The “third pole” is threatened by global warming: new report

Beautiful view of the Himalayan region

South Asia’s glacier-capped mountains, which provide drinking water for billions of people, are warming at an alarming rate, according to a new report from the United Nations Environment Programme. According to a scientific assessment of the third pole, the region, known as the third pole because of the massive amount of ice it contains, has warmed nearly twice the global average. As the region is currently getting wetter, experts fear retreating glaciers will lead to water shortages across South and East Asia in the coming decades.

“We see that some rivers have already passed their peak water level, while others will do so in the coming decades,” said Deliang Chen, a professor at the University of Gothenburg and one of the report’s authors. “There are concerns about long-term water scarcity.”

The third pole stretches from Afghanistan in the west to China in the east, covering more than 5 million square kilometers. The Pamir-Hindu Kush, Himalayan, Hengduan, Tienshan and Qilian mountain ranges are among them.

The Third Pole glaciers cover 100,000 square kilometers and feed ten river systems and 12,000 lakes. The third pole gets its name from the fact that it contains the most frozen water after the north and south poles. It is also known as the “Asian water tower” because it serves over 2 billion people, or 30% of the world’s population, with water.

Permafrost is melting, the growing season is lengthening and lake levels are rising at a rate of 0, according to the new report, produced by UNEP in collaboration with Third Pole Environment, Pan-TPE and the UNEP-International Ecosystem Management Partnership. .14 ​​million per year in the region. The seasons are becoming less predictable in the region and extreme events such as floods, droughts and ice collapses are becoming more frequent.

Deliang Chen, a professor at the University of Gothenburg, said: “The risk of disaster is increasing.” “The differences between years and seasons are becoming more pronounced.”

Agriculture is the main source of income for the majority of the population of the Third Pole. According to the report, increased variability, floods, drought and temperatures put all their livelihoods at risk.

“It is very clear that human-caused global warming leads to increased global warming” at the third pole, according to Chen. The new UNEP study comes just weeks after the landmark Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) report concluded that the world is running out of time to avert a global climate catastrophe. He said humanity must cut emissions of planet-warming greenhouse gases by 50% by 2030 in order to keep global warming below 1.5°C, which is considered a line. red for the planet.

The Third Pole report highlights the dangers that human-caused climate change poses to native species in the region. It is home to more than 169 animals listed on the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN) Red List of Threatened Species. 16 of the animals are classified as critically endangered, 66 endangered and 87 vulnerable. Snow leopards, giant pandas, Tibetan antelopes and black-necked cranes are among them.

(Source: UNEP)

First published: April 30, 2022, 10:15 a.m. IST

Teresa H. Sadler