July 13, 2019

Melting Glaciers Could Destabilize Asia

Nicholas Institute for Environmental Policy Solutions
Melting Glaciers Could Destabilize Asia

Hundreds of millions of people across South and Southeast Asia depend on waters that originate in the long-frozen reaches of the Tibetan plateau. Yet, a sobering study shows that the melting of Himalayan glaciers has doubled in the last decade.

The world’s latest warning sign of our changing climate is a destabilizing force that can amplify existing development and security challenges, writes Jackson Ewing, senior fellow at Duke University's Nicholas Institute for Environmental Policy Solutions, in an op-ed for The Hill. Rapid melting could have devastating reverberations from origins in China to downstream communities from India, Pakistan, and Bangladesh to Vietnam, Laos, and Cambodia, some of which will face the double challenge of flooding in the near-term and water scarcity in the decades to come.

Climate-induced melting is beginning to converge with acute water management challenges already vexing the region, and finding solutions downstream from the Himalayas is no simple prospect. Water scarcity begets national and international security challenges in insidious ways. Such challenges stand to amplify risks of conflict and violence, often in ways that mask underlying environmental factors.

Growing discord in communities that depend on the Himalayan waters is not predetermined, Ewing writes. Enhanced water sharing diplomacy that considers basin level concerns even when pursued bilaterally or on project bases is essential. There is also a role to play for the United States, which counts many South and Southeast Asian countries as key geopolitical allies ripe for growing economic partnerships.