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Himalayan Meltdown and the Climate Change Reckoning

Ajay Chhibber and Bittu Sahgal discuss the impact of melting Himalayan glaciers and other manifestations of climate change in Mumbai on Feb. 20, 2012. (4 min., 46 sec.)
by Komal Hiranandani
4 March 2012

MUMBAI, February 20, 2012 — Across Asia, the effects of climate change are adversely affecting livelihoods and forcing migration on an increasing scale.

This was the central point of a program here in which Asia Society India Centre screened the documentary Himalayan Meltdown and followed it with a discussion between Assistant Secretary General of the United Nations Ajay Chhibber and Bittu Sahgal, Founding Editor of Sanctuary Asia, India's first environmental news magazine. The film and the subsequent talk explored how melting Himalayan glaciers are beginning to affect lives in Bangladesh, Bhutan, China, India and Nepal, and presented potential solutions to the situation.

Chhibber stressed that governments and other actors don't need to wait for "perfect" scientific evidence to begin acting to prevent, and adapt to, climate change. For instance, he said, the government of Bhutan, adopting this stance, has increased the country's forest cover; Bhutan has benefited for decades from hydro-power produced by Himalayan glaciers, but realizes that this source of power is now compromised.

Chhibber also acknowledged that people are increasingly aware of the dangers of following a consumerist lifestyle, and that present moment is a golden opportunity for Asia to veer away from that model. If the rest of the world were to adopt the Western lifestyle, consumption-oriented lifestyle, Chhibber cautioned, "We would need nine planets to survive."

Chhibber noted that when developing countries like China are questioned about the emissions they produce from manufacturing, they point out that the consumption is taking place elsewhere — in the U.S., for instance.

Sahgal emphasized the need for governments and international institutions to warn people — like farmers, fisherfolk and anyone living in areas in danger of being submerged by rising seas — about the threats that climate change can pose to their livelihoods, so that these people can have a fair opportunity to adjust to these changes. He also recommended that organizations like the UN not make permanent investments in areas that are likely to be submerged by rising sea levels.

Presented in partnership with the Goethe Institut, Sanctuary Asia, Centre for Environmental Research and Education, Bombay Natural History Society and Columbia Water Centre