Major Conference Attracts Continuing Attention to Black Carbon

This past month, the International Centre for Integrated Mountain Development (ICIMOD) and the Nepalese Ministry of Science, Technology, and Environment hosted the International Conference on Mountain People Adapting to Climate Change. The large attendance and extensive coverage of this conference brought a great deal of attention for the Hindu Kush Himalaya region and its specific climate vulnerability. One of the central topics of discussion during the conference was the effect of black carbon deposits on the region’s glaciers. Although there is some lingering uncertainty about the precise magnitude and reach of the effects of this substance, members of the conference agreed that evidence is sufficient to begin the creation of  goals to reduce it in the near future.

Reaching this consensus is important, because the Hindu Kush Himalaya range is essential to the health of the greater Asian continent. The range spans eight countries, covers 3 million square kilometers, and is the source of ten of Asia’s major river systems. The effects of black carbon on the region’s glaciers could have broadly negative consequences for ecosystems and livelihoods. Black carbon has a double impact. Primarily, it darkens snow and ice. The dark color allows more sunlight to be absorbed by the snow and ice, which increases melting. Secondarily, black carbon is an air pollutant,. Although the tiny particles do not remain in the air for long periods, they can be inhaled by humans and cause serious respiratory problems.

Though they remain currently unrestricted, black carbon emissions are becoming an increasing concern in the region. Sources of black carbon in the Hindu Kush Himalayan region include cook-stoves, diesel vehicles, and the industrial burning of coal. In fact, one third of the black carbon suspended in the atmosphere hovers over India and China, and these particles cause at least 30% or more of the melting of glaciers in the region. Many of the gravest effects of black carbon have been well established in scientific literature, but some aspects of the substance remain up for debate. Nonetheless, “it is never wrong to start to reduce emissions of black carbon as soon as possible and as vigorously as possible,” concludes Dr. Arun Shrestha, Senior Climate Change Specialist at ICIMOD. Shifts to other forms of energy use could reduce black carbon significantly.

The conference was a clear step toward covering these critical topics in meaningful ways. “The conference’s outcome will not change everyday life of mountain people right from tomorrow,” stated Dr. David Molden, the ICIMOD’s Director General, to Xinhuanet, “but it will help us formulate policies for better adaptation solutions.” The conference marked a shift in decision-making practices, because it brought together environmental and health experts. Their efforts are bringing black carbon to a more prominent position in adaptation planning.

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