Sustainability of hydropower in the Hindu Kush Himalaya

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Climate Change and the Impacts on Cryosphere, Hydrological Regimes and Glacier Lakes

The climate, cryosphere and hydrology of the Hindu Kush Himalaya region have been changing in the past and will change in the future. Warming of the climate system is unequivocal. The atmosphere and ocean have warmed, the amounts of snow and ice have diminished, the sea level has risen, and the concentrations of greenhouse gases has increased. The Himalayan region has the third largest deposit of ice and snow in the world, after Antarctica and the Arctic and is exceptionally vulnerable. There is agreement among global climate models (GCM) on future temperature trends in the region, but projections of future precipitation patterns differ widely. As a consequence, the demand for increased knowledge about future climate change is still high. A main focus has been given to temperature increases and changes to the hydrological cycle with the tendency that wetter regions mainly will become wetter and drier regions will become drier. Growing scientific knowledge and recent weather events show that extremes related to hydrological changes can be substantial though and the geographical and time-wise resolution of predicted changes is still low in many areas. 

Energy is one of the major drivers of change in the region. Although the region has a high hydropower potentials, the changing climate and hydrological regime might pose a risk to hydropower development in the future. It is imperative for hydropower developers to understand the changes in the hydrological cycle and its uncertainty. Also, changing probabilities and magnitudes of extreme events can put additional risks on our infrastructure (dams and hydropower plants) or on infrastructure we depend on (roads and transmission lines). 

With plans to develop hydropower in Northern India (mainly state of Himachal Pradesh), Nepal, Bhutan and possibly Myanmar, Statkraft and the International Centre for Integrated Mountain Development (ICIMOD) have decided to work together in furthering the understanding of climate change impact on hydrological regime in the region and resulting impacts on hydropower development. ICIMOD, a regional intergovernmental learning and knowledge sharing centre experienced in climate and water related issues in the HKH region,and Statkraft with technical support from Future Waters, The Netherlands have conducted a detailed review on the state of knowledge regarding climate change and its connections to changes in the cryosphere and hydrology with specific focus on impacts for hydropower development. Based on this study, ICIMOD and Statkraft plan to conduct a detail study on the impact of climate change on hydropower development in representative catchments and sub-basins of HKH region. 

Objective of the workshop

The workshop has a two-fold objective:

  1. To disseminate the findings of the review and receive feedback from experts.
  2. To improve the understanding on the impact of climate change on hydropower and prepare for the detailed study.