Kathmandu: With scientists worldwide warning of the catastrophic global impacts of this year’s record-breaking losses of snow and ice, policymakers and experts representing one of the world’s most climate vulnerable regions gathered at the International Centre for Integrated Mountain Development (ICIMOD) to call for an urgent acceleration of climate action and ambition.
“The total and irreversible loss of mountain glaciers around the world is about to be locked-in unless immediate action is taken,” James Kirkham, Chief Scientific Adviser to the International Cryosphere Climate Initiative, told the summit, which was attended by ministers, diplomats, senior policy-makers and experts from the eight-nation Hindu Kush Himalayan region and beyond, and was organized by ICIMOD and Nepal’s Ministry of Forests and Environment.
“The science is unequivocal,” said Pema Gyamtsho, Director General of ICIMOD. “We have to act now to prevent the Earth from spiraling towards a state beyond which it can no longer sustain life. With two billion people relying on waters held in these mountains for their food and water security, all of us have a huge humanitarian weight on our shoulders at this moment.”
“The consequences of this and the catastrophic losses of ice in the Arctic and the Antarctic should alarm the world,” Kirkham continued. “It will destabilize the climate system that has kept Earth habitable for millennia and result in large parts of Dhaka, Mumbai, Karachi and Shanghai being underwater if current increases in emissions continue.” Bangladesh alone, Kirkham said, would as soon as 2050 see 18 million refugees as a result of sea level rise.
Scientists emphasized the urgent need to study the Hindu Kush Himalaya’s permafrost, whose thawing threatens the rising incidence of major hazards, including landslides, but also the release of vast amounts of carbon and methane as carbon sink turns to carbon source. Already emissions from permafrost are equivalent to those of Japan. At 3–4ºC of warming that level would rise to China’s or USA’s total emissions.
ICIMOD’s Climate and Cryosphere Crisis forum took place as senior cryosphere scientists from the Ambition on Melting Ice High-Level Group on Sea-level Rise and Mountain Water Resources (AMI) urged world leaders at the United Nations Climate Ambition Summit to make cuts in line with the 1.5ºC Paris Agreement. The upper threshold, of 2ºC of warming, would unleash “catastrophic” changes, AMI argues, and called for it to be taken “off the table.”
“The emergency is already here for the snow and ice of the Hindu Kush Himalaya, at just 1.2ºC of warming,” said Gyamtsho. “We need to unite to help communities and governments prepare and adapt to the impacts of warming that have already been locked in, but we also need to speak with one voice–across the countries of this region, across the world’s cryosphere zones, and across Earth’s mountains, to call for world leaders to cut emissions to #SaveOurSnow.”
Inaugurating the event, Nepal’s Minister of Forests and Environment, Birendra Prasad Mahato said, “The Government of Nepal has prioritized cooperation with its neighbors on issues related to climate change, environmental degradation, disaster risk reduction, biodiversity conservation and socio-economic improvements.”
The high-level event, the second HKH Science-Policy Forum organized by ICIMOD, included presentations Tandong Yao, Professor at the Chinese Academy of Sciences, Professor Lars-Otto, the former executive secretary to the Arctic Monitoring Assessment Program, Wolfger Mayrhofer, Deputy Secretary General of the Alpine Convention, Ansgar Fellendorf, climate change and mountain governance expert, United Nations Environment Program, Bolot Moldobedkov, co-director of the Central Asian Institute for Applied Geosciences, Bishkek among others.