Home to over 2 million people and to some of Earth’s most biodiverse ecosystems The Third Pole includes the Tibetan plateau. It is the third largest reservoir of ice and snow after the North and South poles.
Significant changes in this vast region are driving undesirable environmental changes at both the local and global levels. The change is rapid and is the result of human driven climate change.
The United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP) has recently published a scientific assessment of the Third Pole environment in cooperation with the UNEP-International Ecosystem Management Partnership, the Third Pole Environment (TPE), and the Pan-Third Pole Environment.
The report traces environmental changes in the region over the past 2,000 years. Data derived from ice cores, lake sediment cores, and tree rings show that, since the 20th century, the warming and wetting of the Third Pole has become more pronounced, reaching record-setting average temperatures and precipitation. This is due to an acceleration of the warming rate by 0.3 °C per decade, which far surpasses the global warming average.
This trend has led to a marked increase in glacial melt over the past few decades along with expansion of the surface area of lakes and more river run-off. Together, these changes are increasing the frequency of natural disasters, such as ice collapses and glacial lake outburst floods, thus threatening local ecosystems and human lives alike.
Additionally, the Third Pole has become greener, with more vegetation coverage and, in turn, a surge in agriculture and farming. However, invasive species, infrastructure projects, and climate change continue to threaten the Third Pole.
The report also analyzes the effects of human activity beyond the Third Pole on the environment of the Third Pole itself. Air pollution, such as persistent organic pollutants and black carbon, make their way into the Third Pole through various climate phenomena, leading to accelerated glacial melt. This is due to a lack of coordination between the economic development of nearby regions and environmental protection.
In addition, the report makes predictions of environmental changes the Third Pole can expect, including a continued rise in temperature and precipitation, thus causing glaciers to melt and water bodies to expand, among other effects.
You can access the full report here: A Scientific Assessment of the Third Pole Environment