An ensemble of regional climate model (RCM) runs from the EU HighNoon project are used to project future air temperatures and precipitation on a 25 km grid for the Ganges basin in northern India, with a view to assessing impact of climate change on water resources and determining what multi-sector adaptation measures and policies might be adopted at different spatial scales.
The RCM results suggest an increase in mean annual temperature, averaged over the Ganges basin, in the range 1–4 8C over the period from 2000 to 2050, using the SRES A1B forcing scenario. Projections of precipitation indicate that natural variability dominates the climate change signal and there is considerable uncertainty concerning change in regional annual mean precipitation by 2050. The RCMs do suggest an increase in annual mean precipitation in this region to 2050, but lack significant trend. Glaciers in headwater tributary basins of the Ganges appear to be continuing to decline but it is not clear whether meltwater runoff continues to increase. The predicted changes in precipitation and temperature will probably not lead to significant increase in water availability to 2050, but the timing of runoff from snowmelt will likely occur earlier in spring and summer. Water availability is subject to decadal variability, with much uncertainty in the contribution from climate change.
Although global social-economic scenarios show trends to urbanization, locally these trends are less evident and in some districts rural population is increasing. Falling ground- water levels in the Ganges plain may prevent expansion of irrigated areas for food supply. Changes in socio-economic development in combination with projected changes in timing of runoff outside the monsoon period will make difficult choices for water managers.
Because of the uncertainty in future water availability trends, decreasing vulnerability by augmenting resilience is the preferred way to adapt to climate change. Adaptive policies are required to increase society’s capacity to adapt to both anticipated and unanticipated conditions. Integrated solutions are needed, consistent at various spatial scales, to assure robust and sustainable future use of resources. For water resources this is at the river basin scale. At present adaptation measures in India are planned at national and state level, not taking into account the physical boundaries of water systems. To increase resilience adaptation plans should be made locally specific. However, as it is expected that the partitioning of water over the different sectors and regions will be the biggest constraint, a consistent water use plan at catchment and river basin scale may be the best solution. A policy enabling such river basin planning is essential.