Glaciers in Hindu Kush Himalayas are melting at unprecedented rates and could lose up to 75 per cent of their volume by 2100, scientists have said, adding that this would cause dangerous flooding and water shortages for the 240 million people who live in the mountainous region.
On Tuesday, the International Centre for Integrated Mountain Development (ICIMOD) issued a report warning that if greenhouse gases are not drastically reduced, flash floods and avalanches will become more common in the coming years.
It stated that the availability of freshwater would be impacted for the 240 million people who live in the Himalayan region, as well as another 1.65 billion who live downstream of the 12 rivers that originate in the mountains.
"The people living in these mountains who have contributed next to nothing to global warming are at high risk due to climate change,” said Amina Maharjan, a migration specialist and one of the report’s authors.
“Current adaptation efforts are wholly insufficient and we are extremely concerned that without greater support, these communities will be unable to cope,” she said.
Several previous studies have found that the cryosphere – regions of the Earth covered in snow and ice – is among the worst affected by climate change.
According to recent research, Mount Everest's glaciers, for example, have lost 2,000 years of ice in the last 30 years.
The report also found that Himalayan glaciers have receded 65 per cent faster since 2010 than in the previous decade, and that changes to the region's glaciers, snow, and permafrost caused by global warming have been "unprecedented and largely irreversible."
Glaciers across the entire region will lose 30 to 50 per cent of their volume by 2100 if temperatures rise 1.5 degrees Celsius or 2 degrees Celsius above pre-industrial levels, the report said.
But where glaciers will melt most depends on location. At three degrees Celsius of warming – what the world is roughly on track for under current climate policies – glaciers in the Eastern Himalayas, which includes Nepal and Bhutan, will lose up to 75 per cent of their ice.
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At 4 degrees Celsius of warming, that increases to 80 per cent.
“We’re losing the glaciers, and we’re losing them in 100 years time,” said Philippus Wester, an environmental scientist and one of the lead authors of the report.