Hindu Kush Himalayan Assessment Report
21st Feb, 2019
- International Centre for Integrated Mountain Development (ICIMOD), a regional intergovernmental body has released the first-ever assessment of climate change impacts on the Hindu Kush Himalayan (HKH) region.
- The ICIMOD is pursuing 8 countries, including India, to set up an inter-governmental body to protect the Hindu Kush Himalayan region, known as the water tower of Asia.
Hind Kush Himalayas
- Part of the great Himalayan range, and spread over 3,500 square kilometres, the HKH region is shared by eight countries, including India and China.
- It is also known as Third Pole due to its largest permanent snow cover after the North and South Poles — sustains the livelihoods of 240 million people living in the mountains and hills.
- It also houses the origin of 10 river basins that include the Ganga, the Brahmaputra and the Mekong.
Main findings of the report
- HKH region is warming faster than the global average. It would continue to warm through this century even if the world is able to limit global warming at the agreed 1.5 degrees Celsius.
- The per capita fossil fuel carbon dioxide emission from the HKH countries is one-sixth of the global average though it is disproportionately impacted.
- In the last 60 years, extreme cold events have become lesser while extreme warm weather events have become more pronounced. Both minimum and maximum temperatures are also changing: they are moving north, indicating overall warming.
- Every decade HKH loses one cold night and half a cold day. While warm nights have increased by 1.7 per decade, the region gets 1.2 warm days every decade.
- Alarmingly, changes in surface temperature (relative to 1976-2005) in this Himalayan region are higher than the global average, and even the South Asian region.
- The projected changes in the surface mean temperature over the HKH region are larger compared to the global mean change by the end of the 21st century.
- Although the climate of the region has changed significantly in the past, it is projected to change more dramatically in the near future.
- The number of glaciers in the Himalayan area has increased in the last five decades and this is an indicator of how severe glacier melting has been due to global warming.
- The increase in the number of glaciers is primarily due to glacier fragmentation — that big ones are splitting into smaller ones. And this is happening due to consistent loss in areas the glaciers occupy.
- Smaller glaciers are shrinking faster than larger ones, although the smaller glaciers of Ladakh show a lower rate of retreat than other Himalayan glaciers. However, the assessment makes clear that despite the surety of glaciers in the Hindu Kush Mountains losing length since 1973, no studies have been done to examine area change in this region.
- In 1998-2014, when the global warming slowed down, this region continued to warm.
- In the 20th century, the HKH region oscillated between warming and cooling phases. In the first 40 years, it reported warming to be followed by a cooling phase in 1940-1970.
- However, since 1970 it has been warming, and as assessed it would continue to be through the current century.
- Warming may be good news for agriculture as the length of the growing season has increased by 4.25 days per decade — a positive change for agriculture.
Consequences of warming of Hind Kush
- It has ramifications for the global climate. This region is a heat source in summer and a heat sink in winter.
- Along with the Tibetan Plateau, this influences the Indian summer monsoon. So, any changes in this region would have a bearing on the monsoon itself that already shows signs of changes in spread and distribution.
- It could trigger a multitude of biophysical and socio-economic impacts, such as biodiversity loss, increased glacial melting, and less predictable water availability—all of which will impact livelihoods and well-being in the HKH.
- Faster snow and glacier melting due to warming is already manifesting in formation of glacial lakes. Glacial lake outburst floods (GLOF) are becoming frequent and causing huge casualties and loss to local infrastructures.
- Glaciers in HKH have been retreating faster, and consistently causing greater water flows in rivers. In Tibetan Plateau, river run off has increased by 5.5 per cent.
- Most of the lakes in high altitudes have also reported water level rise by 0.2 m/year besides their surface areas expanding.
International Centre for Integrated Mountain Development
- It is a regional intergovernmental learning and knowledge sharing centre serving the eight regional member countries of the Hindu Kush Himalaya – Afghanistan, Bangladesh, Bhutan, China, India, Myanmar, Nepal, and Pakistan – and based in Kathmandu, Nepal.
- It aims to assist mountain people to understand these changes, adapt to them, and make the most of new opportunities, while addressing upstream-downstream issues.