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The impacts of climate change in the Himalayas are real. Melting glaciers, erratic and unpredictable weather conditions, changing rainfall patterns, and increasing temperatures are impacting on the people and wildlife of the region.

A global hotspot

The Himalayas is one of the world's most sensitive hotspots to global climate change, with impacts manifesting at a particularly rapid rate. A situation that is predicted to intesify in coming years, with dire and far-reaching impacts on food, water and energy security, as well as biodiversity and species loss. Not just in the Himalayas, but throughout Asia.

The Water Towers of Asia

The Himalayan glaciers are the water towers of Asia, and the source of many of the world's great rivers: The Yangtze, the Ganges, the Indus and the Mekong. Over a billion people depend directly on the Himalayas for their survival, with over 500 million people in South Asia, and another 450 million in China completely reliant on the health of this fragile mountain landscape.

Climate change in the Himalayas poses a serious threat to the source of these great rivers with dire and far-reaching impacts on biodiversity, food, water and energy security. Vulnerable nations must therefore move rapidly to build resilience to these impacts and adapt to the changing climate.

Find out how WWF is working with the people and governments of the Himalayas to reduce the negative impacts of climate change, whilst maintaining biodiversity and ecosystem services >>

Glacial Impacts

A significant threat posed by climate change in the Himalayas is the continual formation of a large number of glacial lakes. The lakes consist of vast quantities of glacial melt water held in place by natural dams of stone and rubble. The enhanced rate at which the snow and ice is melting means that the water accumulating in these lakes is increasing rapidly. And if the natural rubble dams holding back the waters break, a tsunami of water, mud, ice, and stone is swept down the valleys. Such events can have devastating consequences to infrastructure and local communities; washing away roads, bridges, houses, people, livestock and crops.

A constant threat

One example is Lake Imja, a high altitude glacial lake near Mount Everest in the Himalayas, Nepal. The lake has been formed by the accelerated melt of the Imja glacier as a result of climate change. The continued glacial melt, bad weather, a landslide, or a seismic event (common in the area) could at any moment trigger the bursting of its swollen waters; releasing a violent 'Glacial Lake Outburst Flood' (GLOF). This poses a constant threat to the lives, livelihoods, and communities of the Sherpa villages situated along the flood route below. With a recent history in the area of other catastrophic Glacial Lake Outburst Floods the local people know all too well the constant threat that hangs over them.

Find out how local communities are dealing with this threat >>

Veteran Everest Summiteer Apa Sherpa holding up the WWF Banner with Climate Change message at the ... 

WWF Climate Ambassador and world-record holding mountaineer Apa Sherpa took his climate crusade to the top of the world yet again by unfurling a Climate Change message as he reached the Everest summit for a record 20th time this morning at 8:34 am local time.

Read more about it >>

© © WWF / Steve Morgan
Climate Summit for a Living Himalayas Bhutan 2011
© Climate Summit for a Living Himalayas Bhutan 2011 ©

WWF Goals

  • Climate change adaptation and biodiversity conservation will be mainstreamed into the management of river systems.
  • A mosaic of over 7 million hectares of high conservation value forest, grassland and wetland will be secured, connecting 1,500 km of conservation area.
  • Viable populations of iconic and threatened species will be secured and will live in harmony with human communities.