Foreign Policy Blogs

The Himalayas, India and China

I wrote about The Melting Himalayas over a year ago.  Notwithstanding the relatively absurd brouhaha in January caused by the discovery of a one-paragraph error in the 4th Assessment Report of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, research on glacier loss in the Himalayas has been continuing apace.  The minor peccadillo in the report was trumpeted, far and wide, by climate change Denialists, and vastly inflated by the media – as they will do.

Orville Schell, Editor-in-Chief of “China Green,” a multimedia enterprise of the Asia Society, has an informative piece on the glaciers in the latest “NY Review of Books.”  Schell surveys some key issues, like the impact of warming and black carbon on the glaciers.  He quotes Jim Hansen to the effect that “continued ‘business-as-usual’ emission of greenhouse gases and black soot will result in the loss of most Himalayan glaciers this century, with devastating effects on fresh water supplies.”  That’s water that serves a billion people in East, Southeast, and South Asia, give or take a few million – and depending on how far into the future we’re looking at and the populations then.



For more on the Himalayas, see On Thinner Ice, also from the Asia Society, and The Third Pole, from ChinaDialogue.

Meanwhile, the countries whose people have the most to lose by the continuing melting of the Third Pole that supplies so much of their water, India and China, are continuing to rely on coal, the greatest single contributor to the greenhouse gas superheating the climate system.  Here’s an item from the FT that indicates that India is at least looking at the environmental impacts of coal extraction on its forests.  Over in China, the coal train keep coming.  In fact, it’s a runaway train.  According to this from the Post Carbon Institute, “China’s coal output grew an astonishing 28.1 percent from first quarter 2009 to first quarter 2010, to over 750 million metric tons consumed in just the past three months.”  The article, though, reports that China is running out of coal and surveys some of its options, including renewables and nuclear power.  See also this characteristically informative article from Keith Bradsher at the “NYT.”  He writes:  “The increase in oil and coal-fired electricity consumption in the first quarter was twice as fast as economic growth of about 12 percent for that period, a sign that rising energy consumption is not just the result of a rebounding economy but also of changes in the mix of industrial activity. The shift in activity is partly because of China’s economic stimulus program, which has resulted in a surge in public works construction that requires a lot of steel and cement.”

The question for the health of poor Planet Earth – including the 6,820,104,232 people as of today – is whether or not the Indians and the Chinese are going to get out of the coal business in time.

The FT covered their climate change meeting in Beijing this past weekend and reported here that the two Asian superpowers “…said it would be very difficult to achieve a strong international agreement on climate change at the summit in Mexico later this year…”  My question is, given past performance, how hard will they try?



Bill Hewitt

Bill Hewitt has been an environmental activist and professional for nearly 25 years. He was deeply involved in the battle to curtail acid rain, and was also a Sierra Club leader in New York City. He spent 11 years in public affairs for the NY State Department of Environmental Conservation, and worked on environmental issues for two NYC mayoral campaigns and a presidential campaign. He is a writer and editor and is the principal of Hewitt Communications. He has an M.S. in international affairs, has taught political science at Pace University, and has graduate and continuing education classes on climate change, sustainability, and energy and the environment at The Center for Global Affairs at NYU. His book, "A Newer World - Politics, Money, Technology, and What’s Really Being Done to Solve the Climate Crisis," will be out from the University Press of New England in December.

Areas of Focus:
the policy, politics, science and economics of environmental protection, sustainability, energy and climate change