Third of Himalayan glaciers could be lost due to climate change

06 February, 2019, 22:42 | Author: Darnell Taylor
  • Mt Everest view from the International Space Station flying over Tibet in January 2019

Not meeting the ambitious Paris Agreement goal of limiting a global temperature spike to 1.5 degrees Celsius from preindustrial levels will make the disappearance of these glaciers by the end of the century certain, while meeting the goal would still lead to a loss of a third of the glaciers, according to the assessment.

"This is the climate crisis you haven't heard of", said Philippus Wester of ICIMOD, who led the assessment. The effects of glacial melting, in a region that is home to more than a quarter of the world's glaciers, will be far-reaching-from destabilising some of the world's most significant rivers including the Ganges and the Mekong to severely depleting the food supply, energy and overall livelihood of billions of people across South Asia and Southeast Asia.

"Global warming is on track to transform the frigid, glacier-covered mountain peaks of the HKH cutting across eight countries to bare rocks in a little less than a century", said Wester of the International Centre for Integrated Mountain Development (ICIMOD).

Often referred to as Earth's "third pole", the Himalayan glaciers are a source of water for nearly two billion people on the planet, especially for some of the most populated countries including China and India.

"But it's the projected reductions in pre-monsoon river flows and changes in the monsoon [season] that will hit hardest, throwing urban water systems and food and energy production off-kilter", he continued.

The report was prepared over five years and it includes insight by more than 350 researchers and policy experts from 22 countries and 185 organizations, 210 authors, 20 review editors and 125 external reviewers.

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And if global temperatures rise by 2 degrees C, then half the glaciers would be gone by 2100. If emissions continue unabated, the roof of the world would warm by an unlivable 5 deg C. But efforts to address the region's catastrophic vulnerabilities to climate change have always been neglected.

But more research is needed to gauge exactly how glaciers affect distant crops, said Wouter Buytaert, of Imperial College in London, who was not involved in the study.

As the glaciers shrink, hundreds of risky glacial lakes can burst and unleash floods.

The region would require up to US$4.6 billion per year by 2030 to adapt to climate change, rising to as much as US$7.8 billion per year by 2050, according to an estimate in the report.

Air pollutants from India's densely populated Gangetic plains deposit black carbon and dust on the glaciers, hastening their melting, it added. But these ice fields could melt in less than a century.

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