- Himalayan glaciers feed Ganges, Indus, Yellow, Mekong and Irrawaddy rivers
- Study warns two-thirds will melt by 2100 if emissions continue at current rate
- Even if Paris targets are hit, the study estimates a third of glaciers will still melt
Two-thirds of Himalayan glaciers, the world's 'Third Pole', could melt by 2100 if global emissions are not reduced, scientists warned in a major new study issued on Monday.
And even if the 'most ambitious' Paris Agreement goal of limiting global warming to 1.5 degrees Celsius is achieved, one-third of the glaciers would go, according to the Hindu Kush Himalaya Assessment.
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 glaciers feed 10 of the world's most important river systems, including the Ganges, Indus, Yellow, Mekong and Irrawaddy, and directly or indirectly supply billions of people with food, energy, clean air and income.
Impacts on people from their melting will range from worsened air pollution to more extreme weather, while lower pre-monsoon river flows will throw urban water systems and food and energy production off-kilter, the study warned.
It was published by the Kathmandu-based International Centre for Integrated Mountain Development (ICIMOD) in Nepal, one of eight countries on the front line.
Five years in the making, it involved more than 350 researchers and policy experts, 185 organisations, 210 authors, 20 review editors and 125 external reviewers.
'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 ICIMOD said in a statement.
'This is the climate crisis you haven't heard of.'
The 2015 Paris Agreement's central aim was to keep a global temperature rise this century well below two degrees Celsius above pre-industrial levels and to pursue efforts to limit the temperature increase even further to 1.5 degrees Celsius.
In December, world leaders at the COP24 talks in Poland agreed on a common rule book to implement the accord, in which countries committed to limiting global temperature rises to well below two degrees Celsius.
But major polluters, including the United States and Saudi Arabia, disputed a landmark scientific report released in October that suggested nations must slash fossil fuel use by nearly half in a little over a decade.
The new report said that even if the 1.5-degrees target is achieved, it would mean a rise of 2.1 degrees in the Himalayas region. If emissions are not reduced, the rise would be five degrees.
WHAT IS THE PARIS AGREEMENT?
The Paris Agreement, which was first signed in 2015, is an international agreement to control and limit climate change.
It hopes to hold the increase in the global average temperature to below 2°C (3.6ºF) 'and to pursue efforts to limit the temperature increase to 1.5°C (2.7°F)'.
It seems the more ambitious goal of restricting global warming to 1.5°C (2.7°F) may be more important than ever, according to previous research which claims 25 per cent of the world could see a significant increase in drier conditions.
In June 2017, President Trump announced his intention for the US, the second largest producer of greenhouse gases in the world, to withdraw from the agreement.
The Paris Agreement on Climate Change has four main goals with regards to reducing emissions:
1) A long-term goal of keeping the increase in global average temperature to well below 2°C above pre-industrial levels
2) To aim to limit the increase to 1.5°C, since this would significantly reduce risks and the impacts of climate change
3) Goverments agreed on the need for global emissions to peak as soon as possible, recognising that this will take longer for developing countries
4) To undertake rapid reductions thereafter in accordance with the best available science
Source: European Commission
The Himalayan glaciers, formed some 70 million years ago, are highly sensitive to changing temperatures. Since the 1970s, they have thinned and retreated, and areas covered by snow and snowfall have decreased.
As the glaciers shrink, hundreds of risky glacial lakes can burst and unleash floods.
Satellite data shows that numbers of such lakes in the region grew to 4,260 in a decade from 3,350 in 1990.
Air pollution from the Indo-Gangetic Plains -- one of the world's most polluted regions -- also deposits black carbon and dust on the glaciers, hastening melting and changing monsoon circulation, the ICIMOD study said.
The region would require up to $4.6 billion per year by 2030 to adapt to climate change, rising to as much as $7.8 billion per year by 2050, according to an estimate in the report.
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