ISLAMABAD: The impact of global warming on glaciers, snow, and permafrost of the Hindu Kush Himalayan (HKH) region, including mountains in Pakistan, is “unprecedented and largely irreversible,” a new assessment report by an eight-nation environmental conservation organization revealed on Tuesday.
Published by the International Center for Integrated Mountain Development (ICIMOD), the report drew on recent scientific advances to map for the first time the links between the cryosphere — the frozen parts of the planet — water, biodiversity and society in the region.
It charted the impacts of rapid changes in glaciers and snow on people and nature. According to the ICIMOD, the report is based on the “most accurate assessment” of changes to the Asia high mountain cryosphere to date.
“[It] finds that glaciers in the HKH [including in Pakistan] could lose up to 80 percent of their current volume by the end of the century, on current emissions trajectories,” the report said.
“Snow cover is projected to fall by up to a quarter under high emissions scenarios – drastically reducing freshwater for major rivers such as the Amu Darya, where it contributes up to 74 percent of river flow, the Indus (40 percent), and Helmand (77 percent).”
The report said that floods and landslides in the HKH region, including Pakistan, are projected to increase over the coming decades, with slow-onset hazards such as sedimentation and erosion, and fast-onset hazards such as glacial lake outburst floods (GLOFs), occurring often concurrently in the same catchments.
“Two hundred glacier lakes across the HKH are deemed dangerous, and the region could see a significant spike in GLOF risk by the end of the century,” it said.
“Coupled with increased population growth and economic activity in the region, exposure to these hazards poses the risk of increased loss and damage, including population displacement.”
Pakistan last year faced one of the worst impacts of climate change in its history as around 33 million people across the country were affected by torrential monsoon rains and floods. The deluges killed more than 1,700 Pakistanis and destroyed infrastructure, homes and agricultural lands.
The ICIMOD report found that the effects of the changing cryosphere on fragile mountain habitats are particularly acute, with cascading impacts in most ecosystems affecting most inhabitant species.
“Species decline and extinction have already been reported, along with range shift of species to higher elevations, ecosystem degradation, decrease in habitat suitability, and invasion of alien species,” it read.
“With 67 percent of the HKH’s ecoregions and 39 percent of the four global biodiversity hotspots located in the HKH remaining outside protected areas, nature is particularly vulnerable to climate impacts.”