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'Happy' Bhutan alarmed by Himalayan climate change
by Staff Writers
Thimphu, Bhutan (AFP) Aug 24, 2011

Bhutan's prime minister has issued a dire warning about the impact of Himalayan climate change, saying it could wreck the tiny kingdom's ambitious plans to be a world leader in hydropower.

The isolated, mountainous nation sandwiched between India and China is famed for pursuing "happiness" for its citizens instead of orthodox economic growth, with environmental protection central to its development model.

Bhutan, home to 700,000 people, is already a carbon-neutral electricity producer, with almost all of its power generated at plants that capture energy from the cascading streams that criss-cross its spectacular landscape.

But Prime Minister Jigmi Thinley told AFP the country was powerless to prevent changes caused by shifting weather patterns which threaten regional water supplies and plans to harness the energy of the Himalayan snowmelt.

"The glaciers are retreating very rapidly, some are even disappearing. The flow of water in our river system is fluctuating in ways that are very worrying," he said in an interview in his office in the capital Thimphu.

"In the summer they overflow their banks in a way that used to never happen in the past and in the winter they shrivel and almost dry up.

"The climate is changing, global warming is real and the impact on our hydrology is very severe."

The increase in meltwater caused by warmer summers has also led to the creation of lakes high in the mountains that threaten people in the valleys below.

The government is building an early warning system to alert authorities to any possible breach of the natural dams that hold back the water.

In 1994, Lake Lugge in northern Bhutan burst and killed 21 people.

Currently, a team of 200 to 300 labourers and engineers are working in the same area to lower the level of the largest glacial lake in the country, called Thorthormi in Lunana district.

The workers, active during the summer months when work is possible in the icy and inhospitable area, are digging a drainage canal that will reduce the lake level by five metres (16 feet).

All the equipment for the task had to been carried, with the air too thin to use helicopters. To reach the spot on foot every man had to pass a 5,000-metre peak.

"It's literally spades and shovels," said Karma Tshiteem, the secretary of the Gross National Happiness Commission, a state agency that vets and proposes policy, who recently inspected the work.

"This is a stark example that climate change is not some theoretical thing that is still to be debated. We are facing it and having to do mitigation efforts," he told AFP in an interview.

On November 19, Bhutan will host a conference bringing together India, Nepal and Bangladesh to discuss ways to lessen the impact of global warming on the mountains, which are a source of water for 1.3 billion people downstream.

It is a follow-up to a similar meeting in Kathmandu in 2009 and an attempt to put climate change back on the international agenda, which has been dominated by concerns about debt and recession in developed countries.

For Bhutan, the change in river water flows caused by colder, drier winters and warmer, wetter summers is particularly alarming.

The shift may jeopardise ambitious hydroelectric power plans to raise capacity seven-fold from a current peak of about 1,500 megawatts (MW) from four plants, to 10,000 MW by adding another 10 projects by 2020.

By selling electricity to energy-starved neighbour India, the aid-dependent country had hoped to become economically self-sufficient by 2018.

But Thinley said the government was having to reconsider the assumption that rivers would be a boundless source of energy and income. The total potential for hydropower in Bhutan had been estimated at 30,000 MW.

"Hydropower may not be the sort of exponential source that we considered it to be," he said.

"The flow during the winter and summer used to be regulated, the variation was not so much. Now it is so much that in the winter, we are importing electricity from India."

The UN's top panel on climate change warned in a landmark 2007 report that "widespread mass losses from glaciers and reductions in snow cover over recent decades are projected to accelerate throughout the 21st century."

It later withdrew a mistaken prediction that Himalayan glaciers might have disappeared altogether by 2035 after admitting that the warning was an exaggeration based on faulty data and research.

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Mekong's rice production at risk
Hanoi, Vietnam (UPI) Aug 23, 2011 - Vietnam's Mekong Delta is at risk from rising sea levels due to climate change, experts warn.

Known as the Rice Bowl of Vietnam, the 15,000-square-mile region produces half the country's rice output of 49 million tons a year, with 80 percent of its population engaged in rice cultivation.

"Rising sea waters will cause inundations to the Mekong and will require drastic changes in lifestyles," said Dao Xuan Lai, head of sustainable development at the U.N. Development Program in Vietnam, The Guardian newspaper reports.

People will be forced to switch crops and innovate, he said. Those close to river banks and river mouths have already had to find different ways to make a living in fresh water.

Even if all emissions worldwide were stopped now, the water would still rise about 8-12 inches in the next few decades, Lai said.

"People in this region are still very poor and will need help from the international community to survive this," he said.

The World Bank considers Vietnam among the countries most threatened by rising waters brought about by higher global temperatures.

Basing its research on warnings from international organizations that sea levels will increase by 11.8 inches in 2050 and 3.28 feet by 2100, a study by the Institute of Meteorology, Hydrology and Environment says that with a 3.28-foot rise, up to one-third of the Mekong Delta and a quarter of Ho Chi Minh City would be permanently submerged.

Rising seawater is also turning the rivers of the Delta salty, with saltwater at four parts per thousand already reaching 35 miles inland, causing significant damage to crops and livestock, particularly affecting rice production.

Rice cannot be grown in saline conditions. Other typically strong crops, including oranges, lemons and coconuts, cannot be grown in higher concentrations of salt.

"I have to travel five hours upstream by boat to fetch water for drinking, washing and cooking," Vo Thi Than, a 60-year-old woman who lives beside a dock and operates a small restaurant on the small delta island of Cu Lao Oc, told The Guardian.

"A long time ago, there was no salty season at all. Now, five months a year the water is salty," she says.

To address the problem, Vietnam's Southern Irrigation Planning Institute has devised a six-point irrigation plan that includes upgrading of canal networks that lead water from rivers to cultivation areas in the delta but work isn't expected to be completed until at least 2030.

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Research finds Greenland glacier melting faster than expected
Sheffield UK (SPX) Aug 22, 2011
Dr Hanna, from the University of Sheffield's Department of Geography, was part of a team of researchers that also included Dr Sebastian Mernild from the Los Alamos Laboratory, USA, and Professor Niels Tvis Knudsen from the University of Aarhus, Denmark. The team's new findings present crucial insight into the effects of climate change. The researchers found that Greenland's longest-observe ... read more

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