Have you ever heard of the “Third Pole”? Probably not. Spread over the region that covers the Tibetan Plateau and the Hindu Kush mountain range in Asia, are the glaciers that hold the largest reserve of fresh water outside the North and South pole.

Originating in Tibet, the Third pole, known as the “Water Tower of Asia”, serves as the source of ten major river systems that flow into China, India, Vietnam, Cambodia, Laos, Thailand, Burma, Bangladesh, Nepal, Bhutan, and Pakistan. It provides irrigation, power and drinking water to over 2 billion people in Asia. 2 billion people will be affected downstream as one-third of the ice in the Himalayas and Hindu Kush mountains will be lost due to rising temperatures by the end of the century.

Image: National Geographic


“Even if global warming is limited to 1.5° Celsius [or 2.7° Fahrenheit] by the end of the century, the high mountains are likely to warm even more,” says Arun Shrestha, one of the lead authors of the report’s chapter on climate change and a climate scientist at International Centre for Integrated Mountain Development. That number will spike up to at least 3° Celsius [or 37.4 Fahrenheit] by the middle of the century, he says—“quite a significant warming.”

In Pakistan, the Hindu and the Karakoram ranges hold more than 7,000 glaciers that have supplied water to people who live around there. They are melting at a faster pace than 50 years ago when monitoring began, and some are shrinking. More than 3,000 glaciers have formed unstable lakes. At least 30 are at risk of bursting, which could trigger ice avalanches and flash floods that bring down water, debris and boulders.

The impact of the glacial melt will be felt by Pakistan’s 200 million people who live downstream and who depend on the glaciers for their survival. 

If we want to save the Third Pole and the lives of millions of people, we need rapid and far-reaching transitions in land, energy, industry, buildings, transport, and cities. Coal, oil, and gas must stay in the ground. As the climate summit COP 25 goes on in Madrid, Spain, join our call to banks to stop financing fossil fuel projects and our governments to stop propping them up with fossil fuel subsidies.

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