MERCURY RISING

Global warming, the road to extinction?

Global warming is the gradual increase in the average temperature of the Earth’s atmosphere due to effects of greenhouse gases such as carbon dioxide emissions and methane gases, which trap heat that was suppose to leave the Earth. It is known as a type of greenhouse effect which can cause a change that is believed to be permanent.

Well-known as the ‘Water Towers of Asia’, the Himalayas give birth to the world’s largest river systems: The Yangtze, the Ganges, the Indus and the Mekong and possess a majority of the glaciers outside the polar region. More than a billion people, with over 500 million people in South Asia and another 450 million in China, depend directly upon the Himalayas for fresh water both for domestic and industrial use, biodiversity, agricultural use, energy security and power generation.

However, the Himalayas are also one of the world’s most susceptible hotspots to global climate change  which has impacts noticeable at an alarming rate. Global warming poses a serious threat which encompasses negative effects on water, species loss, and food and energy security. Melting glaciers, inconsistent and volatile weather conditions, change in rainfall patterns, and increase in temperatures are outcomes which the people and wildlife of the region are subject to. This is happening not just in the Himalayas, but throughout Asia as a whole.

Along with global warming, the effects of soot from coal and wood burning stoves in China and India combined with the incineration of diesel, fuel and coal are advancing the greenhouse effect by causing the Himalayan glaciers to become heat absorbent rather than heat reflecting. 

The melting of the North and South Poles may raise ocean levels with catastrophic results, but the melting of the Himalayan glaciers might have a more direct long-term outcome on the millions of people who dwell amongst rivers. Various articles, reports and scientists caution that by 2070, there might be a 43% decrease in land mass enveloped by these delicate mountain landscapes. The melting of snow from the Himalayas will prove to be tremendously hazardous as it will cause the major part of the land to become inappropriate and futile for any kind of use.

A constant threat proposed global warming is the melting of glaciers and formation of glacial lakes. “When the natural debris dams cannot hold the water accumulated by the glaciers, a stream of water, mud and ice is swept down into the nearby valleys. Due to such events there are disastrous consequences to infrastructure and local communities, for example washing away bridges, habitats, people, agriculture and livestock.” explains Sundar Kumar Rai, Water and Adaptation Analyst of ICIMOD. “Lake Imja, a high altitude glacial lake near Mount Everest, is posing as a grave problem to the Sherpa villages situated along the flood course. The locals are well informed about the GLOF (Glacial Lake Outburst Floods) that may come uninvited.”

Nevertheless, compilation of data and information as such is merely the first step of a long process. “After the relevant statistics and information is accumulated, the focus must shift to provide government, authorities and people with options regarding climate-resilient development. These could include adaptation and mitigation measures and water storage measures” says UtsavMaden, Knowledge Management and Communication Associate of ICIMOD.

ICIMOD revised its Strategic Framework in 2012 with hopes of countering the changing issues and needs. After widespread conferences with the regional member countries, the new, improved Strategic Framework aims to put interdisciplinary work in the spotlight through five Regional Programmes – Adaptation to Change, Transboundary Landscapes, River Basins, Cryosphere and Atmosphere, and Mountain Environment Regional Information System – along with a sixth programme, the Himalayan University Consortium. These programmes are facilitated by ICIMOD’s four Thematic Areas – Livelihoods, Ecosystem Services, Water and Air, and Geospatial Solutions. However, Knowledge Management and Communication will act as the nucleus which controls the centre. 

ICIMOD has been successful in performing various studies on community-based adaptation to climate change. Projects such as ‘Too much too little water’, the ‘AdaptHimal’ project on pliability building of the vulnerable groups to climate and socioeconomic change, and the ‘Himali’ project on high mountain agribusiness and income development have been hugely beneficial. “Nonetheless, keeping in mind the scale of global warming and climate change, these studies have shown that it will not be profitable in the long haul to just concentrate on autonomous adaptation mechanisms. Only focusing on terrain infrastructure and activities is not enough. There is a must to have remittances and skill development procedures”Maden further elaborates.

ICIMOD also dedicates to assist transferring knowledge across the region and is proud to be a centre for knowledge and learning regarding various aspects of mountains. While making resolutions and assessments, the organization keeps in mind mountain situations such as diversity, marginality and traditions and practices that are prevailing in the HKH region. “Issues such as gender, poverty and private-sector engagement are also factors that determine our verdict”.

Quite recently, the news that a “mini ice age” could hit the Earth in the 2030s has been circulating throughout the media. New mathematical models of the sun’s solar cycle developed and led by Professor ValentinaZharkova at Northumbria University suggest that the solar activity will see a “significant” drop, causing freezing temperatures. The last “mini ice age” occurred between 1645 and 1715 and caused temperatures in Northern Europe to fall severely. 

The model has shown to have 97 percent accuracy when mapping the past movements of sunspots by using statistics and information of solar cycles from 1976 to 2008. The research predicts that by 2030, solar activity might drop by 60%.

 

However, ICIMOD disagrees with the possibility of a “mini ice age”. According to Maden, greenhouse related warming and not solar variations will be the culprit for climate change. The global warming trend is here to stay and the effects can be seen as the Arctic’s temperatures might speed up by 1°F per ten years by the 2020’s. There is a chance that the UK tabloids and conservative media might have misinterpreted and exaggerated things.

The time to act is now. The beautiful snow-peaked mountains are crying for our help. They are “the abode of the snows”, the pride of our nation and it is our duty as citizens to do our bit in reducing global warming.

“Lake Imja, a high altitude glacial lake near Mount Everest, is posing as a grave problem to the Sherpa villages situated along the flood course. The locals are well informed about the GLOF (Glacial Lake Outburst Floods) that may come uninvited.”
Sundar Kumar Rai

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