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SOURCE: Reuters

DATE: November 3, 2017

SNIP: The Karakoram Highway has been around since 1982, but the Chinese-funded upgrade – which opened in 2015 – has turned a once treacherous track into a 15-foot-wide paved road.

A series of tunnels, cut through the mountains, have reduced the driving time to the Khunjerab Pass from Gilgit, the capital of Gilgit-Balistan region, from eight hours to four hours.

Now trucks are pouring over the border, laden with Chinese goods and equipment headed to Sost, the first border town on the Pakistani side, and then further down the 1,300-kilometre (800-mile) highway toward the port of Gwadar.

The highway upgrade, part of the ambitious China Pakistan Economic Corridor, “has two impacts – one is positive and the other negative,” said Qamar-uz-Zaman Chaudhry, the author of Pakistan’s national climate change policy.

“It will bring in much-needed infrastructure. But the carbon emissions and the soot going into the atmosphere will definitely increase – and our mountain glaciers will melt. We need to do a comprehensive study on the impacts and then develop a strategy,” he said.

[D]ata gathered over the last 50 years shows that all but around 120 of the glaciers are showing signs of melting, meteorological officials said.

Warming temperatures are to blame for much of the melting but so-called “black carbon” – black soot released from diesel vehicle exhaust, factories, open fires and cookstoves – also is to blame, experts say.

The highway upgrade is just part a huge Chinese investment push into infrastructure in Pakistan – including a series of new coal-fired power plants – under the China Pakistan Economic Corridor project.

At the Khunjerab Pass, what once was verdant grassland covered with patches of purple wildflowers is giving way to muddy, tourist-trampled grass. A large new parking lot has been built alongside the road to accommodate tourists. Formerly pristine streams are accumulating plastic garbage.