Melting Himalayan glaciers to Africa’s droughts — these climate warnings we must know amid COP26 buzz

According to an Oxfam report, climate-related disasters tripled in 30 years. (File)

The COP26 climate change summit begins in Glasgow, Scotland, with leaders and delegates from 200 countries debating how to cut emissions by 2030. With an exponential rise in global warming due to fossil fuel emissions, scientists have called for urgent action to avoid a climate catastrophe.

However, a unanimous decision could be more difficult than imagined, according to COP26 President Alok Sharma. Sharma said an agreement would be tougher than what was achieved in Paris in 2015, when almost all the nations agreed to pursue efforts to limit the rise in global temperature to 1.5°C.

Speaking to the BBC, Sharma said world leaders needed to come forward and collectively agree on how to meet this goal.

Sharma added that they expected more from countries such as China, the largest carbon emitter, calling the summit an opportunity for them to show leadership.

However, if a collective decision cannot be reached, as Sharma fears, the climate change crisis could worsen into a humanitarian crisis with floods, cyclones, hurricanes, and other natural disasters becoming the norm.

According to an Oxfam report, climate-related disasters tripled in 30 years. The rate of sea-level rise between 2006 and 2016 was 2.5 times faster than almost the entire 20th century.

The United Nations Environment Programme estimates that developing countries would need to spend $140-300 billion a year by 2030 to adapt to climate change and cope with damages.

Here are some natural disasters that climate change could trigger if immediate action is not taken:

Wildfires in Australia
Australia was swept by the worst-ever bushfire season at the beginning of 2020, following on the heels of its hottest year on record. The fires burned through 10 million hectares, razed entire communities, destroyed homes, and left millions affected by hazardous haze. The blaze killed over a billion native animals, with some species and ecosystems unlikely to recover. Such forest fires are likely to become more common, not only in Australia but the likes of California in the US and even in India, as a hotter planet leaves the soil extremely dry.

Droughts in east Africa
Higher sea temperatures have doubled the chances of drought in the Horn of Africa. The region witnessed severe droughts in 2011, 2017, and 2019 that wiped out crop and livestock and left 15 million people in Kenya, Somalia, and Ethiopia in need of aid, the Oxfam report said. Millions are facing acute food and water shortages.

Floods in south Asia
Deadly floods and landslides have forced 12 million people in India, Bangladesh, and Nepal to abandon their homes, according to the Oxfam report. In some places, this was the worst flooding in nearly 30 years — a third of Bangladesh went under water. While flooding is expected during monsoon, scientists said the region’s monsoon rains are intensifying because of rising sea surface temperatures in south Asia.

Melting Himalayan glaciers
A TERI (The Energy and Resources Institute) report found that climate change had a strong influence on the precipitation over the Himalayas and the melting response of glaciers. This affects the runoff pattern of rivers that drain from the Himalayan catchments. The Himalayan cryosphere is the lifeblood of three major river catchments originating from the Indian and Nepal part of the mountains. These rivers are the source of life and livelihood of over 500 million people in the Indo-Gangetic plains; any variability in their pattern of flow can have far-reaching consequences.

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