A new report shows that Hindu Kush Himalayan (HKH) region is currently going through unprecedented changes primarily driven by climate change and could lose up to 80% of glacier volume by 2100 if greenhouse gas emissions aren’t reduced. The region covers more than 4.2 million km, and encompasses the highest mountain ranges in the world. It contains the largest volume of ice on Earth other than the polar regions.
The report, Water, ice, society, and ecosystems in the Hindu Kush Himalaya, published by Kathmandu-based International Centre for Integrated Mountain Development, warned that flash floods and avalanches would become more likely in the next few years. It also stated that the availability of freshwater would be affected for nearly 2 billion people who live downstream of 12 rivers that originate in the mountain, according to a report in the Associated Press.
Ice and snow in the HKH ranges are an important source of water in the rivers that flow through 16 countries in Asia and provide fresh water to 240 million people in the mountains and another 1.65 billion downstream, according to AP.
“The people living in these mountains who have contributed next to nothing to global warming are at high risk due to climate change,” Amina Maharjan, a migration specialist and one of the report’s authors, said in a press statement. “Current adaptation efforts are wholly insufficient, and we are extremely concerned that without greater support, these communities will be unable to cope.”
According to previous research, the cryosphere — regions on Earth covered by snow and ice — are some of the worst affected by climate change, according to the AP report. Recent research showed that Mount Everest's glaciers have lost 2,000 years of ice in just the past 30 years. “We map out for the first time the linkages between cryosphere change with water, ecosystems and society in this mountain region,” Maharjan said in the statement, which was published in the AP report.
Some of the key findings of the report include the disappearance of Himalayan glaciers 65% faster since 2010 than in the previous decade. Moreover, it found that 200 glacier lakes in the mountain range are deemed dangerous, and the region could see a significant spike in glacial lake outburst floods by 2100.
Notably, the report found that people living in these regions are being affected by climate change more than in many other parts of the world. Earlier this year the mountain town of Joshimath started sinking and caused significant loss of lives and property. “Once the ice melts in these regions, it's very difficult to put it back to its frozen form,” Pam Pearson, director of the International Cryosphere Climate Initiative, who was not involved with the report said in the press statement.
The report warns that any changes in the cryosphere will negatively impact the biosphere. For instance, habitats could reduce rapidly, and many species, especially native and endemic species, may disappear if there is an increase in invasive species. In the future, the lack of snowmelt in areas could cause a severe lack of water in areas that depend on it, a trend that is already apparent, according to the report.
In the AP report, Pearson added it is very important for Earth's snow, permafrost and ice to limit warming to 1.5 degrees Celsius as agreed to at the 2015 Paris climate conference.