Climate change and Society: Their Interactions in the Trans-Himalaya (Upper-Mustang) Nepal
Studies on climate change have been dominated by climate science while its impacts are studied by economics, both of the disciplines using empiricist methodologies. Such studies have interpreted the change as environmental, economic and political problems. Studies of climate change from social science perspectives or using humanistic methodologies are still lacking, particularly in Nepal. As a result, social scientists in Nepal are still confined to understand climate change as what the climate scientist tell, and are restrained to accept the impacts of change as what the economists convey. The reality however is that, whatever the lenses: environmental, economic or political is used to look the climate change; the problem is particularly the social. Therefore social scientists should have their own ways of studying climate change, and associated implications and societal responses to the changes and impacts.
The rate of climate change has spatial characteristics and is highly uncertain. The impacts are higher in the places and communities such as developing countries including Nepal, having low level of adaptive capacity. In particular, the Himalayan climate is experiencing an abrupt change, which is putting challenge to the sustainability of social ecosystem of the region. Additionally, societal perception of climate change implicates in communities’ adaptation responses. Therefore, understanding social construction of climate change and associated human responses are crucial steps of understanding climate-society interactions and promote adaptation.
This research investigates interaction between climate change and society in relation to changeà impacts à response à outcomes chain. Climate change and impacts are understood using social perception while societal responses are the tacit efforts of the communities to reduce the negative implications and adapt to the change. The outcomes of the interaction on the other hand are revealed in relation to food and livelihood security and sustainability of the social ecosystems. The study is conducted in the Trans-Himalaya (Upper-Mustang), Nepal using field methods. Primary data of private domains are collected through face-to-face interviews with the heads of 66 households while 6 focus group discussions, 22 in-depth interviews with key informant, preparation of 2 historical timeline calendars, and construction of 3 crop calendars are conducted to obtain data on public domain. The field work was conducted in June 2013 by the author accompanied with 2 postgraduate colleagues. Findings suggest increased temperature and precipitation, changes in precipitation and snowing seasons, and increase of both warm and cold extremes in the Trans-Himalaya. The weather patterns have become uncertain and unpredictable so have a number of implications in the Trans-Himalayan social ecosystem. Households and the communities have developed and adopted several strategies to reduce the negative implications. Yet, adopted strategies are not sufficient to maintain the sustainability of the social-ecological system of the Trans-Himalaya, although the strategies such as construction of flood-control dikes, shift in crop calendar, change in occupation and labor migration, as well as reception of external supports have produced positive results in food and livelihood security. Therefore, this study proposes an integrated adaptation framework to the policy makers to promote adaptation to climate change in the Trans-Himalaya, Nepal.
Key Words: Climate change, Implications, Adaptation, Trans-Himalaya, Social ecosystem, Vulnerability, Nepal