The Director General of International Centre for Integrated Mountain Development (ICIMOD), David Molden spoke with Nepali Times this week about the Centre’s new Himalayan Assessment and some of the key findings and recommendations.
Nepali Times: Why was an assessment needed at this time?
David Molden: We really do not know what is happening in our mountains. We wanted to bring experts together both to discover what is happening and to make some strong policy recommendations at a time when we are facing major sustainable development issues.
What are some of the key findings?
Mountains warm faster than the global average, a phenomenon known as Elevation Dependent Warming. This means if we hit a 1.5 degree world, the warming in the mountains would be on the order of 1.8 degrees. But if we follow the current trajectory, we will see warming of up to 4,5,6 or 7 degrees in mountain areas (by 2100). Besides climate change, mountain communities face other problems like out-migration and depleting ecosystems. All of these changes together present a challenge in managing mountain resources.
One particular prediction is shocking, that our mountains will lose 64% of their glaciers by the end of the century.
Yes, if we reach 1.5 degree world, we would lose about one-third of our glaciers. If present trends continue, then we would lose two-third of our glaciers, which is quite frightening. In a way it is like a thermometer gauge, it’s a pure signal of climate change. But what it is telling us is that climate impacts in the mountains can be quite severe.
It looks like those impacts are worse than the worst case scenario predicted in Paris 2 years ago.
I sensed that in Paris they based a lot of things on the 2014 IPCC report, which had very little on the mountains after their controversial 2007 predictions on the Himalaya. Only now we are coming out with a clearer understanding, and the next IPCC report will have a special cross-cutting chapter on mountains.
But don’t we already have enough evidence? Do we still need more research? Isn’t it time to start taking action?
We know enough to take action. But in the situation of inter-related changes, more evidence and information will help policy makers to take better action and make more refined decisions. A mountain, environment and science focus can bring countries to work together. In fact, we have seen that the task of producing the assessment report itself was an important exercise to build cooperation across countries to deal with climate change.
Two ICIMOD member countries are major fossil fuel users. Isn’t it time we started looking beyond adaptation to mitigation?
I was recently at a regional meeting for Asia Pacific ministers on environment and what came out strongly was that the best help for adaptation is through mitigation. China is taking significant steps in mitigation, as is India. I hope we can use the report findings to continue our discussion with greenhouse gas emitter countries and take urgent action. We have to keep the world at 1.5 degree, otherwise these mountains are going to be in deep trouble.
Your report also deals with air pollution and natural disasters. What are some key recommendations to reduce risk?
Air pollution is a slow moving natural disaster. The black carbon in the air moves up, settles in the glaciers and increases their melt, and also disrupts heating and cooling effects of the atmosphere. We have to make sure that we have clean energy and reduce emission from automobiles, brick kilns, open fires. As for other natural disasters like floods, droughts, landslides and earthquakes, we have to be better prepared, invest on weather services and deliver the information to the people through flood early warning systems, for example.