With just 4% of the world’s population, the United States is responsible for over 15% of annual global carbon emissions. What America does or does not do will affect how fast the Himalayan ice cap will melt during this century.
Which is why Joe Biden’s win in the US election is such a big deal for the global environment, including the Himalaya. Biden has announced he will reverse Donald Trump’s decision to withdraw from the 2015 Paris Climate Agreement, which ironically came into effect on 4 November, the day after the US vote.
The Himalayan arc from Burma to Afghanistan is the biggest storehouse of fresh water after the two polar regions, and it is warming between 0.3-0.7°C faster than the global average. The loss of Himalayan ice would have devastating consequences for 1.6 billion people living in the mountains, and in downstream countries.
In just 2 years, a Nepal peak becomes snowless, Basanta Pratap Singh
“Reversing these warming trends will begin with Biden’s commitment to re-joining the Paris agreement, as the US is not only one of the world’s greatest climate offenders but also one of its best potential leaders and sources of needed funding,” said Alton C Byers of the University of Colorado, who has studied Himalayan glaciers for the past 30 years.
The Paris Agreement aims to cap the global temperature rise in this century ‘well below’ 2°C by reducing carbon emissions through renewable energy technologies, and protecting forests and biodiversity.
But rejoining the Paris accord will be the easy part. Much harder for the Biden presidency will be overcoming domestic opposition to cutting emissions at home, push rapid transition to clean energy, and funding global carbon reduction initiatives.
The Biden administration may be more supportive of projects like USAID efforts in the past that have helped Nepal become a global leader in glacial lake risk reduction, adaptation, and climate mitigation measures.
“These projects are in need of resurrection, along with the development of renewable energy technologies, sustainable tourism, and other opportunities as part of Nepal’s post-coronavirus recovery plans,” Byers added in an email interview with Nepali Times.