Back to news

Even 1.5 degrees is too hot for our mountains

David James Molden

3 mins Read

70% Complete

A key finding of the HKH Assessment Report is that 1.5 degrees is too hot for the Hindu Kush Himalaya, its ecosystems, and people. This is due to “elevation dependent warming”, a phenomena where warming is amplified with elevation, meaning that temperatures in high-mountains areas increase at a faster rate than environments at lower altitudes. This means that limiting warming to the 1.5 degrees agreed under the Paris Agreement will result in a 2 degree increase in the mountains. If current emission trends persist, temperatures could increase by over 5 degrees in the mountains.

What are the implications of this warming for our mountains? First and foremost, this will have direct consequences for our water systems, given the combined impact of melting glaciers, snow and permafrost and changing monsoon patterns. This will be a big hit for the 240 million people in the hills and mountains, for the over 1.65 billion people living downstream and ensuring water for food production, cities, industries and ecosystems.

Second, our ecosystems and agricultural systems are quite sensitive to changes in temperature. In fact, we can already see some effects of increased warming. The range of many species in our ecosystems will shift to higher altitudes. Although such a shift could potentially have positive benefits for some high altitude areas (say apples growing at higher altitudes), it would require a lot of time and resources for communities to suddenly change their practices and ways of life to adapt to the new conditions. Moreover farmers are already struggling with floods, droughts and climatic uncertainties, as well as changing flowering patterns and new pests and diseases. Ecosystems will also change with the steep elevation gradients in mountains. Indeed, the recent Intergovernmental Science-Policy Platform on Biodiversity and Ecosystem Services (IPBES) report pointed to the loss of species in such a changing situation. Many mountain people are closely dependent on ecosystem services; for instance, they rely on forests for food, fuel for cooking and heating, and on springs for their water. The additional burden and stress for what is already a fragile environment could come at a great cost.

There is a lot to be concerned about, but I think it’s important to turn that concern towards action. In that regard, there is much excitement building for the month ahead in the sphere of climate change. First there is the Asia Pacific Climate Week to be held in Bangkok, where countries from the Asia Pacific region will come together to discuss a range of issues—from their respective Nationally Determined Contributions (NDCs) under the Paris Agreement, to adaptation plans, emerging green technologies, and planning for the UN Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC) Conference of Parties (COP) 25. This week-long Asia Pacific Climate Week will allow us to understand more about where we are as a region.

In September, the much awaited 2019 Climate Action Summit, called by UN Secretary-General António Guterres, will take place and provide impetus to mobilizing political and economic action at the highest level towards urgently addressing the climate crisis. Despite agreeing to do our best to limit global temperature rise to 1.5 degrees Celsius above the pre-industrial average, the world is far off the mark in terms of what is required of us to reach this target. The highly anticipated IPCC’s “Special Report on Ocean and Cryosphere in a Changing Climate”, or SROCC as it is commonly referred to, is due to be released on 25 September. This will be a first of its kind report which assesses physical processes and impacts of climate change on our ocean, coastal, polar and mountain ecosystems. It will also assess consequences for communities and options for climate adaptation and a more sustainable future. Some of our colleagues at ICIMOD have been an integral part of this important report and we are very proud of their contributions. We are also proud of our deepening engagement with the IPCC and very much enjoyed hosting, together with the Government of Nepal, the recent authors’ meeting for Working Group II of the IPCCC in Kathmandu.

Through these efforts, ICIMOD supports the amplification of mountain voices on the global stage. Although these voices have been on the margins of global discussions and deliberation in the past, I am confident that the HKH’s climate concerns will be well represented and discussed in this important month ahead. We will continue to do our part in all regional and global forums we are part of, and we hope you will join us too in driving home the extremely important message that even 1.5 degrees is too hot for our mountains.

Stay current

Stay up to date on what’s happening around the HKH with our most recent publications and find out how you can help by subscribing to our mailing list.

Sign Up

Related content

Continue exploring this topic

International Women’s Day 2011

Over the past century, women have come a long way, and this is reflected in the celebration of International Women’s ...

The pandemic must bring us together

It is clear that the impacts of the COVID-19 crisis are very high for the people of the Hindu Kush ...

Change and loss in the new year

December and January marked the beginning of a major internal shift for ICIMOD, but amidst our excitement we received news ...

International Women’s Day 2014

The impacts of multiple drivers of change such as climate change, globalization, land use change, economic liberalization, migration, etc. have ...

World Environment Day 2014

On this day, I would like to draw your attention to another emerging challenge in the HKH ...

We urgently need to rethink how we manage the mighty rivers and disappearing springs of the Hindu Kush Himalaya to ensure a water-secure future

Business as usual is no longer an option for the Indus, the Ganga and the Brahmaputra. These three mighty rivers ...

Pushing the reset button

As we start 2021, our immediate priority is to take stock of the lessons from the ...

A time for mountains

The year 2020 is behind us now and December was a busy month for us. We marked