Unprecedented pace of glacier retreat
There is no doubt that mountainous regions are at the forefront of climate impacts: for example, high intensity rain and mountain slope instability can wash out roads and bridges, thereby affecting access to rural areas, and rapid change in mountain snow will have far reaching effects on both upstream and downstream.
The IPCC report confirms that the rate of ice sheet loss increased by a factor of four in the last three decades. Through their climate warming greenhouse gas emissions, humans are the main cause of the global retreat of glaciers. The current rate of ice sheet loss, with almost all of the world’s glaciers retreating synchronously since the 1950s, has been unprecedented in at least the last 2,000 years.
The unprecedented pace of glacier retreat at the global scale is more alarming in the Himalayas. Two years ago, the Hindu Kush Himalaya Assessment report by ICIMOD confirmed that even if global warming is limited to 1.5°C, temperatures will remain at least 0.3°C higher in the Hindu Kush Himalayas (HKH), and at least 0.7°C higher in the northwest Himalaya and Karakoram regions of Pakistan. As a consequence, 36% of the glaciers in the region will be gone by 2100. And this is the “best case” scenario where the world manages to limit warming to 1.5°C and avoid the worst impacts of climate change.
Climate change is also intensifying the water cycle and affecting rainfall patterns. The IPCC report confirms that the intensity and frequency of hot extremes, including heat waves, and heavy precipitation, as well as agricultural and ecological droughts continue to increase as temperatures rise. For South Asia including Nepal, the average precipitation as well as heavy rainfall events are projected to increase. This will result in more flooding and landslide events. All this will have far reaching consequences across the region with water-dependent energy sectors and water-intensive agricultural systems.