Much has been made about emerging economies like India and China refusing to take a leading role in minimizing the increase in climate change as climate change itself is effectively a result of western industrialized nations. However Asia is still going to have to make changes, regardless of who is backing the endeavour, and a new report lays out some guidelines for ways in which the region can prepare for climate change.
One of the biggest issues at stake is the 50,000 or so glaciers that populate Asia, and the water that they provide to inhabitants. Decreasing, retreating and disappearing glaciers provide a multitude of issues that have to be dealt with.
“The extremely high altitudes and sheer mass of High Asian glaciers mean they couldn’t possibly melt in the next few decades,” said Elizabeth Malone, a Battelle sociologist and the report’s technical lead. “But climate change is still happening and we do need to prepare for it. That’s especially true in this part of the world, where poverty and other concerns make its residents very vulnerable to any change.”
The report, Changing Glaciers and Hydrology in Asia: Addressing Vulnerability to Glacier Melt Impacts, looks at ways in which the U.S. Agency for International Development (USAID) and other agencies around the world can help the Asian region prepare for climate change.
Lack of Glacier Data
One of the biggest problems at hand is the almost non-existent information we have on the glaciers within the Asian region, specifically within the Himalayas. We have only recently managed to get any sort of reliable data from the glaciers, which is good, but still lacks historical data, which is bad, as we do not know how the glaciers react over a long period of time.
Home to more than 50,000 glaciers throughout the Asian region, more than two billion people rely on these icy monsters for their water supply, and some of the most famous rivers in the world – the Yellow, Yangtze, Mekong, Indus and Ganges – rely on the glaciers for the water to keep flowing.
And while we have information that the glaciers are in fact retreating, how fast, how long it will take, the damage it will do to the landscape, and many more questions simply go unanswered because we have not been around long enough with the right technology to study them.
This lack of data however is not stopping people from preparing and planning. One of the obvious and most dangerous effects of retreating glaciers is the possibility of glacier lake outburst floods. Often a glacier will back up on to a river or a lake, and if the glacier breaks, so too does the dam wall, which releases untold amounts of water into valleys often populated with small villages. And while the number of people directly affected is comparatively small, the damage is often so destructive “that people who survive must move and begin to rebuild their lives in other places.”
Increased glacier melt accounts often for a lot of a regions water supply, but retreating glaciers and increasing populations make this a short term solution to drinking water. And in countries where the standard of living is already comparably low, decreases in drinking water and water for agricultural use will only continue to heighten the suffering of the humans living in these regions.
So plans are being made, and the report suggests that programs need to focus on agriculture and water so that the future of these regions is not divested of people.
Furthermore, there needs to be simpler actions taken, such as training the locals to stop using biomass in their stoves, biomass that serves to send black soot into the air and onto the glaciers, quickening the melt as the black material warms.
“Agencies like USAID already have assets and expertise that have advanced the developing world for years,” Malone said. “This report offers a menu of options on how those assets can also be used to address the many issues that will arise from climate change.”