011.

More than four and a half years latter, TERI has still not completed the report on State Action Plan on Climate change and Government of Maharashtra does not seem too bothered by it.

The process by which TERI was given the task of doing the SAPCC also seems inappropriate. The process is described in Maharashtra government order of Nov 16, 2009, where there is no mention of any competitive bidding. The order says that Dr RK Pachauri of TERI was  asked to make a presentation on climate change in Maharashtra, based on which it was decided to give the task of preparing the SAPCC to TERI and Met Office, UK at the cost of Rs 98 lakhs. This is clearly inappropriate process.

It’s been 5 years since the National Action Plan on Climate Change (NAPCC) was made public in June 2008. NAPCC itself was formulated in non-transparent, non-participatory way by Prime Minister’s Council on Climate Change.  Several States have submitted and are working towards their Action Plans.

In Feb 2011, Chief Minister Prithviraj Chavan announced Advisory committee on Climate change similar to PM’s council on CC. However, the Government Resolution for the State Council on CC came only on 8th July 2011. Some its  current 19  members include Chief Minister (chair), Deputy Chief Minister,  Ministers of Environment, Agriculture, Water resources, Rural Development, Chief Secretary, Secy-Environment, etc. Some Expert members include Sunita Narain, Jamshed Godrej, Anu Agha, Dr. R.K. Pachauri, Dr. R. A. Mashelkar, Dr. Anil Kakodkar and Ajay Mathur from Bureau of Energy Efficiency.

The Terms of Reference of the Committee indicate the following duties:

(a) To evaluate the study being done by TERI in the State and recommend strategies. (Emphasis added)

(b) Provide an oversight to the State Government in the drafting an action plan to combat climate change;

(c) To ensure a co-ordinated response to all issues relating to climate change.

This council was to meet “at least twice a year to review situation on CC and adaptation strategy” as per the GR. It has met just once in last 33 months.

After giving contract to TERI in 2009, announcing State Council on CC in 2011, the first and only meeting of the State Council on Climate Change happened only in Feb 2013! Minutes of the meeting claim that final report from TERI is expected in March 2013. However, there was no discussion on this important report or even a discussion to hasten the formulation and implementation of this report. Strangely, TERI and MET Office UK had already published a note on the Action Plan in 2012[1] itself, when the State Action Plan is still not final even today!

There is also issue of conflict of interest here: when TERI is given the task of preparing Maharashtra SAPCC, how can Dr. Pachauri, who heads TERI be on the State Council to oversee the preparation of SAPCC? Secondly, Dr. Pachauri is a member of PM’s Council on Climate Change, which recommends state action plans and then his own organisation, TERI is awarded the work to prepare the action plan for Maharashtra. Is not there a conflict of interest here?

Moreover, Sunita Narain and Dr. Pachauri are also members of PM’s Council on Climate Change and having seen the performance of PMCCC in bringing out business as usual NAPCC in non-transparent, non-participatory way. The state government should have appointed independent members who have knowledge of the state.

The minutes of the first meeting of the state council seem to suggest that the meeting had rather unfocused discussions. The meeting had interesting conclusion: “All the members Council were of the opinion that the implementation of the existing schemes/ plans need to be focused on climate change adaptation strategies and did not encourage going in for further studies.” In spite of such a clear conclusion, we see neither the state action plan in place, nor adaptation of the existing schemes/ plans with the climate change implications in Maharashtra. In fact, Sunita Narian was also member of the Kasturirangan committee on Western Ghats, but we see no effective reflection of climate change concerns in the conclusions of the Kasturirangan committee.

The Chief Minister said in conclusion, “Providing income support to farmers was of utmost importance to the Government. A special “Climate Change Cell” would be established in the state to focus on climate change issues”. There is no evidence of functioning of any such cell, more than a year after that meeting.

There have been some meetings of High Powered Committee on climate changed, headed by Chief Secretary, the latest meeting happed on Oct 7, 2013.

The minutes of the Oct 2013 meeting notes, “The officers of the disaster management department were attending the meeting for the first time, which according to the Chief Secretary was not very useful given that they do not have any background in the subject area as well as the previous discussions.” Considering how important is the role of disaster management in climate change context, this callousness of disaster management department seems disturbing. The minutes also noted the need for additional Rs 40 lakhs to get run off (hydrology) data.

The minutes of the meeting ends with this conclusion: “Chief Secretary instructed TERI, to finish the consultations with respective departments for validations of data and finalise the recommendations within a month time, post which the presentation could be made before the cabinet.” However, that was in Oct 2013, but even in April 2014, there is no sign of the State Action Plan on Climate Change, an exercise that has dragged on for over 4 and half years now.

While all this has been going on without any conclusion, action plan or implementation of any necessary actions, the millions of the vulnerable people of the state are suffering and more than 20 farmers have committed suicide in the face of inconsolable loss.

The State Action Plan on Climate change is not a magic wand that will cure all ills. It is, however, one of the indicators of the seriousness and intent of our administration in tackling the real and grave challenges. Right now, there seems to be no seriousness and no intent.

 -Parineeta Dandekar, Himanshu Thakkar

parineeta.dandekar@gmail.com, ht.sandrp@gmail.com

 

END NOTES:

 

[1] http://www.metoffice.gov.uk/media/pdf/c/a/GOM_brochure_for_web.pdf

2. https://sandrp.wordpress.com/2014/03/11/maharashtra-farmers-face-impacts-of-hailstorms-and-states-inaction-plan-on-climate-change/

3. https://sandrp.wordpress.com/2014/04/03/dams-are-not-climate-friendly-readings-from-ipcc-wg-ii-report/

4. VERY TRAGIC story of how hailstorms have hit poor farmers in Marathawada in Maharashtra: http://www.livemint.com/Specials/jkcra6zQqMShlFJjzmvXeN/Death-and-despair-in-hailstormhit-Marathwada.html

Climate Change · Dams · Hydropower

Dams are not Climate Friendly: Readings from IPCC WG II Report

Inter-governmental Panel on Climate Change’s (IPCC) Fifth Assessment is falling into place. On the 31st March 2014, the report titled ‘Climate Change 2014: Impacts, Adaptation, and Vulnerability’, from Working Group II[1] was issued in Yokohoma, Japan. Working Group II assesses “the vulnerability of socio-economic and natural systems to climate change, negative and positive consequences of climate change, and options for adapting to it. It also takes into consideration the inter-relationship between vulnerability, adaptation and sustainable development.”[2]

This can be called as one of the more incisive Working Group Reports from IPCC. It states unequivocally that the effects of climate change are already occurring on all continents and across the oceans and world is ill-prepared for risks from a changing climate. According to Co-Chair of Working Group II, Chris Field, “The report concludes that people, societies, and ecosystems are vulnerable around the world, but with different vulnerability in different places. Climate change often interacts with other stresses to increase risk”.[3]

The report consists of two volumes. First volume contains a Summary for Policymakers, Technical Summary, and 20 chapters assessing risks by sector and opportunities for response. The sectors include freshwater resources, terrestrial and ocean ecosystems, coasts, food, urban and rural areas, energy and industry, human health and security, and livelihoods and poverty. A second volume of 10 chapters assesses risks and opportunities for response by region. These regions include Africa, Europe, Asia, Australasia, North America, Central and South America, Polar Regions, Small Islands, and the Ocean.

The summary for policymakers paints a sombre picture: “Climate change over the 21st century is projected to reduce renewable surface water and groundwater resources significantly in most dry subtropical regions, intensifying competition for water among sectors. In presently dry regions, drought frequency will likely increase by the end of the 21st century under RCP8.5. In contrast, water resources are projected to increase at high latitudes. Climate change is projected to reduce raw water quality and pose risks to drinking water quality even with conventional treatment, due to interacting factors: increased temperature; increased sediment, nutrient, and pollutant loadings from heavy rainfall; increased concentration of pollutants during droughts; and disruption of treatment facilities during floods. Adaptive water management techniques, including scenario planning, learning-based approaches, and flexible and low-regret solutions, can help create resilience to uncertain hydrological changes and impacts due to climate change.”

“Risks are unevenly distributed and are generally greater for disadvantaged people and communities in countries at all levels of development.”

Links with water

Being an integral and cross cutting issue, water features prominently in all of Chapters of the Working Group Report. Sections on Freshwater Resources, Costal systems and low lying areas, Food Security, Inland systems, etc. include important findings. It is significant to note that dams, hydropower projects, infrastructure measures like channelization, embankments, etc., are also mentioned in nearly all the chapters of the report. Couple of references indicate dams as a possible adaptation measure, but overwhelming references point to the contrary.

The collective picture that is arising through these reference is very important. A collation and analysis of all specific references to water infrastructure projects, read in tandem with the report indicates that: 

1. Dams and infrastructure projects contribute significantly to “non-climate impacts” which, after interacting with changing climate, exacerbate the overall impact on human societies and ecosystems

o   Sediment Trapping by reservoirs, exacerbates impact of  sea level rise

o   Hydropower affects local options

o   Climate  change and dams together affect a greater eco-region

o   Increased flow fluctuations by dams exacerbate through climate change

2. In case of Flood Protection, dams and embankments may do more harm than good. Ecological measures would fare better.

3. Dams and Hydropower projects affect biodiversity, which is critical in facing climate change challenges.

4. In the tropics, global warming potential of hydropower may exceed that of Thermal Power

5. Dams increase vulnerability of weaker sections to climate change

6. Existing Dams have to be managed sustainably, with ecological considerations

7. Hydropower itself is vulnerable to Climate Change

~~~

The references used in WG II report are peer reviewed research from several authors.The specific references given below will play an important role in debunking the simplistic myth that dams and hydropower projects are climate friendly and can be considered as de facto adaptation measures to cope with Climate Change.

Some Relevant Extracts from Working Group II Report:

  1. Dams and infrastructure projects contribute significantly to “non-climate impacts” which, after interacting with climate impacts, exacerbate the overall impact of climate change on human societies and ecosystems 
  • Sediment Trapping by reservoirs, exacerbates impact of  sea level rise

“Most large deltas in Asia are sinking (as a result of groundwater withdrawal, floodplain engineering, and trapping of sediments by dams) much faster than global sea-level is rising.” (Chapter 24: Asia)

“Human activities in drainage basins and coastal plains have impacted the coastal zone by changing the delivery of sediment to the coast. Sediment trapping behind dams, water diversion for irrigation, and sand and gravel mining in river channels all contribute to decrease sediment delivery, whereas soil erosion due to land-use changes help increase it. It is estimated that the global discharge of riverine sediment was 16-–19 Gt/ yr in the 1950s before widespread dam construction and it has decreased to 12–13 Gt/ yr. Out of 145 major rivers with mostly more than 25-year record, only 7 showed evidence of an increase in sediment flux while 68 showed significant downward trends. The number of dams has increased continuously and their distribution has expanded globally. As of early 2011, the world has an estimated 16.7 million reservoirs larger than 0.01 ha. Globally, 34 rivers with drainage basins of 19 million km2 in total show a 75% reduction in sediment discharge over the past 50 years. Reservoir trapping of sediments is estimated globally as 3.6 Gt/ yr to more than 5 Gt/ yr (Syvitski et al., 2005; Walling, 2012; Milliman and Farnsworth, 2011). Human pressure is the main driver of the observed declining trend in sediment delivery to the coastline.(Chapter 5 Coastal systems and Low Lying areas)

“Attributing shoreline changes to climate change is still difficult due to the multiple natural and anthropogenic drivers contributing to coastal erosion.” (Chapter 5 Coastal systems and low lying areas)

“The combined impact of sediment reduction, relative sea level rise, land-use changes in delta and river management on channels and banks has led to the widespread degradation of deltas. The changes of sediment delivery from rivers due to dams, irrigation and embankments/dykes creates an imbalance in sediment budget in the coastal zones. Degradation of beaches, mangroves, tidal flats, and subaqueous delta fronts along deltaic coasts has been reported in many deltas (e.g. Nile and Ebro, Sanchez-Arcilla et al., 1998; Po, Simeoni and Corbau, 2009; Krishna-Godavari, Nageswara Rao et al., 2010; Changjiang, Yang et al., 2011; Huanghe, Chu et al., 1996; very high confidence). Deltaic coasts naturally evolve by seaward migration of the shoreline, forming a delta plain. However, decreasing sediment discharge during the last 50 years has decreased the growth of deltaic land, even reversing it in some locations (e.g. Nile, Godavari, Huanghe). Artificial reinforcement of natural levees also has reduced the inter-distributory basin sedimentation in most deltas, resulting in wetland loss.” (Emphasis added.)

“The major impacts of sea level rise are changes in coastal wetlands, increased coastal flooding, increased coastal erosion, and saltwater intrusion into estuaries and deltas, which are exacerbated by increased human-induced drivers. Ground subsidence amplifies these hazards in farms and cities on deltaic plains through relative sea level rise. Relative sea level rise due to subsidence has induced wetland loss and shoreline retreat (e.g. the Mississippi delta, Morton et al., 2005; Chao Phraya delta, Saito et al., 2007; high confidence).” (Chapter 5 Coastal systems and low lying areas)

“There have been local variations in precipitation and runoff since 1950, but changes in sediment load are primarily attributed to over 50,000 dams and vegetation changes.”  (Chapter 18: Detection and attribution of observed impacts)

  • Hydropower affects local options

“Hydropower dams along the Mekong River and its tributaries will also have severe impacts on fish productivity and biodiversity, by blocking critical fish migration routes, altering the habitat of non-migratory fish species, and reducing nutrient flows downstream. Climate impacts, though less severe than the impact of dams, will exacerbate these changes.”(Chapter 24: Asia)

  • Climate  change and dams together affect a greater eco-region

“For one climate scenario, 15% of the global land area may be negatively affected, by the 2050s, by a decrease of fish species in the upstream basin of more than 10%, as compared to only 10% of the land area that has already suffered from such decreases due to water withdrawals and dams (Döll and Zhang, 2010). Climate change may exacerbate the negative impacts of dams for freshwater ecosystems.” (Chapter 3: Freshwater resources)

  1. Flood Protection: Dams and embankments may do more harm than good. Ecological measures fare better.
  • “On rivers and coasts, the use of hard defences (e.g. sea-walls, channelization, bunds, dams) to protect agriculture and human settlements from flooding may have negative consequences for both natural ecosystems and carbon sequestration by preventing natural adjustments to changing conditions. Conversely, setting aside landward buffer zones along coasts and rivers would be positive for both. The very high carbon sequestration potential of the organic-rich soils in mangroves and peat swamp forests provides opportunities for combining adaptation with mitigation through restoration of degraded areas.” (Chapter 3 Freshwater Resources)
  • “Ecosystem based adaptation (EBA) can be combined with, or even a substitute for, the use of engineered infrastructure or other technological approaches. Engineered defenses such as dams, sea walls and levees adversely affect biodiversity, potentially resulting in maladaptation due to damage to ecosystem regulating services. There is some evidence that the restoration and use of ecosystem services may reduce or delay the need for these engineering solutions. EBA offers lower risk of maladaptation than engineering solutions in that their application is more flexible and responsive to unanticipated environmental changes. Well-integrated EBA can be more cost effective and sustainable than non-integrated physical engineering approaches (Jones et al., 2012), and may contribute to achieving sustainable development goals (e.g., poverty reduction, sustainable environmental management, and even mitigation objectives), especially when they are integrated with sound ecosystem management approaches.” (Chapter 3 and Also Chapter 15 Adaptation Planning and Implementation)
  1. Dams and Hydropower projects affect biodiversity, which is critical in facing climate change challenges
  • “Freshwater ecosystems are considered to be among the most threatened on the planet. Fragmentation of rivers by dams and the alteration of natural flow regimes have led to major impacts on freshwater biota.” (Chapter 4: Terrestrial and Inland Water Systems)
  • “Damming of river systems for hydropower can cause fragmentation of the inland water habitat with implications for fish species.” (Chapter 4 Terrestrial and Inland Water Systems)
  •  “Freshwater ecosystems are also affected by water quality changes induced by climate change, and by human adaptations to climate-change induced increases of streamflow variability and flood risk, such as the construction of dykes and dams”. (Chapter 3: Freshwater resources)
  • “Hydropower generation leads to alteration of river flow regimes that negatively affect freshwater ecosystems, in particular biodiversity and abundance of riverine organisms, and to fragmentation of river channels by dams, with negative impacts on migratory species. (Chapter 3: Freshwater Resources)
  • “Hydropower operations often lead to discharge changes on hourly timescales that are detrimental to the downstream river ecosystem.”
  • “Climate change and habitat modification (e.g., dams and obstructions) impact fish species such as salmon and eels that pass through estuaries.” (Chapter 5 Coastal Systems and low lying areas)
  1. In Tropics, global warming potential of hydropower may exceed Thermal Power
  • “In tropical regions, the global warming potential of hydropower, due to methane emissions from man-made reservoirs, may exceed that of thermal power; based on observed emissions of a tropical reservoir, this might be the case where the ratio of hydropower generated to the surface area of the reservoir is less than 1 MW/km2”.
  • “Reservoirs can be a sink of CO2 but also a source of biogenic CO2 and CH4” (Chapter 4 Terrestrial and Inland Systems)
  1. Dams increase vulnerability of weaker sections to climate change
  • “A number of studies recognize that not every possible response to climate change is consistent with sustainable development, since some strategies and actions may have negative impacts on the well-being of others and of future generations .For example, in central Vietnam some responses to climate change impact, such as building dams to prevent flooding and saltwater intrusion and to generate power, threaten the livelihood of poor communities. First, the relocation of communities and the inundation of forestland to build dams limit households’ access to land and forest products. Second, a government focus on irrigated rice agriculture can reduce poor households’ ability to diversify their income portfolio, decreasing their long-term adaptive capacity. Indeed, the consequences of responses to climate change, whether related to mitigation or adaptation, can negatively influence future vulnerability, unless there is awareness of and response to these interactions. Here, the role of values in responding to climate change becomes important from a variety of perspectives, including intergenerational, particularly when those currently in positions of power and authority assume that their prioritized values will be shared by future generations. (Chapter 20: Climate-resilient pathways: adaptation, mitigation, and sustainable development)
  •  “Some documented impacts on dams, reservoirs and irrigation infrastructure are: reduction of sediment load due to reductions in flows (associated with lower precipitation), positively affecting infrastructure operation (Wang et al., 2007); impacts of climate variability and change on storage capacity that creates further vulnerability; and failures in the reliability of water allocation systems (based on water use rights) due to reductions of streamflows under future climate scenarios” (Chapter 9: Rural Areas)
  • “Infrastructure (e.g. roads, buildings, dams and irrigation systems) will be affected by extreme events associated with climate change. These climate impacts may contribute to migration away from rural areas, though rural migration already exists in many different forms for many non-climate-related reasons.” (Chapter 9 Rural Areas)
  • “Changes in water use, including increased water diversion and development to meet increasing water demand, and increased dam building will also have implications for inland fisheries and aquaculture, and therefore for the people dependent on them” .
  • “In the case of the Mekong River basin, a large proportion of the 60 million inhabitants are dependent in some way on fisheries and aquaculture which will be seriously impacted by human population growth, flood mitigation, increased offtake of water, changes in land use and overfishing, as well as by climate change. Ficke et al. (2007) reported that at that time there were 46 large dams planned or already under construction in the Yangtze River basin, the completion of which would have detrimental effects on those dependent on fish for subsistence and recreation.” (Chapter 7 Food security and food production systems)
  1. Existing Dams have to be managed sustainably, with ecological considerations:
  • “Suggested strategies for maximizing the adaptive capacity of ecosystems include reducing non-climate impacts, maximizing landscape connectivity, and protecting ‘refugia’ where climate change is expected to be less than the regional mean. Additional options for inland waters include operating dams to maintain environmental flows for biodiversity, protecting catchments, and preserving river floodplains.” (Chapter 24:Asia )
  1. Hydropower itself is vulnerable to Climate Change
  • “Climate change affects hydropower generation through changes in the mean annual stream-flow, shifts of seasonal flows and increases of stream-flow variability (including floods and droughts) as well as by increased evaporation from reservoirs and changes in sediment fluxes. Therefore, the impact of climate change on a specific hydropower plant will depend on the local change of these hydro-logical characteristics, as well as on the type of hydropower plant and on the (seasonal) energy demand, which will itself be affected by climate change”
  • “Projections of future hydropower generation are subject to the uncertainty of projected precipitation and stream-flow. In regions with high electricity demand for summertime cooling, this seasonal stream-flow shift is detrimental. In general, climate change requires adaptation of operating rules which may, however, be constrained by reservoir capacity. Storage capacity expansion would help increase hydropower generation but might not be cost-effective.”
  • “Observations and models suggest that global warming impacts on glacier and snow-fed streams and rivers will pass through two contrasting phases. In the first phase, when river discharge is increased due to intensified melting, the overall diversity and abundance of species may increase. However, changes in water temperature and stream-flow may have negative impacts on narrow range endemics. In the second phase, when snowfields melt early and glaciers have shrunken to the point that late-summer stream flow is reduced, broad negative impacts are foreseen, with species diversity rapidly declining once a critical threshold of roughly 50% glacial cover is crossed.” (Chapter 3 Freshwater Resources)

Let us hope that these collated finding will be helpful in addressing the myth that dams and hydropower projects are climate friendly and can even be looked at as adaptation measures. Let us also hope that the Working Group III Report, which will come out in less than a week’s time from now, will have lessons for hydropower development in line with the above statements in the WG II report.

Issues with WG III, Special Report on Renewable Energy

Findings of WG II contrast strikingly with Special Report on Renewable Energy Sources and Climate Change Mitigation (SRREN) [4]brought out by Working Group III in 2011.

SRREOne of the two lead coordinating authors of this report was Dr. Arun Kumar, from AHEC, IIT Roorkee. Notably, Dr. Kumar was also a part of the team which worked on Cumulative Impact Assessment of Hydropower projects in Upper Ganga basin of Uttarakhand[5]. The state suffered huge flood and precipitation damages in June 2013 (long after the report came out) and commissioned and under–construction hydropower projects had a large role to play in compounding the impacts of the disaster[6]. Ministry of Environment and Forests as well as the Supreme Court of India rejected this report. SANDRP had published a detailed critique of this CIA report at the outset.

Amazingly, the Hydropower Section of the above mentioned IPCC Special Report on Renewable Energy severely downplays and ignores the impacts of hydropower. For example, it does not allude to peoples protests to projects, impacts of projects by blasting and tunneling, downstream impacts, impacts of peaking, associated deforestation and related development, cumulative impacts of projects in a cascade, increasing climate vulnerability of the population, seismic impacts, increased disaster vulnerability of the region, etc.,. In fact, these impacts have been some of the most-discussed issues in hydropower discourse in many countries at the moment. The report makes strange statements like “trans-boundary hydropower establishes arena for international cooperation”, when we see across the world that hydropower projects on internationally shared rivers further conflicts and strife between nations. It also downplays methane emissions from hydropower.

In all, the section appears biased towards hydropower and does not do justice to IPCC’s rigorous and objective standards. The section should not have been accepted as it stands now.

Now, the Working Group III is yet to submit its Assessment Report to the IPCC. It will be discussed by the IPCC between 7-11 April 2014, in Berlin. We hope there is true depiction of hydropower in the Working Group III report, looking at the above mentioned impacts and also keeping in mind strong statements from Working Group II report made public on March 31, 2014.

Parineeta Dandekar, parineeta.dandekar@gmail.com

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[1] The IPCC Working Group I (WG I) assesses the physical scientific aspects of the climate system and climate change. Working Group II (WG II) assesses the vulnerability of socio-economic and natural systems to climate change, negative and positive consequences of climate change, and options for adapting to it. It also takes into consideration the inter-relationship between vulnerability, adaptation and sustainable development. The assessed information is considered by sectors (water resources; ecosystems; food & forests; coastal systems; industry; human health) and regions (Africa; Asia; Australia & New Zealand; Europe; Latin America; North America; Polar Regions; Small Islands). The IPCC Working Group III (WG III) assesses options for mitigating climate change through limiting or preventing greenhouse gas emissions and enhancing activities that remove them from the atmosphere. (https://www.ipcc.ch/working_groups/working_groups.shtml)

[2] https://www.ipcc.ch/

[3] https://www.ipcc.ch/pdf/ar5/pr_wg2/140330_pr_wgII_spm_en.pdf

[4] http://www.ipcc-wg3.de/special-reports/srren/special-report-renewable-energy-sources

[5] http://www.sandrp.in/hydropower/Pathetic_Cumulative_Impact_Assessment_of_Ganga_Hydro_projects.pdf

[6] https://sandrp.wordpress.com/2013/06/21/uttarakhand-deluge-how-human-actions-and-neglect-converted-a-natural-phenomenon-into-a-massive-disaster/

https://sandrp.wordpress.com/2013/06/23/uttarakhand-floods-disaster-lessons-for-himalayan-states/

https://sandrp.wordpress.com/2013/06/25/uttarakhand-and-climate-change-how-long-can-we-ignore-this-in-himalayas/

https://sandrp.wordpress.com/2013/08/14/uttarakhand-flood-disaster-supreme-courts-directions-on-uttarakhand-hydropower-projects/

https://sandrp.wordpress.com/2013/09/27/uttarakhand-floods-of-june-2013-curtain-raiser-on-the-events-at-nhpcs-280-mw-dhauliganga-hep/