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Less grass means fewer yaks. What will happen if the glaciers disappear?
If the glaciers disappear, life-giving rivers like the Ganges and Brahmaputra are at the risk of turning into seasonal rivers, which will severely impact the millions of people who depend on them.
On her recent visit to India, Secretary of State Hillary Clinton stressed that India must agree to carbon emission cuts before the Kyoto Protocol's requirements expire in 2012. India and China both hesitate to do so, arguing that, on a per capita basis, they emit much less than the United States.
Still, South Asia is uniquely susceptible to the impacts of climate change. In addition to the threat of continued glacial melting, the region’s poor and rural populations are heavily clustered in river basins with annual flood cycles likely to be exacerbated by warming, which means the cost of adapting to climate change will be high.
“The adaptation costs are enormous,” says the World Bank water expert David Grey. “Yet in the global discourse on climate change, the primary focus among industrial nations is not mitigation. The discussion is focused very much on controlling carbon emissions, but with very little understanding of the adaptation needs of large numbers of people. The adaptation costs in the rivers of the Himalayas could be in the hundreds of billions of dollars. And there’s nothing like that sort of money [being discussed]. There’s little awareness of the scale of the problem in South Asia.”
Anna-Katarina Gravgaard and William Wheeler reported from South Asia on a grant from the Pulitzer Center on Crisis Reporting. Click here to view more of their reporting from South Asia.