Climate Change

– Melting mountain glaciers and ice sheets threaten extreme weather

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Melting mountain glaciers and ice sheets threaten extreme weather


Plastic pollution on Kuta Beach

Image credit: Shutterstock


A new study of glaciers in the Himalayas has found that they are incredibly vulnerable to rising global temperatures, with concerning implications for some of Asia’s largest and most economically critical river systems.

Researchers from the International Centre for Integrated Mountain Development found that the so-called “Third Pole” could lose one-third of its glaciers, even if global warming is kept within the Paris Agreement’s lower threshold of 1.5C above pre-industrial levels. That would have huge knock-on impacts for Asian economies—250 million people live in the immediate region, and 1.65 billion people live in the valleys of the Ganges, Indus, Yellow, Mekong and Irrawaddy Rivers which are fed by these glaciers.

“This is the climate crisis you haven’t heard of,” Philippus Wester, one of the study’s authors, said. “Global warming is on track to transform the frigid, glacier-covered mountain peaks of the [Hindu Kush-Himalayas] cutting across eight countries to bare rocks in a little less than a century. Impacts on people in the region, already one of the world’s most fragile and hazard-prone mountain regions, will range from worsened air pollution to an increase in extreme weather events.”

The report from the ICIMOD adds to growing fears over the impacts of glacial ice melting on global weather.

In late January, analysis of satellite data showed a newly-discovered 9.5km long cavity under the Thwaites Glacier in West Antarctica, representing billions of tonnes of melted ice. The void has mostly been created over the past three years, researchers said.

The Thwaites Glacier is on an ice shelf the size of Florida, and has been retreating at a rate of 200m per year. Meltwater from the glacier is believed to be responsible for around 4 per cent of global sea level rise to date, and if it should collapse—something that scientists believe could be possible within the next 50 to 100 years at current rates—it could drive a further 60cm rise, which would threaten major coastal cities around the world.

Last week researchers led by Nick Golledge at the Victoria University of Wellington found that the combined melting of ice sheets at both poles could create a feedback loop that would hasten sea level rises, and could lead to an increase in the incidence of extreme weather events.

“Increasing meltwater from Greenland will lead to substantial slowing of the Atlantic overturning circulation, and that meltwater from Antarctica will trap warm water below the sea surface, creating a positive feedback that increases Antarctic ice loss,” the researchers said. “In our simulations, future ice-sheet melt enhances global temperature variability and contributes up to 25 centimetres to sea level by 2100.”



 I N F O G R A P H I C –

Australia faces a climate crisis

The Australian government has called emergency meetings to address the extreme weather that is currently causing havoc across the country. Large areas of Queensland have been suffering from heavy flooding, while forest fires rage in Tasmania and droughts dry up rivers in New South Wales.

Australia is increasingly feeling the impact of climate change, but has been slow to address the root causes. Australian carbon emissions have risen over the past four years, and both the UN and OECD have warned that it is currently not on track to meeting its own climate goals of reducing emissions by 26-28 per cent of its 2005 levels by 2030.


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Sources: Government of Australia; Global Carbon Budget



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US Democrats propose ‘Green New Deal’

Members of the progressive wing of the US Democratic Party have proposed legislation calling for a ‘Green New Deal’—a massive stimulus package aimed at decarbonising the American economy and moving the country onto a more sustainable footing.

The bill, put forward by Representative Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez and Senator Ed Markey calls for 100 per cent of US power demand to be met by renewable energy sources by 2030, and for the wholesale upgrade of “all existing buildings” and the transport network to increase efficiency and reduce emissions. It also proposes working with farmers to bring down emissions in agriculture, along with a number of other progressive economic policies, including the introduction of a living wage and high-quality, universal health care.

US carbon emissions from fossil fuels had been falling slowly over the past few years, but rose again by 2.5 per cent in 2018, according to the Global Carbon Budget. The administration of President Donald Trump has taken steps to unwind the country’s environmental programmes, removing references to climate change from official documentation and declaring its intention to exit the Paris climate agreement, which commits countries to reduce their emissions in order to keep global warming below the threshold level of 2C above pre-industrial levels.



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Trump nominates World Bank critic to head World Bank

The US government has nominated David Malpass, a high-profile critic of multilateralism, as the next president of the World Bank. Malpass, currently the US Treasury’s under-secretary for international affairs, has echoed Donald Trump’s belligerence towards China, decrying the World Bank’s willingness to work with Beijing and to support the Chinese-backed ‘Belt and Road’ global infrastructure initiative.

The World Bank is the world’s largest multilateral development finance institution, lending to and investing in public and private sector projects. In 2018 it approved loans totalling more than US$4.5 billion. The Washington DC-based institution’s previous president, Jim Yong Kim, stepped down in January to join a private equity firm.

Malpass has previously served in the Reagan and George H.W. Bush administrations, and was the chief economist at the investment bank Bear Stearns in the run-up to its collapse in 2008. His candidacy is likely to reignite questions over the governance at the World Bank. An unwritten agreement dictates that the World Bank is always headed by an American, while the International Monetary Fund is run by a European.



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