Published: Wed, February 06, 2019
Research | By Raquel Erickson

Climate change will melt one third of ice in the Himalayas

Climate change will melt one third of ice in the Himalayas

The report, the first large-scale and peer-reviewed study to detail the region's alarming vulnerabilities, points to a looming reality: Even if the Paris Agreement goal of limiting global warming to 1.5 degrees Celsius by the end of the century is met, almost half of the glaciers in the Hindu Kush Himalayan Region will still melt due to an inevitable 2-degree Celsius spike in temperature.

'This is the climate crisis you haven't heard of, ' said Philippus Wester, one of the report's authors.

The new report notes that a 1.5 deg C increase in global temperatures would mean a rise of at least 2.1 deg C in the Himalayas region. The range's peaks supply water to some of the world's largest river systems including the Ganges, the Indus, the Mekong and the Irrawaddy.

"We are concerned, and we are anxious", said one of the study's authors, Philippus Wester, chief scientist with the Kathmandu-based International Centre for Integrated Mountain Development.

Vast glaciers make the Hindu Kush Himalaya (HKH) region - which is home to the world's highest peaks topped by Mount Everest and K2 - a "third pole" behind Antarctica and the Arctic region, they said.

Up to two-thirds of Himalayan glaciers in the Hindu Kush Himalayan (HKH) region, which spans more than 2,000 miles between Afghanistan, Bangladesh, Bhutan, China, India, Myanmar, Nepal and Pakistan, could melt by the end of the century due to greenhouse gas emissions.

"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.

Glaciers in the Hindu Kush-Himalaya (HKH) region are a critical water source for some 250 million people in the mountains as well as to 1.65 billion others in the river valleys below, the report said.

A temperature increase of four to five degrees Celsius by 2100 could wipe out two-thirds of the region's glaciers.

Over 350 researchers, practitioners, experts, and policy-makers were involved in drafting the HKH Assessment Report which is styled after the IPCC reports.

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.

Glaciers have thinned and retreated across most parts of the region since the 1970s.

Air pollutants from India's densely populated Gangetic plains deposit black carbon and dust on the glaciers, hastening their melting, it added.

Saleemul Huq, director of the International Center for Climate Change and Development, an environmental research center in Dhaka said, "All the countries affected need to prioritize tackling this upcoming problem before it reaches crisis proportions". But these ice fields could melt in less than a century.

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