Experts warn that climate change is speeding up melting on Earth's frozen peaks, threatening the planet's long-term water supply.
The more than 150 global mountain experts attending the first High Mountain Summit warn time is running out for the world's glaciers. They say climate change is causing temperatures to rise in Earth's frozen zones, leading to a rapid melting on vital peaks.
For example, scientists say Swiss glaciers have lost 10 percent of their volume in the past five years. The disappearance of hundreds of small glaciers in the Alps was dramatized when hundreds of mourners recently attended what was dubbed a "funeral" to mark the loss of Switzerland's Pizol glacier.
The World Meteorological Organization reports international observers show an acceleration in the retreat of 31 major glaciers in the past two decades. They include mountains in the Himalaya and Hindu Kush regions and Tibetan Plateau in Asia.
Summit co-chair, Canadian John Pomeroy, a water resources and climate change expert, said the loss of water resources in mountain ranges around the world is devastating the communities in those areas. He said it also is destabilizing vast populations downstream.
"Around half of humanity relies upon water and rivers that originate in the high mountains. And, so this is used for irrigation. It is used for power production, hydroelectricity. It is used for our urban and community water supplies and it provides essential water for ecosystems from the mountaintop down to the sea."
Pomeroy added the rapidly melting mountain glaciers are contributing to rising sea levels. He notes cities along the ocean such as Miami, Venice and Jakarta already are in big trouble.
"For the high mountain communities or valleys in north India, Pakistan, central Asia, their irrigation is the only source of water for agriculture that is currently provided by ice melt from glaciers,” Pomeroy said. “And the glaciers are retreating … In the Western U.S., 90 percent of the water supplies are from the high mountains and they drive the economy."
The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, which measures the impact of global warming, predicts snow cover, glaciers and permafrost will continue to decline in almost all regions throughout this century.
The summit is calling for urgent action to support more sustainable development in both high-mountain areas and downstream. That will involve disaster risk reduction measures, better early warning systems, climate change adaptation and investment in infrastructure to make communities safer.