Two-thirds of Hindu Kush glaciers could melt by 2100, warns study

  • The Hindu Kush Himalaya Assessment has been published by the Nepal-based inter-governmental research organization
  • The melting of glaciers can have grave consequences for more than 250 million people living in the hazard-prone mountain region

NEW DELHI : The Hindu Kush region of the Himalayas could lose two-thirds of its glaciers by 2100, if global efforts to limit global warming fail, says a new landmark report.

The Hindu Kush Himalaya Assessment, the first such comprehensive report on the region, has been published by the Nepal-based inter-governmental research organization, International Centre for Integrated Mountain Development (ICIMOD). It highlights already simmering concerns about the impact of climate change on the ecologically fragile Himalayas.

The Hindu Kush region, home to Mount Everest and K2, is of critical importance. It covers 3,500km across eight countries, including Afghanistan, Bangladesh, Bhutan, China, India, Myanmar, Nepal and Pakistan. The region also has four major biodiversity hotspots.

The melting of glaciers can have grave consequences for more than 250 million people living in the hazard-prone mountain region and 1.65 billion others living in the river valleys downstream, according to the report. The poor will be hit the hardest, it highlights.

The most drastic ripple effect will be on the rivers of South Asia, hitting them the hardest because of projected reductions in pre-monsoon river flows and will affect the urban water systems and food and energy production in the plains.

These glaciers feed 10 of the world’s most important river systems, including the Ganges, Indus, Mekong, and Myanmar’s Irrawaddy, besides the Yellow River, or Huang He, which is the second longest river in Asia.

Researchers warn that ice melt in the region could lead to a surge of glacier run-off into major rivers, including the Indus, Ganges and Brahmaputra, which could lead to flooding and destruction of crops.

“This is the climate crisis you haven’t heard of," said Philippus Wester of ICIMOD, who led the report. “Global warming is on track to transform the frigid, glacier-covered mountain peaks of this Himalayan region cutting across eight countries to bare rocks in a little less than a century."

The warming has been exacerbated by air pollutants coming from the Indo-Gangetic Plain, which is one of the world’s most polluted regions. These pollutants deposit black carbon on the glaciers, hastening their melting and changing monsoon circulation and rainfall distribution over Asia.

The study, which spanned more than five years, was carried out by more than 350 researchers and policy experts from 22 countries and 185 organizations. The researchers used a range of approaches, including climate modelling, to study the region. The final report was reviewed by 125 external reviewers.

Researchers warn that even if the most ambitious climate goals under the Paris Agreement of limiting global warming to 1.5°C above pre-industrial levels by the end of the century are met, it would still lead to melting of one-third of the region’s glaciers.

As many as 195 countries across the world, including India, had committed to limiting global temperature rise this century well below 2°C above pre-industrial levels and to pursue efforts to limit the temperature increase further to 1.5°C.

“There are rocky times ahead for the region. Between now and 2080, the environmental economic and social conditions laid out in the report could go downhill, as these disasters and sudden changes will play out across country borders and conflict among the region’s countries could easily flare up," said Eklabya Sharma, deputy director general, ICIMOD.