The retreat of the Himalayan glaciers is a ticking time bomb

31 December 2018

Portrait of Professor Ian Goldin

by Professor Ian Goldin
Professor of Globalisation and Development

Professor Ian Goldin was the founding Director of the Oxford Martin School from September 2006 to September 2016. He is currently Oxford University Professor of Globalisation and Development, Senior Fellow at the Oxford Martin School, Director of the...

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© Ian Goldin

In late November I fulfilled a long-held ambition and went on a three week hike in the high Himalayas, hiking the entire Manaslu and parts of the Annapurna circuits. It was my first trip to Nepal and I was enthralled by the friendliness of the people and by the extraordinary strength and resilience of the isolated communities that we hiked through.

My lasting memories are of our superhuman sherpas and porters, the awe inspiring mountains and of the sense of wonder being marred by the stark evidence of the devastating impact of climate change on the glaciers.

The cold was a major challenge, especially at night, but the fact that it was barely freezing at midday at 5000m in December was indicative of the wider impact of climate change. The higher we climbed the clearer the retreat of majestic glaciers became, with the sherpas recounting how in their living memories the retreat exceeded many kilometres.

We hiked across kilometre-wide rocky moraines which previously had required meticulously navigated climbs across icy crevices. We witnessed the scars across valley walls hundreds of metres above valley floors where only smoothed massive boulders provided testimony to the relatively recent flow of icy glaciers.

With well over half of the world’s population depending on the glacier runoff for drinking water and to irrigate crops, the disappearing glaciers mean that the sustained flow of the rivers through the summer is already at peril. For China, India, Bangladesh, Pakistan, and other countries in South and East Asia the retreat of the glaciers is a ticking time bomb that needs to heard around the world, adding yet more evidence and urgency to the fight to reduce greenhouse gas emissions and slow climate change.