Two-thirds of the Himalayan ice cap, the world’s “Third Pole”, could melt by 2100 if global emissions are not reduced, scientists warned in a major new study.
The likes of Mount Everest and K2 will probably thaw by the end of this century, according to an assessment released Monday – even if there is aggressive action to curb greenhouse gases and meet the goals of the Paris climate agreement, endangering up to 2 billion people. No to mention the rest of the planet.
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.
The report highlights previous studies that predicted glacier volumes in this region could decline between 45% and 90% through the 21st century.
“Global warming is on track to transform the frigid, glacier-covered mountain peaks… cutting across eight countries to bare rocks in a little less than a century,” Philippus Wester of the International Centre for Integrated Mountain Development (ICIMOD), who led the report, said in a statement.
“This is the climate crisis you haven’t heard of,” said Wester. “In the best of possible worlds, if we get really ambitious [in tackling climate change], even then we will lose one-third of the glaciers and be in trouble. That for us was the shocking finding.”
Wester said that, despite being far more populous, the HKH region had received less attention than other places, such as low-lying island states and the Arctic, that are also highly vulnerable to global warming.
Glaciers have been retreating and thinning in the area since the 1970s, the report says, but there’s been an accelerating rate of retreat since then. This loss has caused severe economic damage and floods, landslides and deadly epidemics. Global warming has also reduced snow cover and degraded permafrost.