The Himalayan state of Himachal Pradesh has a significant fraction of area under forest cover. A group of researchers from Indian Institute of Science, Bangalore have ranked the forested districts of this state according to vulnerability of forests to climate change, and identified priority districts for forest adaptive planning in the medium term (2030s). Their analysis showed that such priority districts are Mandi, Solan, Bilaspur, Sirmaur and Shimla under present climate, and Kullu, Shimla, Chamba and Mandi under future climate scenario.
Such studies are useful for managing the fragile forests properly. As Jagmohan Sharma, Chief Conservator of Forests, Coorg Circle, Madikeri, who participated in the study says, “Such information helps in prioritizing districts for budget allocation for taking forest resilience building measures”.
The team includes Sujata Upgupta, Mathangi Jayaraman, Vijay Kumar and Dr. N.H. Ravindranath from Center of Sustainable Technology in IISc, along with Mr. Sharma.
Climate change is one of the most serious issues of worldwide concern right now. It is especially significant in the context of India, whose diverse and fragile ecosystem is increasingly coming under pressure due to urbanization, development and industrialization. To guard against the adverse impacts of climate change, it is necessary to identify the vulnerable regions, assess the potential impacts and plan mitigation steps accordingly.
Forests and their local climate are interlinked; changes in one can affect the other. Additionally, in mountain forests, as in Himachal Pradesh, there are lots of rare plant and animal species, which may be at a threat of extinction due to climate change. The Himalayan mountains and forests are already known to be very much sensitive to climate change. This research has considered various climate change scenarios adopted by the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) to estimate the impacts on forests in Himachal Pradesh.
The researchers made two types of assessments in their work. Firstly, they tried to make assessments of forest vulnerability under the present climatic conditions. For this purpose, the entire state was divided into 2736 cells by using a grid system, of which 1865 have significant fraction of forested area. A number of factors can affect vulnerability of forests - such factors used in the present study are canopy cover, the potential to support flora and fauna, forest disturbance, the ground slope and the extent to which rural communities are dependent on the forests. A district-level vulnerability index was developed based on these factors.
Secondly, the researchers considered the possible future climate scenarios suggested by the IPCC, based on how the concentration of greenhouse gases in the atmosphere may change. Mr. Sharma says, “we used Dynamic Global Vegetation Models, which can simulate the development of vegetation under a wide range of external conditions”. Such simulations were used to estimate the impact of future climate on forests in different districts. By combining the current vulnerability and impact of future climate estimates, a final district-level climate-change vulnerability index was computed, and the districts were ranked accordingly.
About the authors: Sujata Upgupta, Mathangi Jayaraman and Vijay Kumar are researchers in Center of Sustainable Technologies, IISc, Jagmohan Sharma is the Chief Conservator of Forests in Coorg, Dr. N.H. Ravindaranath is a professor at Center of Sustainable Technologies and Center for Ecological Sciences, IISc Bangalore.
About the paper: Climate change impact and vulnerability assessment of forests in the Indian Western Himalayan region: A case study of Himachal Pradesh, India has appeared in Climate Risk Management jounal in 2015.