The Climate Crisis You Haven’t Heard Of— The Melting of Himalayan Ice Sheets

by Saarang Kashyap

Everyone knows what’s happening in the North and South pole: the ice caps are melting. Ask a little more and they might tell you that this phenomenon is due to runaway climate change. They may also mention that at some point in the following decades, sea levels will rise and low-lying places like Florida and Venice will disappear. However, not many know about the Hindu Kush Himalayan Ice Sheet, better known as the Third Pole, and how this third of the huge ice fields in Asia’s towering mountain chain is diminishing rapidly.  

According to a landmark report, the melting of this ice sheet will have serious consequences for almost 2 billion people. Even if carbon emissions are dramatically and rapidly cut and succeed in limiting global warming to 1.5C, 36% of the glaciers along in the Hindu Kush and Himalaya range will have been gone by 2100. If emissions are not cut, the loss soars to two-thirds, the report found. As stated in the TheGuardian, The glaciers are a critical water store for the 250 million people who live in the Hindu Kush-Himalaya (HKH) region, and 1.65 billion people rely on the great rivers that flow from the peaks into India, Pakistan, China, and other nations.

Since the 1970s, about 15% of the ice in the HKH region has disappeared as temperatures have risen. But the HKH range is 3,500km long and the impact of warming is variable. Some glaciers in Afghanistan and Pakistan are stable and a few are even gaining ice, most probably due to increased cloud cover that shields the sun in addition to changing winds that bring more snow. But even these glaciers will start crumbling with future warming.

Political tensions between neighboring nations such as India and Pakistan could add to the difficulties. “There are rocky times ahead for the region. Because many of the disasters and sudden changes will play out across country borders, conflict among the region’s countries could easily flare up,” said Eklabya Sharma, the deputy director general of Icimod.

The report also highlights how vulnerable many mountain people are, with one-third living on less than $1.90 a day and far away from help if a climate disaster strikes. We can support the native people who rely on the Himalayan Ice Sheet by educating ourselves on how we, in our own communities, can mitigate climate change.