Climate change

China’s melting glaciers are a ‘wake-up call for the world’, Greenpeace says

  • Study claims glacier waters are displacing thousands of people in western China
  • Temperatures in the region rising faster than the global average
PUBLISHED : Tuesday, 20 November, 2018, 4:57pm
UPDATED : Tuesday, 20 November, 2018, 10:08pm

Glacier melt in western China is accelerating quickly and has become “a wake-up call for the world”, Greenpeace said on Tuesday.

Thousands of people had abandoned the region in recent months, an exodus that showed its vulnerability to climate change, the environmental campaign group said.

Satellite analysis showed that the rate of retreat at glaciers in China’s remote western regions had more than doubled, Greenpeace said, with the annual rate at the Tianshan Glacier No 1 in western Xinjiang increasing from an average of 5,000 square metres (53,800 square feet) between 1962 and 1986 to 10,600 square metres between 1986 and this year.

“This is a wake-up call for China and the world,” said Liu Junyan, Greenpeace’s climate and energy campaigner. “Glaciers in China supply water to 1.8 billion people, and those glaciers are melting – fast. In just the last few months, thousands of people have been moved from their homes due to threats of flooding.”

Greenpeace has identified two major disasters caused by glacier melt this year, including the release of 25 million cubic metres of floodwater into the Yarkand River basin in Xinjiang in August that forced residents out.

Researchers with the China Academy of Sciences (CAS) said in September that glaciers in the Qinghai-Tibet plateau had shrunk by 15 per cent as a result of rising temperatures over the last 50 years.

Temperatures in the region were rising faster than the global average, they said.

China has pledged to bring carbon emissions to a peak by “around 2030” as part of its commitment to the 2015 Paris Climate Agreement, which aims to keep average global temperature increases to “well below” 2 degrees Celsius above the historical norm.

The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change warned in a report in October that high-altitude zones such as the Tibetan plateau would be especially vulnerable if global temperature rises were not restricted to 1.5 degrees Celsius.

Another CAS study published in October said China was at risk of longer and more intense droughts as well as more destructive flooding if global temperature rises were not limited to 1.5 degrees.