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Vol. 14 No. 3 - July 2008

A Report on International Workshop on “Climate Change and its Impact on Flora in the South Asia Region”
(Organized during March 9-12, 2008 at the National Botanical Research Institute, Luckinow, India


Worldwide, temperatures have risen by 0.6°C over the past 40 years and are predicted to rise by 2–6°C over the next century. Precipitation patterns have also changed – some places are receiving more rain than they did in the past, some places less. Evidence of climate change is evident through the shrinking glaciers, lengthening of mid-to-high-latitude growing seasons, pole-ward and altitudinal shifts of plants, decline of some plant populations, earlier flowering of trees etc. Natural systems are vulnerable to climate change and some will be irreversibly damaged due to the limited adaptive capacity, the examples are mangroves, boreal and tropical forests, prairie wetlands, native grasslands and biodiversity. Besides many human systems are also sensitive like the water resources, agriculture (esp. food security), forestry, coastal zones and marine systems.

Plant responses to climate change depend upon – species and cultivars, soil properties, pests and pathogens, the direct effect of pollutants - CO2, O3, methane etc. on plants, interactions between pollutants, air temperature, water stress, mineral nutrition, air quality and adaptive responses.

South Asian countries including India show a wide range of variation in climate, altitude and physiography. There is considerable divergence of opinion about the magnitude of climate change predicted for this region and its effect on plants. Both climate models and observational studies give conflicting and hazy pictures of the effect of climate change on vegetation. The assessment of impacts of projected climate changes on natural ecosystems is not based on accurate scientific modeling or field studies at regional level.

Taking this in view, the “International Workshop on Climate Change & its Impact on Flora in the South Asia Region” was organized jointly by National Botanical Research Institute (NBRI), Lucknow, India and South Asia Co-operative Environment Programme (SACEP), Colombo, Sri Lanka during March 9-12, 2008 at NBRI. NBRI, a constituent laboratory of the Council of Scientific & Industrial Research (CSIR, Government of India), is a leading R&D Institute in the field of plant sciences. SACEP is an intergovernmental organization, established in 1982 by the Governments of various countries of South Asia to promote and support protection, management and enhancement of environment in the region. About 139 scientists, experts and researchers from various parts of India and South-Asian countries viz., Bangladesh, Bhutan, Maldives, Pakistan, Sri Lanka, Nepal and Afghanistan participated in the workshop.

The workshop was aimed to provide an international forum for serious scientific discussion and deliberation to develop projections on climate change and its impact on the flora in various countries of South Asia.

The workshop was inaugurated on 9th March 2008 by Dr. Rakesh Tuli, Director NBRI and patron of the workshop, who while welcoming the delegates/participants from different countries, introduced the theme of the workshop. He emphasized the requirement of accurate assessment of impacts of projected climate change on natural ecosystem, through scientific modeling and field studies. He further added that the workshop was to provide an ideal platform to initiate interdisciplinary work among experts in South Asia to pool their resources, knowledge and information related to climate change, and develop appropriate strategic action to assess the impact of climate change on flora and vegetation of South Asian region. Dr. Arvind Anil Boaz, Director General, SACEP in his inaugural address enlightened on the issues of vulnerability and adaptation in the context of bio-diversity, agriculture and forestry brought by climate change, regardless of efforts to reduce emissions of green house gases. He hoped that the workshop would develop strategies for regional research and development of South Asian information network for enhancing the preparedness for global climate change and encouraging the mutual cooperation in the South Asian countries.

Prof. N.H. Ravindranath, of Indian Institute of Science, Bangalore, gave an overview of the Climate Change, the highlights of the Fourth Assessment Report of IPCC (IPCC, 2007). He said “The South Asia region inhabited by about five million people will be most affected by adverse climate change”. Elaborating further Prof. Ravindranath said that there had been a consistent rise in the green house gas emission especially between 1970 and 2006. As a result of this, North West India, Pakistan, Nepal would see more warming conditions, which would be detrimental for the vegetation of the region. In his key note address he said that the climate change would also adversely affect the bio-diversity. Prof. C.K. Varshney, former Dean, School Of Environmental Sciences, JNU, New Delhi, gave a comprehensive account of the impact of climate change on the plant response at species level, community level, agriculture and food security and ecosystem services. According to him, ozone (tropospheric) is also an important secondary pollutant due to the GHGs and should not be ignored, as this is a strong phytotoxic agent.

The workshop was divided in seven sessions starting from the climate change scenario in different countries where all participating countries expert gave their country presentation.

Dr. J.S. Pandey, Scientist National Environmental Engineering Research Institute (NEERI) gave the overview of the Global Climate Change and its Environmental Impacts. He stressed that the impacts can be due to temperature gradients; soil, land and forest degradation; perturbations in water supply and demand; aberrations in flooding patterns, desertification; rising sea-levels, etc. He categorized some issues and research areas, which require closer look and analysis e.g., population dynamics, land-use changes, trans-boundary air pollution, environmental management and international interactions. Country presentations were made by Mr. Saeed Abrahim Sherzai from Afganistan, Mr. Lohzang Dorji from Bhutan, Mr. Ibrahim Naeem from Republic of Maldives, Prof. Sant Bahadur Gurung from Nepal, Dr. Raja Khalid Hussain from Pakistan and Mr. M.A.A.M. Jayarathna from Sri Lanka. All the speakers emphasized the extent of greenhouse gas emission and the effect on agriculture, forest and marine flora in their countries.

The second session concentrated on the effect of climate change on the biodiversity. The deliberations focused on the impacts from climate change and disruption of ecosystems such as Himalayan region, marine biota, desert conifer family and evergreen forest of Western Ghats leading to tremendous loss of biodiversity. Dr. Baban Ingole, Scientist from National Institute of Oceanography, Goa expressed his views on the impact of increased anthropogenic activities on Marine Biota through case studies on the marine flora and fauna. Prof J.P.N. Rai, G.B. Pant University of Agriculture and Technology, gave his views on the changes that will occur in Agro-biodiversity due to Climate Change. Dr. Rashmi Srivastava and Ms. Anumeha Shukla from Birbal Sahni Institute of Palaeobotany, Lucknow, showed the changes in the carbonized woods collected from the desert and river basin regions due to prevailing environmental conditions.

A session focused on Forestry sector with special reference to carbon sequestration. Prof. S.P Singh, Vice Chancellor, H.N.B. University, Uttarakhand enlightened about the vulnerability of high Himalayas and the remedial steps to manage alpine forests and meadows in a sustainable way to reduce the effect of global warming. He pointed out methods to give economic incentives to community’s efforts to protect ecosystem health. Mr. Sandeep Tripathi, Secretary of the Indian Council of Forestry Research and Education, Dehradun, expressed his views on the role of forests in Climate Change especially in GHG reduction and thus mitigation. He further stressed on devising appropriate mitigation and adaptation strategies under Land Use, Land Use Change and Forestry (LULUCF) sector. He expressed his concern for the CDM (Clean Development Mechanism) Projects in forestry sector, which can provide relatively low cost opportunities to combat climate change. Dr. Uma Melkania of Department of Environment Sciences, G.B. Pant University of Agriculture & Technology, Pantnagar expressed her view on the Carbon sequestration potential in Forest Ecosystem through the studies undertaken in the Tarai region of Uttarakhand.

In the session on climate change and agricultural sector, renowned scientist Dr D.C. Uprety, from Indian Agricultural Research Institute, New Delhi delivered lectures on  “Rise in atmospheric CO2 and its impact on crop productivity”. He gave a good account of the innovation approaches, for conducting long-term experiments to study the response of crop plants to the elevated CO2, He further informed about the results of the experiments conducted with Free Air CO2 enrichment (FACE) technology and open Top Chambers (OTCs) on Brassica, rice and wheat. Advisor in the Ministry of Science Technology and Earth Science. Dr. Akhilesh Gupta, through his lecture, informed about the prevailing weather condition especially high temperature on the decrease in agriculture yield. An example of this can be seen in the fact that preliminary evidences indicate that decrease in rice yields, in Indo-Gangetic plains is associated with a slight rise in minimum temperature. Dr. Prabhat K. Gupta from National Physical Laboratory (NPL), New Delhi gave a good account of climate change, GHG Emission and Agriculture: Indian and South Asian efforts for Quality Data to meet Future Challenges. Dr. P. Krishnan presented the results on simulation standards of rice yield and methods of adaptation under Climate Change Scenario using the models of ORYZA1 and INFOCROP- rice experimenting in eastern India. The results suggest that the limitation on rice yield imposed by high CO2 and temperature can be mitigated, at least in part, by altering the sowing time and selection of genotypes that possess a higher tolerance of spikelet fertility at high temperature. Dr. Chhemendra Sharma from National Physical Laboratory, New Delhi, gave an overview of the impact of climate change on Agriculture sector and requirement to develop/ enhance appropriate adaptation technologies and measures.

The other highlights of the Workshop were deliberations by experts on environmental issues related to climate change like effect on Sunderbans’ mangrove by Prof. Joyshree Roy, Jadhavpur University, Kolkata. According to the reports, tidal flats, agriculture land, mangrove forest, declined over time, while abandoned aquaculture ponds , degraded mangrove, salt marshes have increased. Over a period of one decade mangrove area has declined in Sunderbans from 420 hectares (1987) to 212 hectares (1997). The importance of mangroves should be promoted through economic valuation of mangroves, leading to increased levels of reforestation and conservation. In his observation on sea level rise along the Coast of the North Indian ocean, Dr. A.S. Unnikrishan, Scientist at National Institute of Oceanography, Goa observed that the sea level rise trends obtained in all the stations (except Diamond Harbour) along the north Indian ocean coasts are found to be consistent with global estimates, with an average of about 1.30 mm/year.

The presentation of Prof. M.N.V. Prasad of University of Hyderabad, dealt with the impact of Climate change phenomena on soil and plants with specific examples of ionic stress, metallomics, brackish or estuarine and wetland ecosystems and biogeochemistry of trace elements under climate change stress phenomena.

Prof. A.S. Raghubanshi, Botany Department, BHU, Varanasi gave a good account of the approaches to assess ecosystem response to climate change through Equilibrium models and Dynamic Global Vegetation Models, He expressed concern about the reliable data and suggested to take direct field measurement data which can be model calibrated by non-linear inversion method.

Other important matters discussed during the workshop were coasts of north Indian Ocean, carbon sequestration and carbon trading opportunities and Free Air CO2 Enrichment Technology (FACE) to assess the effect of CO2 and temperature rise on crop plants.

The outcome of the Workshop was a “Lucknow Statement on the effect of global climate changes on South Asian Flora and Regional action plan”. The statement highlights the development of strategic plan for promoting education, research and extension, for knowledge based assessment, monitoring, preparedness and mitigation of climate change effects on flora in South Asian Countries.

A project proposal “Impact of Climate Change on Flora: A South Asian Initiative” for a coordinated action programme was developed, with the objectives to enhance capacity building, floral vulnerability assessment and adaptation/mitigation strategies. The project has been forwarded to SACEP Sri Lanka for seeking funds from International Organizations. The workshop concluded with thanks to the participants and especially experts from India and South Asian Countries by the Organizing Secretaries - Drs. R.D.  Tripathi and Nandita Singh of NBRI.

This article has been reproduced from the archives of EnviroNews - Newsletter of ISEB India.

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