Policy and Economics

Glacier Countries Help the Paris Agreement Enter into Force

Posted by on Oct 6, 2016 in All Posts, Featured Posts, News, Policy and Economics | 0 comments

Glacier Countries Help the Paris Agreement Enter into Force

Spread the News:ShareSmall Glacier Countries Take a Big Step On October 5, several small mountain countries with glaciers—Austria, Bolivia, and Nepal—undertook an important step in advancing global action on climate change. They helped the Paris Agreement reach the threshold to enter into force and become legally binding. This Agreement, the outcome of the UNFCCC COP21 last November, is widely recognized as the most important international accord to limit greenhouse gas emissions. For the Agreement to enter into force, two conditions had to be met. The Agreement had to be ratified by at least 55 Parties to the UNFCCC, and these Parties—nearly all of them nations—had to account in total for at least 55% of the total greenhouse gas emissions in the world. Both of these steps were completed on October 5 through the ratification by 10 nations, including the three mentioned above, and one additional party, the European Union. This step closely follows the ratification by another small glacier country, New Zealand, on October 4. According to the terms of the Agreement, its entry into force will take place 30 days after the two conditions were met. That will occur on November 4, at COP22 in Marrakech. Morocco. Though each country had taken many factors into consideration as it weighed the possibility of ratification, it is striking that some mentioned glaciers specifically. Nepal’s official statement comments, “Nepal highlights that the Paris Agreement is a living instrument meant for serious implementation, in tandem with 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development, and hopes that its sincere implementation would help us adapt and mitigate the recurring problems such as landslides, floods, melting of glaciers, erratic and extreme weather patterns, and loss of biodiversity directly affecting the lives and livelihoods of millions of people.” The somber tone of this statement suggests a broad awareness of the threat of climate change in that country, where the ratification was the product of a unanimous vote in Nepal’s Parliament. Such moments of unity are rare in a country marked by fractious politics. There was also strong agreement in New Zealand, where parliamentary votes are often highly contested. This point was noted by the country’s Minister for Climate Change, Paula Bennett—a person of mixed indigenous Maori and European heritage—in her statement to the press. “I’d like to thank the select committee and my parliamentary colleagues for the cross-party support of New Zealand’s involvement in this significant agreement.” She emphasized the importance of the event. “New Zealand has helped make history today by ratifying the Paris Agreement. … Although New Zealand contributes only a small proportion of global greenhouse gas emissions, our contribution counts.”   Earlier Actions on the Paris Agreement These recent actions follow on the steps taken by other countries, which ratified the Agreement earlier and brought it closer to the 55/55 threshold. Of particular importance were the small island states, who were among the first to ratify when it opened on April 22. China and the United States both agreed to ratify on September 5, when the two heads of state, Barack Obama and Xi Jinping, met in Hangzhou. Peru, another glacier country, was also an early ratifier. It undertook this step on July 22, the first Latin American country to do so, in a major event attended by the President, Ollanta Humala, and the ministers of foreign relations, of the environment and of culture. The official statement by the Ministry of Foreign Relations linked the Paris Agreement to COP20, held in Peru in 2014, where the Lima Call for Climate Action was signed. Benjamin Morales, the director of Peru’s National Research Institute for Glaciers and...

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Science and Politics in a Mountain Grassland in Peru

Posted by on Aug 31, 2016 in All Posts, Communities, Featured Posts, Policy and Economics, Science | 0 comments

Science and Politics in a Mountain Grassland in Peru

Spread the News:ShareA recent visit to a research site in a high-elevation grassland in the Cordillera Blanca of Peru demonstrated the importance of these rapidly changing ecosystems.  It showed as well the challenges of carrying out studies in this area, and the opportunities for collaborations between different organizations. The Science of Grasslands On August 17 I drove from the city of Huaraz to Laguna Llaca with Marlene Rosario, an environmental engineer at the Peruvian National Research Institute for Glaciers and Mountain Ecosystems (known by its Spanish acronym, INAIGEM), and Yulfo Azaña, an agronomy student at the Santiago Antúnez de Mayolo National University.  Judith Dresher, another visiting American, also joined us. This visit came several days after an international forum on glaciers and mountain ecosystems, organized by INAIGEM. Several talks at the forum focused on these grasslands. Enrique Flores, the rector of the National Agrarian University, reported on the deterioration of the quality across the entire Andean region of the country . He indicated that these grasslands have contributed to human livelihoods for millennia, providing grazing for llamas and alpacas since pre-Columbian times and for cattle and sheep as well in the centuries after the Spanish Conquest. They improve regional water resources by promoting the infiltration of surface water into ground water and by removing heavy metals, which can occur naturally or result from mining. Grasslands also support biodiversity and carbon sequestration. Molly Polk, the associate director of Sustainability Studies at the University of Texas, Austin, presented results of analysis of satellite images, which demonstrate the reduction in area of wetlands—a key component of grassland biomes—across the Cordillera Blanca in recent decades, and noted this decline in areas that receive glacial meltwater, as well as other areas. Flores and Polk indicated that grasslands are affected both by climate change and overgrazing. As Rosario explained to me, INAIGEM had begun research to sort out the relative importance of these two factors—a matter of practical importance as well as scientific interest, since they can be addressed by different means. Planning the Research Project As we drove up, Rosario,  the sub-director for Climate Change Risks in Mountain Ecosystems at INAIGEM, explained the origins of the project. INAIGEM scientists had decided to conduct grazing exclusion experiments. This method, well-established in grassland ecology, consists of fencing plots so that animals can no longer graze in them, and then assessing the vegetation at regular intervals. INAIGEM staff reviewed maps and traveled through the grasslands to select possible sites. They recognized that they would need to coordinate with several organizations to receive permission. The first was Huascaran National Park. This protected area, which is also a UNESCO World Heritage Site, contains large high-elevation grassland areas. The park staff was supportive of the project, both because of their interest in learning more about the grasslands and because it could promote tourism. They discussed installing explanatory panels near the research sites so that hikers and climbers could learn more about the park’s ecosystems. The second group consisted of the herders who graze their cattle in the region. When the national park was established in 1975, the long-established customary rights of numerous peasant communities to lands within the park were severely curtailed. These communities of Quechua-speaking farmers and herders could no longer build houses or collect wood in the park, and they were forbidden from cultivating fields in the small sections of the park below the upper limit of cultivation around 4000 meters. This loss of rights came just a few years after a major agrarian reform program had granted official recognition to these communities, and was deeply resented within them. The park allowed some grazing to continue. It...

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Officials, Experts, Local People Visit a High-risk Glacier Lake

Posted by on Aug 25, 2016 in Adaptation, Featured Posts, News, Policy and Economics | 0 comments

Officials, Experts, Local People Visit a High-risk Glacier Lake

Spread the News:ShareOver 30 people, including government officials, researchers, students and journalists, recently visited Palcacocha, a lake at the foot of a large glacier high in the Peruvian Andes. This one-day trip was a tour that came the day after an international glacier conference held nearby. The group discussed natural hazards and water resources associated with the lake. The conversation revealed that a number of different agencies and organizations have claims to the lake, and that their concerns, though overlapping, differ in important ways, raising challenges for those who wish to manage it. These issues of governance are characteristic of the management of glacier lakes in other countries as well, including India, Nepal, Bhutan, Switzerland and Tajikistan. Lake Palcacocha, located about 20 kilometers northeast of the city of Huaraz at an elevation of 4550 meters above sea level, is well-known in Peru and beyond as the source of a major glacial lake outburst flood (GLOF). This event occurred in 1941, when a chunk of ice broke off the glacier above the lake, sending waves that destroyed the moraine that dammed the lake. The floodwaters, mixed with rock, mud and debris, rushed down the canyon and inundated Huaraz, located well below the lake at an elevation of 3050 meters. The death toll was high, exceeding 5000 by many accounts, and large areas of the city were destroyed. The residents of the city remain keenly aware of the risks presented by GLOFs, known as aluviones in Spanish. The visitors traveled up to the lake in buses and vans, hiking on foot to cover the final, and roughest, kilometer of the road. They assembled at the wall at the base of the lake that had been built in the 1940s to reinforce the moraine dam. The first person to speak was César Portocarrero, an engineer from the Peruvian National Institute for Research on Glaciers and Mountain Ecosystems, the group which organized the international conference. This institute, known by its Spanish acronym INAIGEM, is a branch of Peru’s Ministry of the Environment. It is charged with managing glacier issues in the country, including this lake. Portocarrero discussed the wall, indicating that it has been repaired several times after damage from earthquakes. He showed a sluice gate through which a number of plastic pipes were threaded. These serve to siphon water from the lake and pass it into the outlet river below, relying on gravity rather than pumps to move the water. By lowering the level of the lake, the agency also lowers the risk that waves in the lake (which could be produced by icefalls, avalanches, or earthquakes) would overtop the wall and create another GLOF. Portocarrero indicated as well that an intake valve further downstream directs the water from the river to the city of Huaraz. This lake supplies the city with nearly half its water. The key goal, he emphasized, was to keep the lake level low. He mentioned that glacier melt was particularly heavy in January, due to high temperatures associated with an El Niño event. The lake was so high that the siphon pipes had to be removed, allowing the maximum possible flow through the sluice gate. It took several months after the excess water was drained to thread the pipes through the gate and reinstall them. The second person to speak was Eloy Alzamora Morales, the mayor of the district of Independencia, the administrative unit in which the lake is located. He emphasized the importance of a multisectoral approach that would link disaster risk reduction with sustainable water use, providing potable water to Huaraz and to rural areas above the...

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Peru Conference Calls for More Work on Climate Change, Disaster Risk

Posted by on Aug 18, 2016 in Adaptation, Featured Posts, News, Policy and Economics, Uncategorized | 0 comments

Peru Conference Calls for More Work on Climate Change, Disaster Risk

Spread the News:ShareA major international forum this month in Peru has resulted in calls for strengthening research capabilities and for programs in climate change adaptation and disaster risk reduction. It also had demonstrated the need for greater public participation and the development of new financial mechanisms to support these activities. It showed the importance of flexible governance systems that can draw on emerging research and on growing citizen engagement with environmental issues. The scientific forum’s focus on climate change in the mountains took on particular meaning, as it was held in Huaraz, a  a small Peruvian city located at the foot of the Cordillera Blanca, a major glacier-covered range. The forum, held Aug. 10-12, specifically centered on climate change impacts in mountains, with particular emphasis on glacier retreat, water sustainability and biodiversity. A new Peruvian organization, the National Institute of Research on Glaciers and Mountain Ecosystems, known by its Spanish acronym INAIGEM, organized the forum, with support from a number of other organizations. The forum’s more than 1,400 participants came largely from Peru, but also included a substantial number of scientists, policy experts and agency staff from 18 other countries.  They met in Huaraz, attending plenary lectures in the morning and breaking into smaller groups in the afternoon for topical sessions and discussion groups, which considered specific recommendations for action. These recommendations led to two final documents. The forum produced a set of eight conclusions and a final declaration, both presented to the participants, a number of public officials and the media by Benjamin Morales, the president of INAIGEM. Researchers from the natural and social sciences reported  on water availability and natural hazards in the Cordillera Blanca and other mountain ranges. Jeff Kargel of the University of Arizona reported on the connections between earthquakes and glacier lake outburst floods in the Himalayas and the Andes. Bryan Mark of the Ohio State University discussed research methodologies to measure “peak water”—the point at which the contribution of glacier meltwater causes a river’s flow to reach its highest levels, after which the glaciers, smaller in size, contribute less water to the streams.       Several talks traced links between ecosystems and water resources. They showed the importance of wetlands in promoting the recharge of groundwater and in maintaining water quality. The latter role is particularly important, because as glaciers retreat, new areas of rock become exposed to the atmosphere. As these rocks weather, minerals leach into streams. Since these wetlands are important grazing areas for peasant communities, they raise challenging issues of coordination between communities and agencies charged with environmental management.    Many speakers focused specifically on this management, stressing the importance of the coordination of scientists and other experts, policy-makers, and wider society. Carlos Fernandez, of UNESCO, stressed the importance of water governance systems that integrated social, economic and environmental sectors, rather than relying on market-driven approaches. Others examined financial mechanisms, such as the payment for ecosystem services and the expansion of user fees for water and other resources. GlacierHub’s editor Ben Orlove spoke of the cultural importance of glaciers, and of the role of glaciers as symbols of social identity. The forum was sponsored by over two dozen institutions, including Peruvian agencies (Ministry of the Environment, the National Service for Protected Natural Areas, the National Civil Defense Institute, and the National Water Authority), NGOs  (CARE, The Mountain Institute, CONDESAN) and the international aid programs from Switzerland, US and Canada, as well as several mining firms in Peru. The critical role of mountain societies was signaled by a speech from Juan German Espíritu, the president of the peasant community of...

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Calls for “Inclusive Governance” in Climate Change Policy

Posted by on Aug 2, 2016 in Adaptation, All Posts, Communities, Featured Posts, Policy and Economics | 0 comments

Calls for “Inclusive Governance” in Climate Change Policy

Spread the News:ShareClimate change mitigation and adaptation policies need to stop merely “paying lip service” to the knowledge and needs of rural communities, indigenous lands, and high mountain communities, according to two anthropologists who make their case in a recent issue of Science. The perspective, “Environmental governance for all,” written by Eduardo S. Brondizio and Francois-Michel Le Tourneau of Indiana University and Sorbonne Nouvelle University in June, argues that effective governance can only occur with the consultation and incorporation of local and indigenous knowledge into policy decisions. Research suggests that indigenous peoples, who own, occupy or manage up to 65 percent of the Earth’s land surface, are largely excluded from environmental policymaking and forums such as the 2015 Paris climate change conference (COP 21) that led to the negotiated Paris Agreement. The convention aims to limit rising global average temperatures to 2 degrees Celsius above pre-industrial levels. COP 21 asked countries to submit intended nationally determined contributions (INDCs) to publicly outline what climate actions they intend to take under the Paris Agreement. However, the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change reported in a 2015 review that none of these notes, or INDCs, submitted by countries as of October 1, 2015 made any mention of indigenous peoples, signaling a key disconnect of indigenous inclusion in national environmental policies.   The paper in Science argues that the inclusion of indigenous people is crucial to effectively tackle challenges caused by climate change and human-caused environmental degradation. Noting that as local and indigenous communities are “crucial for climate change adaptation and mitigation, from carbon sequestration to provisioning of water, food, and energy to cities,” the authors write that attempts to mitigate and adapt to climate change will be “compromised” without their inclusion and participation. Co-author Le Torneau told GlacierHub via email, “Glacier and high mountain communities are on the frontline of climate change.”   Glacial retreat and rapidly changing ecosystems especially threaten these communities’ livelihoods, water supply, and food security, as indigenous peoples tend to rely on land and natural resources for survival. A recent study from the United Nations Environmental Programme and affiliated center GRID-Arendal reported that glacial melt “will most likely increase human vulnerability in many areas.” As a result, the perspective’s argument especially holds weight for climate change mitigation and adaptation policy affecting high mountain communities near glaciers, such as mountain villages in Nepal. While the paper acknowledges that many international conventions like the COP21 climate meeting in Paris have recognized the importance of local and indigenous inclusion in climate change policy in their texts, Le Torneau said he believes that the documents do not actually translate into equal representation when it comes to the establishment or implementation of policy.  “There is today a certain kind of inclusion in so far as their existence is considered and a number of compensations are called for. But there is no equality,” he tells GlacierHub via email. “City people can impose new regulations on remote small communities but the reverse is not true as a consequence of the democratic game.” The authors said they hope that these groups will gain more access to future environmental policy decisions and initiatives at all governmental levels. However, they note that delegated responsibilities must pay particular attention to disparities in funding between communities. The paper notes that while “sparsely populated areas are increasingly targeted to meet national and global conservation and climate mitigation goals…local and indigenous populations, many of which are poor, are expected to take on growing responsibilities as environmental stewards.” Le Torneau writes that the paper was inspired by fieldwork observations about Amazonian forest communities’ lack of input...

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Ancient Ecological Calendars Find Way Forward in Pamir Mts.

Posted by on Jul 6, 2016 in Adaptation, All Posts, Communities, Featured Posts, Policy and Economics | 0 comments

Ancient Ecological Calendars Find Way Forward in Pamir Mts.

Spread the News:ShareThe recent influx of climate change induced-changes, including warmer temperatures and melting glaciers, have wreaked havoc on the reliability of timekeeping systems of communities living in the Pamir Mountains in Central Asia. For centuries, the indigenous Pamiri people in Kyrgyzstan, China, Afghanistan and Tajikistan have used ecological calendars to coordinate seasonal activities. The traditional form of tracking time allows them to track seasonal and environmental changes. As environmental shifts, like migratory changes, render these ancient calendar systems unable to accurately keep time, local timekeepers are increasingly unable to rely on calendar cues for agricultural and cultural activities. The Kassam Research Group at Cornell University, along with the Massachusetts Institute of Technology Climate CoLab and the Thriving Earth Exchange (TEX) program of the American Geophysical Union (AGU), is partnering with six communities, including the Pamiri, to collaboratively find ways to reconcile and calibrate this traditional timekeeping method with today’s changing climate. The three-year project, which received $1.35 million in funding from the Belmont Forum, began in December of 2015. The ecological calendars at the center of the project link environmental cues, such as the arrival of a particular migratory bird, the last day of snow cover, the breaking of ice on a river, or the first appearance of a particular insect, with corresponding mnemonic body parts, much as many Americans and Europeans count to ten on their fingers, to keep time. Beginning with their toenail, timekeepers track the progression of the seasons by counting correlating body parts up to their head, the arrival of which signals the end of spring. With the first cue of the arrival of summer, counting resumes again. This time, timekeepers count environmental cues down their body. Principal investigator Karim-Aly S. Kassam, a professor of environmental and indigenous studies at Cornell, told GlacierHub in a phone interview that the project is working to restore communities’ capacities to anticipate seasonal changes. “The ability to anticipate time is a very simple concept. It’s done to establish stability, to create anticipatory stability,” Kassam said. By tracking seasonal developments, Kassam says that ecological timekeeping systems lend communities the ability to anticipate agricultural activities and cultural practices. But climate change-induced disruptions of seasonal markers that help the Pamiri communities maintain their routines has made them uneasy, Kassam says. “The pace at which [climate change] is moving and its intensity is creating instability and anxiety,” he explained. Perched between 2,000 and 3,500 meters in elevation, local communities in the Pamir mountains are especially vulnerable to temperature changes, glacial melt, and subsequent water source depletion. Pamiri locals have reported increasing water levels in nearby rivers and lakes, a result of the quickened pace of glacial melt, said Kassam. Changes in temperature and precipitation have forced farmers to replace no longer thriving plants and fruits with alternative crops that are better suited to their changing environment. The project is currently developing a mechanism to retune these ancient calendar systems so that they work with ongoing ecosystem changes. Since its start last December, the project has begun mapping out communities’ seasonal cycles by inviting locals to identify their personal ecological indicators of changes in time. “We invite ornithologists, duck hunters, maple producers, anybody in the local community that can help us map out these discrete processes,” Kassam said. The project’s collaborators plan to hold a day-long discussion with each of the project’s partnering communities, in which project collaborators ask the community questions and later determine what their team can contribute using its scientific and technical backgrounds. Kassam expects the project to result in climate adaptation models for each partnering community. “Our climate models and...

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