Rising temperatures in the Himalayas will melt at least one-third of the region's glaciers by the end of the century even if the world's most ambitious climate change targets are met, according to a new report. If those goals are not reached, the Himalayas could lose two-thirds of their glaciers by 2100, according to the Hindu Kush Himalaya Assessment, released Feb. 4 by the Kathmandu-based International Centre for Integrated Mountain Development. Under that scenario, the Himalayas could heat up by 8 degrees Fahrenheit (4.4 degrees Celsius) by century's end, bringing radical disruptions to food and water supplies, and mass population displacement. Glaciers in the Hindu Kush-Himalayan Region, which spans over 2,000 miles of Asia, provide water to nearly a quarter of the world's population.
Climate models show that summer flow on the Indus, Ganges and Brahmaputra rivers will actually rise until 2050 as the glaciers melt away—with grave risk of disastrous flooding in downstream countries. But the flows will start radically decreasing after that, because there will be no more ice left.
The implications are particularly dire for India. A government report released last year (PDF) found that India was experiencing the worst water crisis of its history. According to the report from the National Institute for Transforming India (NITI Aayog), about half of India's population, some 600 million people, faced extreme water scarcity, with 200,000 deaths each year from inadequate access to safe water. By 2030, the country's demand for water is likely to be twice the available supply. (NYT, Nepali Times, BBC News)
These sobering predictions recall those of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC), released in October, foreseeing food shortages, wildfires, inundating coastlines, and intensifying droughts and poverty by 2040.
Readers will recall the hype back in 2010, when the IPCC admitted that it made a mistake in asserting that Himalayan glaciers could disappear by 2035, having apparently reversed two digits cited in a Russian study finding that they could be gone by 2350. The climate-denialists jumped all over this snafu as if it vindicated their denialism. Expect dishonest and hypocritical silence from them now that scientists have legitimately arrived at a date for Himalayan disaster far closer to 2035 than to 2350.
See our last post on the politics of glaciers in the Himalayas,
Photo via Nepali Times