The insistence of two Asian giants on the continued use of coal will have serious implications, especially in their own backyards.
By Iqbal S. Hasnain
On November 13, the last day of the United Nations climate change conference, COP 26, held in Glasgow, some 200 countries agreed to a controversial compromise.
In a dramatic last-minute intervention, China and India imposed an amendment on the continued use of coal. As a result, the Glasgow Climate Pact states that coal will be “phased out” and not “phased out”.
Their actions will have serious implications, especially in their own backyards. This jeopardizes the future of the glaciers of the Himalayan-Hindu Kush mountains and the small island nations that surround them.
It is not rocket science to understand that over 85% of the energy in China and India comes from coal-fired power plants.
Read: COP26: United States and India must work together to achieve climate change goals (November 5, 2021)
Using data from the Continuous Emissions Monitoring System, many researchers conclude that China, India, and US coal-fired power plants are responsible for the largest annual carbon dioxide emissions from all combustion sources. .
The ever-growing number of coal-fired power plants in China and India also generate sulfur dioxide and nitrogen oxides which contribute to smog and respiratory problems.
The Himalayan-Hindu Kush mountain glacier sandwiched between two populous and polluting emerging economies has accelerated the melting of glaciers.
It is essential before and after the rainy season (intervening months) in the region when it supplies a greater part of the flow of each river from the Yangtze, which irrigates more than half of the rice fields of China, to the Ganges and to the Indus which are important. in the agricultural heart of India and Pakistan.
Chinese scientists have monitored more than 680 glaciers on the Tibetan Plateau and all of them are shrinking rapidly, with the greatest losses on its southern and eastern edges. Numerous studies of glaciers have concluded that “these glaciers do not just retreat, they lose mass from the surface downwards”.
Ice cover in the southern and eastern plateau has declined by more than 60 percent since the 1970s and damage is even greater in Central Asia and northern India, with a drop of 60 percent hundred over the past five decades.
If the current trend accelerates due to continued global and regional warming, Chinese scientists believe that 70% of the plateau’s glaciers could disappear by 2050. Large-scale glacier shrinkage is inevitable by 2070 and will lead to ecological disaster.
Read: After Glasgow, India should become a leader in the field of green energy (November 27, 2021)
Asia’s water, in general, is threatened by global and regional warming, but the effect of climate change on water availability and food security differs considerably from basin to basin.
For example, effects in the Indus and Brahmaputra basins are likely to be severe due to large populations and heavy reliance on irrigated agriculture and meltwater.
Regional global warming and increased monsoon precipitation and increased black carbon aerosol emissions from coal-fired power plants and stubble burning, brick kilns are having an aggravating impact.
They accelerate the melting of the ice and reduce the accumulation of snow on these glaciers, causing a significant loss of ice mass over large portions of mountainous regions.
The continued and widespread melting of glaciers over the century will lead to flooding / water shortages, lower crop yields and sea level rise threatening small island nations.
The painful reality is that the world is failing to limit global warming to 1.5 degrees Celsius above pre-industrial levels, despite the pledge to do so at COP 2015 in Paris.
The tracks, even to be limited to 1.6 degrees Celsius, are difficult. The final deal leaves open the crucial question of how quickly each country, especially emerging economies, is expected to reduce its emissions over the next decade.
India pledging to achieve “Net Zero” emissions, setting a deadline of 2070 to stop adding greenhouse gases to the atmosphere is illusory.
Although China and India are slowly moving towards renewables, coal, which provides more than 85% of their electricity, would remain their main energy driver by the end of the century.
Read: Melting Himalayan and Alaskan Glaciers and Global Climate Challenges (September 7, 2015)
Carbon black is a short-lived pollutant that is the second largest contributor to global warming after carbon dioxide. Carbon black is present in geographic locations across the Hindu Kush-Himalayas-Karakoram.
High concentrations of black carbon, over the Indo-Gangetic Plain (IGP) and Himalayan foothills, have become the main contributor of black carbon to the northern and southern sides of the Himalayas.
Scientific field data suggests that anthropogenic carbon black deposition improves snowmelt and sublimation rates, decreases snow albedo and reflectivity, and significant net radiative forcing of climate.
The Climate Action Tracker (CAT) has rightly warned world leaders despite COP 26 commitments for 2030, countries will continue to emit about twice as much in 2030 as required for levels of 1.5 degrees Celsius. set out in the 2015 Paris Agreement.
Sadly, the reality is that Asia’s two biggest polluters have postponed their targets to 2070. It looks like the leaders are claiming they have a net zero target, but they have no plans for how to get there. and their rhetoric with a date is just a lip service to create an optic.
In a business-as-usual scenario, increasing energy demand from coal-fired power plants in India and China increases the amount of black carbon flowing through the Hindu Kush-Himalayan-Karakoram mountain ranges and threatens to accelerate the glaciers melt exponentially.
Read more about Iqbal S. Hasnain
The scenario of 2.7 degrees Celsius by the end of the century will disappear from many island countries and the third pole (HKHK) will be ice free.
(Iqbal S. Hasnain is an Indian glaciologist and pro chancellor of Jamia Hamdard University, New Delhi)