KATHMANDU — Himalayan glaciers that supply nearly two billion people with crucial water are melting faster than ever before due to climate change, exposing communities to unpredictable and costly disasters, scientists warned Tuesday.
According to a report by the International Center for Integrated Mountain Development (Icimod), glaciers were disappearing 65 percent faster between 2011 and 2020 than in the previous decade.
“As it gets warmer, the ice will melt, which was expected, but what is unexpected and very worrying is the speed,” study lead author Philippus Wester told AFP. “This is going much faster than we thought.”
Glaciers in the Hindu Kush Himalayas (HKH) region are a critical source of water for about 240 million people in the mountainous regions, as well as another 1.65 billion people in the river valleys below, the report said.
Based on current emission trajectories, glaciers could lose up to 80 percent of their current volume by the end of the century, said Nepal-based Icimod, an intergovernmental organization that also includes member states Afghanistan, Bangladesh, Bhutan and China. , India, Myanmar and Pakistan.
Feeding 10 of the world’s major river systems, including the Ganges, Indus, Yellow, Mekong and Irrawaddy, the glaciers directly or indirectly provide billions of people with food, energy, clean air and income.
“With two billion people in Asia relying on the water held by glaciers and snow here, the consequences of losing this cryosphere (a frozen zone) are too great to contemplate,” said Icimod Deputy Chief Izabella Koziell.
Even if global warming is limited to the 1.5 dec C to 2 deg C relative to pre-industrial levels agreed in the Paris Climate Agreement, glaciers are expected to lose a third to a half of their capacity by 2100. will lose volume, the peer-reviewed report said.
“It underscores the need for urgent climate action,” said Dr Wester. “Every small step will have a huge impact and we really, really need to work on climate mitigation… that’s our case.”
Dr. Wester said improving technologies and previously classified high-resolution satellite imagery meant predictions could be made with a good degree of accuracy.
The world has warmed by an average of nearly 1.2°C since the mid-19th century, triggering a cascade of extreme weather, including more intense heat waves, more severe droughts and storms intensified by rising seas.
Hardest hit are the world’s most vulnerable people and the poorest countries, which have contributed little to global warming fossil fuel emissions.
Dr. Amina Maharjan, a livelihoods and migration specialist at Icimod, said communities are not getting the support they need.
“Most of the adaptation is communities and households responding (to climate events). It is insufficient to meet the challenges of climate change,” said Dr Maharjan.
“What will be very important going forward is anticipating change,” she said. AFP