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Opinion

Himalayan climate change threatens regional stability. Can India help?

As the devastating floods in Pakistan showed, atmospheric pollutants are disturbing the Himalayan region's weather patterns – and local economies. But India has a pivotal opportunity to cut 'black carbon' emissions and minimize the damage.

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In the western part of the Indo-Gangetic plains, during pre-monsoon period, dust hits the region. Dust particles mix with the soot emissions from these power plants – a significant factor that must be understood when looking at the warming trend in the region. If we cannot find cleaner fuel than coal, we must at least use filters in power plant chimneys in more efficient ways.

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Solving the problem within years

These moves could improve the region’s soot-driven glacier problems within a matter of years. These changes would then have a positive effect on the monsoon cycle and destructive weather patterns, lessening the threats to local economies that can undermine political stability in the region.

India has already taken important first steps. Last year, the Indian Ministry of New and Renewable Energy announced the National Biomass Cook-stoves Initiative to develop and deploy more efficient, less-polluting cookstoves. And last month, the Indian government launched the National Carbon Aerosol Programme, which will focus on the impacts of aerosols on public health, rainfall patterns, and glacial health.

Time to act

It’s been very hard to reach international consensus on what nations should do to address climate change. Rich nations push for regulations. Developing nations argue that the timing will have drastic effects on their prospects for economic growth. As last year’s Copenhagen climate summit clearly demonstrated, there are no neat, just solutions.

But unfortunately, those nations whose citizens depend on the rains from the monsoons and consistent meltwater from the Himalayan glaciers can’t wait for a global climate agreement. The continuing ecological, economic, and political health of the Indian subcontinent demands immediate action, and the people of the subcontinent must respond, decisively and comprehensively.

Semil Shah is a senior adviser to The Clean Air Task Force. Dr. Sarath Guttikunda is an independent air quality researcher and Founder of UrbanEmissions.Info in New Delhi. Dr. Ramesh Singh is a former professor in the Department of Civil Engineering at the Indian Institute of Technology Kanpur, and is currently a professor of Earth System Science and Remote Sensing at Chapman University.

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