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International Mount Everest Day: Mountain communities call to urgently decarbonise Everest

HKH region witnessing increasing climate change impact, which will only increase in intensity and frequency, warns ICIMOD

In the next 70 years, scientists project that two-thirds of glaciers in the region will disappear under the current emissions scenario. Photo: iStock In the next 70 years, scientists project that two-thirds of glaciers in the region will disappear under the current emissions scenario. Photo: iStock

Seven decades after Edmund Hillary and Tenzing Norgay first scaled Mount Everest, the Earth’s tallest mountain is undergoing unprecedented and largely irreversible change caused by global warming, warned an intergovernmental institution working towards safeguarding the Hindu Kush Himalaya (HRH).

Human activity has pushed Earth’s systems close to tipping points beyond which sustaining life will be extremely challenging, said a press briefing by International Centre for Integrated Mountain Development (ICIMOD), based in Nepal.

Global temperature rises are jeopardising the environment of Everest and the Hindu Kush Himalaya (HKH) region, which extends 3,500 km across eight countries. Mountain communities, climbers and scientists urged world leaders for immediate global action to address climate change.

Read more: Balancing development and conservation in Hindu Kush Karakoram Pamir landscape

In the next 70 years, scientists project that two-thirds of glaciers in the region will disappear under the current emissions scenario, ICIMOD further stated. 

A declaration by ICIMOD called on governments to honour their commitments under the 2015 Paris Agreement, make rapid and deep emission cuts, end all new coal, oil and gas exploration and accelerate the transition to renewable energy.

ICIMOD, supported by mountain institutes globally — including Nepal Mountaineering Association and the Mountain Partnership (the United Nations voluntary alliance of partners)— also asked for public support back the #SaveOurSnow campaign. 

The campaign declaration has 1,500 signatories, including Rt Hon Helen Clark, former Prime Minister of New Zealand; Jamling and Norbu Tenzing, Tenzing Norgay’s sons and Peter and Lily Hillary, son and granddaughter of Edmund Hillary, respectively. 

The campaign asked the public to: 

  • Share stories and photographs from the mountains around the world, highlighting climate impacts using the hashtag #SaveOurSnow
  • Sign a declaration calling for governments to make good on their commitments to limit warming to 1.5 degrees at

The 79 glaciers surrounding Everest have thinned by over 100 metres in just six decades and the thinning rate has nearly doubled since 2009, ICIMOD further said. Among those is the iconic Khumbu glacier, the starting place for most expeditions, including Hillary and Tenzing Norgay’s all those decades ago, which scientists say is just degrees away from some vanishing and some shrinking.

Read more: An Arctic Council-like Himalayan body brewing in India’s backyard

Studies have warned that extreme weather events like heatwaves, droughts, maximum one-day rainfall and extreme wind events will likely become a near-permanent in some 20 countries, even if the world curtails warming to 1.5 degrees Celsius

Each of the years between 2023 and 2027 would be warmer than the pre-industrial average (1850-1900) by 1.1-1.8 degrees Celsius, research has further warned. One of these years has a 66 per cent chance of crossing the annual average temperature of 1.5°C.

The HKH region is seeing an increase in adverse impacts from climate change, which will only increase in intensity and frequency, the ICIMOD press note added. 

“The dangerous impacts of global warming are already being felt throughout the Hindu Kush Himalaya in record-breaking heat waves, droughts, natural disasters, unpredictable snowfall and precipitous and largely irreversible glacial melt,” Pema Gyamtsho, ICIMOD director general, said in the press note. 

We need urgent global action to protect the lives and livelihoods of the people in this region and to safeguard the countless, irreplaceable lifeforms that exist only here, Gyamtsho added. 

The HKH is home to 240 million people, and nearly a quarter of the world’s population depends on the water that flows from its mountains. The fight against climate change is, therefore, critically important and requires urgent global action.

Read more: Hindu Kush Himalayan region contains 27% less ice than estimated: study

In January 2023, innovator and environmentalist Sonam Wangchuk went on a ‘climate strike’, urging the Prime Minister to intervene to protect Ladakh. Climate impact is visible in the Himalayas, with 25 glacial lakes and water bodies witnessing an increase in water spread area since 2009, he said. 

There has been a 40 per cent increase in water spread area in India, China and Nepal, posing a huge threat to seven Indian states and Union Territories, according to Delhi-based Centre for Science and Environment and Down To Earth’s report, State of India’s Environment 2022: In Figures

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Deadly heatwaves threaten to reverse India’s progress on poverty and inequality — new research

Record-breaking heatwaves in April 2022 put 90 per cent of people in India at increased risk of going hungry, losing income or premature death, according to our new study.

After 2022 was designated the hottest in 122 years, extreme heat has appeared early again this year with over 60 per cent of India recording above-normal maximum temperatures for April, according to the country’s Meteorological Department. El Niño, a natural climate event that can increase global temperatures, is also expected to occur this year.

The increasing frequency of such deadly heatwaves could halt or even reverse India’s progress in reducing poverty, food and income security and gender equality, harming the quality of life for over 1.4 billion Indians.

As a natural phenomenon, extreme heat is projected to occur once every 30 years or so in the Indian subcontinent. This is no longer the case thanks to man-made climate change. India has suffered over 24,000 heatwave-related deaths since 1992 alone, with the May 1998 heatwave being one of the most devastating as it claimed over 3,058 lives.

During the May 2010 heatwaves, temperatures in the western city of Ahmedabad reached 47.8 degrees Celsius and raised heat-related hospital admissions of newborns by 43 per cent, prompting the city to become one of the country’s first to implement a heat action plan meant to guide preparations and emergency responses to heatwaves which has since saved thousands of lives.

The 2015 heatwave killed over 2,330 people and prompted the government ministry for disaster management to set guidelines for preventing deaths during heatwaves and push Indian states to develop their own plans.

A person covers a child with a blanket to protect them from the sun on a street in India.
People who must work outdoors and those with health conditions are particularly vulnerable to extreme temperatures. Photo: Sudarshan Jha/Shutterstock

Failure to implement these strategies may stymie India’s economic progress.

If proper heat action plans are not developed, excessive heat could cost India 2.8 per cent and 8.7 per cent of its GDP by 2050 and 2100, respectively. This is a worrying trend, especially given India’s goal of becoming a 10-trillion-dollar economy by 2030.

A ‘real-feel’ measure

Heat action plans are only useful if they can represent the consequences of heatwaves over the entire population. For Indian authorities to recognise when deadly heat is present (and emergency action is needed), the government has to know how conditions feel for the public.

We used an environmental health measure popular in the US called the heat index to determine how hot the human body is likely to feel in relation to air temperature and humidity levels.

This helped us to map how sensitive people were to heatwaves across India and discover that 90 per cent of the country was in danger of severe repercussions during last year’s heatwave.

It’s important to accurately measure India’s vulnerability to lethal temperatures. The metric used by the Indian government, known as the climate vulnerability index, does not account for the physical dangers of heat to human health.

Our research showed that combining air temperature and relative humidity levels gave our heat index a “real-feel” measure for extreme heat. In other words, how extreme heat felt for people experiencing it.

Stop underestimating heatwaves

Underestimating the effects of extreme heat in India could reduce or even reverse its progress on a range of goals for sustainable development. These include those related to poverty, hunger, health and wellbeing, equality, economic growth and industrial innovation and biodiversity.

This is especially concerning given that India’s progress towards achieving these goals has slowed over the last 20 years while the number of extreme weather events has increased.

Extreme heat, for example, can exacerbate drought by drying up the soil and disrupting rainfall patterns, ultimately blighting crop production and food security, which endangers the health and wellbeing of a large portion of Indian society.

Being a primarily agricultural economy, productivity losses in this sector threaten the jobs and health of millions of marginal and small landholding farmers, as well as their ability to adapt and take up new livelihoods.

Another worrying tendency with heatwaves is increasing water-borne and insect-borne diseases, which could further strain India’s already beleaguered public health system.

Every year, millions of people from rural areas migrate to India’s cities in search of a better quality of life. But heatwaves have a disastrous effect on the country’s urban population too.

Practically the entire city of Delhi and its 32 million inhabitants were threatened by the 2022 heatwaves. Most migrants are forced to settle in the city’s poorest quarters, where the effects of heatwaves are particularly catastrophic. Sadly, these communities also lack the means to buy air conditioners that might ease their misery.

Two people, one with an umbrella, walking on a hot day with a Hindu temple in the background.
Delhi sweltered under record temperatures in spring 2022. Photo: PradeepGaurs/Shutterstock

Present procedures for assessing the sensitivity of India to climate change will not help people resist the exceptional heat seen in recent years and must be upgraded immediately.

The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change estimates that heatwaves in South Asia will grow more powerful and frequent this century. Heat action plans will be crucial in speeding up efforts to mitigate and adapt to the effects, but they must represent the complexity of India’s vulnerabilities to climate change.

The emphasis on making Indian cities resilient to extreme heat is critical, since cities will see a population explosion in the next ten years, with 70 per cent of Indian building stock yet to be created. There is a chance to incorporate methods for adapting to extreme heat by designing new homes that are easier to keep cool.

With many more people in India expected to be hit by even greater heat extremes in the future, finance, urban design and education are necessary to help people adapt.

Imagine weekly climate newsletter

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Ramit Debnath, Cambridge Zero Fellow, University of Cambridge and Ronita Bardhan, Associate Professor of Sustainability in the Built Environment, University of Cambridge

This article is republished from The Conversation under a Creative Commons license. Read the original article.

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