Climate Change: Between Fiction and Reality 

Given the global dimensions of climate change, the valley of Kashmir is not immune to climate change, and its effects are already visible

Suhail Ahmad Khan

SOUTHERN Europe is burning. Italy, Greece, Albania, North Macedonia, and Turkey are fighting wildfires caused due to heatwaves. According to the European Union’s Copernicus Climate Change Service, the last month of July was the second hottest July ever recorded in European history and the third hottest globally. A simple factor to which all this, heatwaves or wildfires, can be attributed is climate change. Climate change is everything but fictitious; it is a modern-day crisis that humanity is facing and requires concerted efforts of populations across the globe. Given the global dimensions of climate change, the valley of Kashmir is not immune to climate change, and its effects are already visible. Harsh winters, erratic rainfall and rising temperatures are a few of its signs. Thus, it is essential for people of the valley, especially the youth, to fight against climate change before it becomes too late.

In 2019, the meteorological department of the erstwhile state of Jammu and Kashmir highlighted that in the past 100 years, the average temperature in the state has gone up by 1.2-degree Celsius, which is higher than the global average rise of 1 degree Celsius since the industrial age. Rising temperatures in the valley can affect all major economic sectors, such as horticulture, agriculture and tourism. The valley’s horticultural and agricultural sectors are dependent on rainfall and natural reservoirs for irrigation. If temperatures continue to rise, as a study in the journal Climatic change suggests, the valley can face a water crisis, and in that case, productivity levels in the horticultural and agricultural sectors would eventually decrease. For example, a study predicts that “ Irrigated rice, wheat and mustard productions may be reduced by 6%, 4% and 4%, respectively.” Undoubtedly, the worst hit will be the poorer sections of the valley which depend on these sectors for their livelihood. As far as the tourism sector is concerned, potential climate variability due to climate change will attract fewer tourists in the future, and eventually, will render thousands of people without a livelihood. Moreover, if the glacial cover—an essential source of water for rivers on whose banks many tourist places in the valley are situated, continues to shrink at a present rate, it will be a cause of worry for the tourism sector. Thus, circumstances demand to identify the causes of climate change in Kashmir and accordingly seek remedy for these causes.

Among other causes, there are three prominent causes of climate change in the valley: (I) Emission of greenhouse gases, particularly by motor vehicles, (II) Illegal construction, and (III) Tourism. In the past decade or so, the volume of vehicles has increased in the valley. For example, between financial years 2015 and 2017, the number of commercial vehicles increased from 176.51 thousand to 221. 5 thousand in the erstwhile state of Jammu and Kashmir. It is a commonly known fact that motor vehicles emit greenhouse gases, such as carbon dioxide, methane and nitrous oxide, and such gases are responsible for global warming. As such, several measures are necessary to limit the release of these gases into the atmosphere. First, the use of eco-friendly energy in cars becomes vital. Towards that end, the government needs to make available this energy and issue guidelines about how to use this energy in high altitude areas like Kashmir. Second, the UT administration has to improve the quality of public transport in the valley and encourage people to use it. And finally, carpooling should be adopted by people wherever possible. The last two measures would reduce the daily flow of traffic on roads and accordingly a lesser amount of greenhouse gases will get released.

Illegal construction has become a nuisance in the valley. For decades, river encroachments and construction in eco-sensitive zones have been taking place. One of the effects of unauthorized construction was the devastating floods that hit the valley in 2014. Nevertheless, illegal construction around water bodies continues, and people are yet to understand its impact on the environment. Importantly, there is a link between illegal construction and tourism. A deep analysis reveals that tourist places have become a common site of illegal construction. Despite prohibitions on any new construction in Pahalgam since 2010, hotels and shops continue to rake up in the area. What can partly describe these constructions in the area is crony capitalism— a state of affairs where the elite use their power and money to influence the government for several favourable results. It is difficult to rule out that big businesses may have used their influence to get a nod for their projects in the area. Once construction occurs in places like Pahalgam, river and forest ecosystems get adversely impacted. In addition to illegal construction, government-sponsored construction projects also affect fragile ecosystems in the valley. In 2020, journalist Athar Parvaiz reported that after the abrogation of Article 370, 15,000 acres of land around fragile ecosystems in the valley has been designated for developmental projects. When the cost of development is environmental destruction, the administration needs to take a more cautious approach before undertaking any developmental project.

Interestingly, construction projects often lead to deforestation. As and when the administration will undertake these projects in the valley, deforestation will follow.  However, forests act as carbon sinks, and if they continue to disappear, the living conditions in the valley will become harsh and climate change, to use the terminology of the latest Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change report, will become " irreversible." Thus, to avoid the fatalities of climate change, environmental activism is the need of the hour.

In his paper, Rethinking the Ecology-Sovereignty Debate, International Relations scholar Ken Conca argues that “ ecosystems and environmental problems do not respect sovereign borders.” As such, climate change will also not respect borders. That is why there is a global fight against climate change undertaken by civil society and youth. Along with the Kashmiri civil society, the Kashmiri youth also need to take centre stage to make people aware of the realities and impacts of climate change and urge the government to take necessary steps. As they are agents of the future, it is incumbent on them to take charge of the fight against climate change at its earliest.

Views expressed in the article are the author’s own and do not necessarily represent the editorial stance of Kashmir Observer 

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