Kathmandu Event Highlights Deepening Interest in Hindu Kush Himalaya Region

On 17 July, the International Center for Integrated Mountain Development (ICIMOD) hosted an event at its headquarters in Kathmandu, Nepal for a group of about 70 officials, authors, and staff from the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC). This event took place during a weeklong meeting which the IPCC had convened as part of preparations for its Sixth Assessment Report (AR6). The meeting—the Second Lead Author Meeting (LAM) of Working Group II, where hundreds of researchers gathered to advance on drafting chapters for AR6—was the first that the IPCC has held in Nepal since its founding in 1988. The ICIMOD event provided an opportunity for the organization to inform the IPCC about its activities, including several upcoming initiatives. 

The event highlighted the overlapping interests and efforts of the two organizations. ICIMOD conducts research, applications, outreach, and cross-national cooperation in sustainable mountain development in the Hindu Kush Himalaya (HKH). It emphasizes resilience and equitable livelihoods. The IPCC, sponsored by the United Nations Environmental Program and the World Meteorological Organization, conducts assessments of recent research on climate change science, impacts, and responses. Its reports are reviewed by a wide range of international experts and by over 190 national governments; these reviews, and the line-by-line approval process of its summaries for policy-makers, conducted by these national governments, give the reports legitimacy as the global consensus on knowledge about climate change.

IPCC lead authors and staff arrriving at ICIMOD headquarters
IPCC lead authors and staff arrriving at ICIMOD headquarters (source: Ben Orlove)

A number of people noted the connection between ICIMOD and IPCC. In an interview with GlacierHub, Philippus Wester, a chief scientist of water resources management at ICIMOD noted, “The invitation by IPCC to the Government of Nepal and ICIMOD to host the 2nd LAM of Working Group II in Kathmandu is a clear recognition of the importance of this region to the world and draws attention to the accelerated impacts of climate change in the HKH. This recognition is important and will hopefully bring increased attention to mountains and mountain people and real action on significantly reducing greenhouse gas emissions in the years to come.”

He commented on the magnitude of these ties for the region, telling GlacierHub, “The increased political attention for climate change and the need for urgent climate action, including in the region, is an important output of the event. The attention given to the IPCC meeting by the Prime Minister of Nepal, who graced the opening ceremony as chief guest, is an important milestone, and signals a stronger engagement of Nepal with the climate agenda. 

ICIMOD Director General David Molden addressing IPCC authors and staff
ICIMOD Director General David Molden addressing IPCC authors and staff (source: Ben Orlove)

The speakers at the ICIMOD event

At the event, David Molden, the director general of ICIMOD, welcomed the visitors who had traveled from the conference site in downtown Kathmandu to the organization’s campus, which lies in the Kathmandu Valley south of the city amid experimental fields of the Nepali Ministry of Agricultural and Livestock Development. He led the group from the administrative building to a new meeting hall. In his remarks, he emphasized the cultural and biological diversity of the region—over 1,000 languages are spoken and the area includes four global biodiversity hotspots. He also underscored the challenges that the region faces, including environmental pressures, such as climate change and loss of habitat, and economic and political pressures which result from poverty, inequality, and fragile governance. Molden noted that ICIMOD has a strong capacity to convene meetings, since it is centrally located, facilitating the participation of representatives of its eight member countries (Afghanistan, Bangladesh, Bhutan, China, India, Myanmar, Nepal, and Pakistan). It has selected a set of four core competencies to promote sustainable development: livelihood systems, ecosystem services, water and air resources, and geospatial technologies to address problems. It has undertaken projects in transboundary landscape management, including international river basin organizations, the Everest region, and the Kailash Sacred Landscape in Nepal, India, and China, which surrounds one of the most important peaks in the region. 

Wester spoke next. He highlighted a recent report, “The Hindu Kush Himalaya Assessment: Mountains, Climate Change, Sustainability, and People,” prepared by a regional organization, the Hindu Kush Himalayan Monitoring and Assessment Program. Wester mentioned that recent IPCC assessment reports provided only limited coverage of the region. Taking inspiration from the Arctic Climate Impact and Assessment, conducted by the eight member countries of the Arctic Council, ICIMOD undertook a similar effort in its own region, addressing climate change and a set of other issues in sustainable development. It documented that poverty is more acute in the mountain regions than in adjacent lowland regions in the member countries and that conflict and ethnicity-based discrimination are major drivers of poverty, with particularly high vulnerability among women. The report documents high levels of food insecurity and malnutrition, particularly as the more-nutritional, locally produced traditional foods are being replaced by lower-quality, purchased foods from outside the mountain regions. It also discusses high levels of energy poverty in a region characterized by high amounts of hydropower potential. Migration plays a complex role, providing income in the form of remittances but also impacting the availability of labor in mountain regions. Wester reviewed issues of glacier loss and of air pollution and black carbon, which impact health, crop yields, and glacier retreat. 

IPCC lead authors Carolina Adler (left) and Christian Huggel (right) at ICIMOD neadquarters
IPCC lead authors Carolina Adler (left) and Christian Huggel (right) at ICIMOD neadquarters (Source: Ben Orlove)

Eklabya Sharma, the deputy director general of ICIMOD, spoke of three different scenarios through which the Hindu Kush Himalaya can confront issues of natural disasters, climate change and, poor governance: a “downhill” scenario of deterioration, a “muddling through” scenario of stagnation, and an “advance towards prosperity” or sustainable development. He noted six urgent actions to promote this final scenario: cooperation at all levels, limiting global warming to 1.5 degrees Celsius, enhancing ecosystem resilience, recognizing and prioritizing the unique heritage of mountain peoples, supporting the Sustainable Development Goals in the region, and sharing information and knowledge. He noted the importance of large-scale investment in the region. 

Eklabya Sharma, the Deputy Director General of ICIMOD, speaking on priorities for the Hindu Kush-Himalaya
Eklabya Sharma, the deputy director general of ICIMOD, speaking on priorities for the Hindu Kush Himalaya (Source: Ben Orlove)

Sharma mentioned an upcoming event, hosted by ICIMOD: the Sagarmatha Dialogue, to be held in March 2020. This event, which bears the name of Mount Everest in Nepali, will bring together senior officials from the eight ICIMOD-member countries and from a number of other mountain countries around the world to develop a research and implementation program to promote sustainable development, not only in the Hindu Kush Himalaya but in other mountain regions as well. 

These three opening talks were followed by five shorter presentations on specific activities of ICIMOD in adaptation and resilience, transboundary landscapes, cryosphere and climate change, gender and development, and mitigating air pollution. Anna Sinisalo, a coordinator for ICIMOD’s Cryosphere Initiative, summarized the organization’s efforts to monitor 10 benchmark glaciers and to track snow cover as well. She discussed another upcoming event at ICIMOD, an International Forum on the Cryosphere and Society , to be held August 28-30. This will be an opportunity to develop what she termed “the voice of the Hindu Kush Himalaya,” linking research on environmental and social systems to produce policy-relevant findings. 

ICIMOD researcher Bidya Banmali Pradhan, presenting a project on brick kilns which reduces emissions and improves air quality
ICIMOD researcher Bidya Banmali Pradhan, presenting a project on brick kilns which reduce emissions and improve air quality (source: Ben Orlove)

In other presentations, Suman Bisht discussed the structural obstacles, such as the lack of education and the burden of obtaining firewood and water, which women face in the Hindu Kush Himalayas, particularly in rural areas, and presented several enterprise projects which provide women with new income sources. Bidya Banmali Pradhan, an environment officer at ICIMOD, discussed a promising example of a local organization which is responding to climate change: the Federation of Asian Brick Kiln Associations, which developed a program to organize owners of many small brick kilns to shift to less-polluting technologies. This organization took advantage of the availability of reconstruction funds after the 2015 Nepal earthquake to rebuild many old kilns in a more sustainable, climate-smart manner.

In the question and answer period which followed, the audience of IPCC officials, authors, and staff raised many issues, ranging from health, water, and natural disasters to policy, finance, and diplomacy. Thelma Krug, a vice-chair of the IPCC, directly addressed ICIMOD. She stated that she “would like to stress our gratitude for all you have been doing,” mentioning specifically that she “appreciated people [being so] passionate.” She asked as well when the next Hindu Kush Himalaya Assessment would be produced; Molden told her that these reports are on a five-year cycle. 

Eklabya Sharma speaking on development pathways for the Hindu Kush-Himalaya
Eklabya Sharma, the Deputy Director General of ICIMOD, speaking on development pathways for the Hindu Kush-Himalaya (Source: Ben Orlove)

After these questions, the group moved to a dining pavilion a short distance uphill from the meeting hall for a reception, which gave ICIMOD and IPCC personnel an opportunity to speak more informally in small groups. They continued to talk for about an hour, enjoying snacks and drinks, observing the late afternoon light over the mountains across the Kathmandu Valley, and exchanging thoughts about climate change and sustainable development. 

Himalayan views of the event

In an interview after the event, Molden told GlacierHub, “Having the IPCC meeting [in Nepal] sends a good signal that the region is being taken into consideration. It has been a benefit for IPCC authors to experience a region that is clearly on the frontline of climate change. Many authors expressed to me that after the visit to Nepal, they had more of an appreciation of the mountain issues.” 

He noted the strong presence of ICIMOD researchers in the team of authors writing the report, and stated, “ICIMOD, through its authors, and recently released HKH Assessment does have a good opportunity to engage in the IPCC process and bring issues of the region in the [Sixth Assessment] report. I expect that authors from the region will provide important input on climate change scenarios, the potential impact of climate change, and important adaptation strategies.” 

It seems likely that these ties will continue to deepen. As Wester told GlacierHub, “With the inclusion of a cross-chapter paper focusing on mountains in the Working Group II contribution to AR6, we expect to see much more attention for the HKH and other mountain ranges throughout the AR6 chapters. I also expect to see many more expert reviewers from the HKH region contributing to the AR6 review process, as well as governments from the region.”

It seems likely that the IPCC will no longer treat the Hindu Kush Himalaya as an area lacking in research, but rather include it among the regions of the world most vulnerable to climate change impacts—and as a region that is addressing climate change through significant adaptation and mitigation programs. As a result, the region will participate more fully in global deliberations about climate change.

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Ragnar Axelsson Documents Iceland’s Disappearing Glaciers

GlacierHub founder and managing editor Ben Orlove recently sat down with Icelandic photographer Ragnar Axelsson, whose “Glacier” (“Jokull” in Icelandic) depicts the disappearing glaciers of his homeland. His monochromatic images were recently displayed during a solo show at Reykjavik’s Asmundarsalur Museum.

Scale. With the exception of some images in the section “Caves,” most of the photographs seem to be of a large scale, showing areas hundreds or thousands of meters across. This relative uniformity gives a unity to the book. Did you plan this scale, or did it emerge as you took the photographs?

I worked with Einar Geir Ingvarsson, the designer of the book and the exhibition, to ping-pong ideas how the book should look like. We decided to give the readers their own ideas and view the surface of the glacier with an open mind and imagine the scale of the glacier. On the first pages in the book, one can see small people, who give a hunch of how big everything is from the air.

 

The ice caves are different as the caves are not very big and in the photographs, the faces in the ice walls are from the two-meter-wall up to 20 meters long. It was planned when photographing inside the ice caves to look into the walls of ice and see all the figures or figurative forms in the 1,000-year-old ice, not just showing an ice cave as a cave. The ice that is melting in those caves fell on the glacier as snow at the time when the first settlers came to Iceland. The book is thought of as an ode to the Icelandic glaciers—like a poem in photographs.

Orientation: The majority of the photographs are entirely filled with the glacier, though some (especially in “Peaks”) include a bit of sky. And most of them are at a medium oblique angle, rather than being taken directly from above, or shot at a low angle. What are the strengths of this angle and framing?

It was a decision in the beginning not to have a horizon in most of the photographs. The first photograph in the book showing Snæfellsjökull, which will disappear in a few decades, is the only one with a horizon. That photograph is thought of as showing a glacier as it is today and make people think when flipping through the book what will be the fate of the Icelandic glaciers. They are all going to melt to the ocean. The photographs were taken from all kind of different angles to show the different states and the diversity of the glaciers.

Human presence 1: People are absent from your photographs, though one section titled “Runes” signals the long presence of Icelanders in the country. What do you see as the effects of this focus on uninhabited spaces, without even any humans as temporary visitors?

There are small figures in two photographs in the book. It is on the first pages and it is to show as a scale how overwhelming and huge the glaciers are. We wanted to take the readers on a journey over the glaciers. The readers have to dream and solve the riddle or just imagine how huge the glaciers are. In “Runes,” one can find all kinds of figures and faces on the surface of the glacier. Those runes come from volcano ash from past eruptions in Iceland. There are very few places on earth where it can be seen. I wanted to show those figures forming a story where the glacier is talking to us. If you look for some time on a certain photograph you can find all kind of figures, like on the front page of the book you can make out a bird. All those figures are melting to the ocean.

Human presence 2: Perhaps it is my imagination, but I see a human figure, leaning forward and tilted a bit to the right, in the first image in “Caves” (p. 130), and a huge face, with high cheekbones and a narrow mouth, in the second (p. 131). With these in mind, faces can been in two others (p. 134-135), and rows of figures as well (p. 133, 137). Does this mention of resemblances to human faces and figures strike any echoes with you?

You are right, there are faces in the 1,000-year ice walls in the caves. When I was photographing the ice caves it was on purpose to find those figures in the ice. You just have to move a few inches left or right then everything is changing in the ice walls. All kind of figures pops up. I want people to think about the glaciers as something alive, and the figures and faces in the glaciers are talking to us. What are they saying? They are all fading away to the ocean where circulation of water continues around the planet.

Climate change: The titles of the four final sections of the book (“Terminus,” “Lagoons,” “Rivers,” and “The Sea”) could be read as a narrative of glacier retreat, showing how glaciers are melting and contributing to sea level rise. But the photographs themselves offer striking, beautiful images of surfaces, much like the ones in earlier sections of the book. They seem to avoid a simple, scientific, didactic presentation of glacier melting. What choices did you make to compose these four sections and to select images for them? Do you wish the book to engage with issues of climate change?

All those chapters are showing the glaciers from the peak to the ocean. It is an abstract view of what is happening. Not many are really thinking about it, that this is really happening. We will not be around to see it, but the next generations will have to face something that is or might be a hard task to follow. All the glaciers in Iceland will melt in 150-200 years. Yes, we want the book to take a place as a little puzzle in a bigger picture showing what we will be facing in the future to come. We want people to think, the glaciers will all be gone at the speed of sound in the context to the age of Earth. We don’t want to preach, it is just a fact, as scientists tell us.


Relation to your other work. You are known for your work as a photographer for the leading Icelandic newspaper Morgunbladid and for your books “Faces of the North” (2005) and “Last Days of the Arctic” (2010), which present changing human cultures in a changing environment. How does this book Glacier connect with your earlier work?

It does not connect to my earlier work, it is totally different from the other books, more of an abstract landscape book, with a message.

Hopes for the future. What hopes do you have for this book? Has its reception to date met these hopes?

We have high hopes for this book. The exhibition where the book was launched went well. Around 1,2000 people came to see the photographs in Ásmundarsalur museum in Reykjavik.  The book is in limited editions and will be, in the future, a collector’s item.

Additional comments: Are there any other thoughts that you would like to add?

Science is important and opens people’s eyes to what is happening. We think it is also very important to document the changes in the Arctic in photographs and make books about life and the changes that are happening extremely fast.  Films and photography books support science and can open eyes to what is happening. Making a book about life in the Arctic is like a little puzzle in a bigger picture and it can open eyes to what is happening and for new ideas.

Click here to purchase a copy of Ragnar Axelsson’s “Glaciers.”

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GlacierHub’s 3000th Twitter Followers: Both of Them

GlacierHub recently saw our number of Twitter followers pass the 3000 mark. We decided to reach out to the individual who was our 3000th follower. We looked at our list of followers and saw one person in that slot, and then looked again a few minutes later and found someone else at the same place. With such uncertainty, we contacted both.

Beatriz Recinos is from El Salvador. She is a PhD student at the University of Bremen in Germany, where she works in the Climate LAB Research group, led by Ben Marzeion, in the Institute of Geography. Her research focuses on the contribution of glaciers to sea level rise. She is also an associate member of ArcTrain, an international program that trains PhD students in the geosciences about climate change in the North Atlantic Ocean and the Canadian Arctic.

the glaciologist Celeste Labedz is using cross-country skis to bring equipment on a sled across a glacier.
Celeste Labedz bringing equipment up onto the Juneau Icefield, Alaska (source: C. Labedz)

Celeste Labedz is from Nebraska. She is a PhD student at the California Institute of Technology Seismological Laboratory. Her research currently focuses on monitoring subglacial hydrological systems by using the continuous seismic tremor generated by the flowing water. She is also interested in cryoseismology and environmental seismology, as well as science communication and teaching. She has taught as a visiting instructor for the Juneau Icefield Research Program.

They both agreed to be interviewed.

 

Glacier Hub: What interests you about glaciers?

Beatriz Recinos: For someone who is from a tropical country (El Salvador) without glaciers or snow, the simple fact that glaciers are basically rivers of frozen water is fascinating, especially the dynamics behind their behavior. When I first came to Europe to do my master’s degree in oceanography, I had no idea what a glacier was. In fact, when I started a PhD on tidewater glaciers, I had very little knowledge about the cryosphere in general or how glaciers have been important contributors to sea level rise. Now I think this aspect of glaciers and estimating their global volume is what interest me the most.

Celeste Labedz: In short: everything! More specifically: I’m interested in how to see what happens inside of glaciers. Tools like seismology and radar that reveal glaciers’ inner workings are my favorite.

 

GH: What is your favorite glacier?

Glaciologist Beatriz Recinos in Greenland, waving the Salvadoran flag
Beatriz Recinos at the MSM66 expedition to Greenland (source: Jens Weiser)

BR: I will have to say that the Columbia Glacier in Alaska. I have run so many simulations on the glacier that I think I have memorized all the features already. Also it looks like a broccoli from above.

CL: My favorite glacier is Lemon Creek Glacier, in the Juneau Icefield of Alaska.

 

GH: What do you like about GlacierHub?

BR: I really like how the website seems to connect both science and the general public. I have always thought that we as scientists do very little sometimes to communicate our findings to people outside our scientific scoop. And I think the website is a good example on how to really do that.

CL: I like that they add a little more glaciology research and glacier-relevant news to my Twitter feed. It’s cool to come across facets of glaciology that I might not have thought to seek out on my own.

 

GH: What do you look for in environmental or climate websites?

BR: Most of the time I look for a job posting because I will be without a job soon. But mostly I look for news on latest research, new data, teaching tools, things like that.

CL: I look for clear, concise, and interesting explanations of research that set an example of how I want to communicate my own science. I like websites that show some trust with the reader’s comprehension, rather than dumbing things down condescendingly.

GH: What are your plans for your studies?

BR: I hope I can submit my PhD thesis next summer, that’s my main goal so far and it is looking like I will manage to do it on time. After that, I am considering moving to industry sector due to the job instability in academia. Regardless, I will apply to any job posting that interest me. If I stay in academia, I would like to move to ice sheet modelling, but I would also be glad to go back to something with more focus in ocean circulation. If I go the industry sector, I would like to do oceanographic data management, collection or interpretation.

CL: I’m starting my third year of my PhD program, so my plan is to just keep rolling!

 

GH: What do you hope to be doing five years from now?

BR: Something related to science I hope. Or at least scientific programming of any kind.

CL: I want to be some kind of professional nerd. I’m enjoying research, but also considering moving toward science communication fields like writing or policy.

GH: Do you see your natural science work on glaciers as linking with issues of sustainable development?

BR: I think yes! Currently, I am improving a model initialization (the first glacier volume estimate) for tidewater glaciers in the open global glacier model.
Before I started with my PhD, the model couldn’t represent marine-terminating glaciers. Now we have improved the model and we can estimate in a more precise way, how much volume of ice is stored on those glaciers and how much it will contribute to sea level rise.

Sea level rise is a global problem that affects everyone. I come from Central America, where 80 percent of the population lives by the coast. In my country we have very little understanding how to adapt sustainable to rising sea levels. Mostly because we have at the moment probably bigger problems than climate change. But also because we lack the knowledge of the implications of sea level rise and because globally people have a hard time believing the facts. Especially because there are huge uncertainties of how much it would actually rise or what exactly is going to happen. Most of these uncertainties comes from the fact that models can’t resolve still key processes of glacier/ice sheet dynamics or climate/ocean dynamics. And in my case: processes of frontal ablation. We need to improve in general earth models to aim for better predictions on sea level rise and climate change.

CL: Absolutely! Understanding glacier hydrology is important for forecasting the availability of water resources. A huge number of people depend on glacier melt as a fresh water source, but the runoff rates of many glaciers are changing as the climate changes. Knowledge of glacier hydrology is key to developing sustainable water use for the future.

New IPCC Report Offers New Data, Stern Warnings, Hope

On 8 October, the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) announced the final approval of the Special Report on Global Warming of 1.5˚C (SR1.5). This report presents the results of a thorough assessment of the differences between two levels of global warming, the 2˚C limit which was established as a firm commitment target by the 2015 Paris Agreement, and the 1.5˚C limit, which the same agreement indicated as a more ambitious level to be approached or achieved. This report gives glaciers extensive coverage, referring to them 19 times.

Georg Kaser, a glaciologist at the University of Innsbruck in Austria, offered a succinct overview of the report in an interview with GlacierHub:

The fact that this SR1.5 was produced in only 1.5 years is an incredible success, made possible by dozens of colleagues who have not only set up new socio-economical, emission, climate change, and climate change impact scenarios from scratch, but have also been able to reduce uncertainties in a way that made the distinction between 1.0, 1.5 and 2.0C possible. By doing so they have been able to show both that the 0.5C steps make serious differences and that there is still a time window–though a small one–that is open for keeping the earth at 1.5C above preindustrial levels.

Urgent Messages in the IPCC Report

The report underscores the urgency of the Paris Agreement and its ambitious target. As Patricia Pinho, an environmental policy scientist at the University of Sao Paulo in Brazil who was an author on the report, told GlacierHub in an interview, “The report shows that every degree of warming matters for livelihoods in most communities. Actions need to be taken now if suffering, disruption, and conflict are to be avoided.” She described the collaboration among the authors from a variety of natural and social science field as an innovative aspect of the report, saying “different groups of scientists worked together as an interdisciplinary community to deliver society a message grounded in scientific evidence.”

Statement from IPCC Working Group I Co-Chair Valérie Masson-Delmotte
Statement from IPCC Working Group I Co-Chair Valérie Masson-Delmotte (source: IPCC).

The report presents many benefits of limiting the global temperature increase to 1.5˚C rather than allowing it to rise to 2˚C. There would be fewer heat waves, lower levels of sea level rise, less extreme loss of sea ice, of coral reefs and of endangered species, fewer droughts and lower levels of crop loss. It indicates that this target can still be achieved, though it will require a rapid reduction in the reliance on oil, gas and coal, and a firm deployment of renewable energy resources, such as wind and solar power and hydropower. Moreover, the window for this transformation is a narrow one, since global emissions would have to be reduced by half as soon as 2030, and brought down close to zero by 2050.

The New Report Discusses Glaciers Extensively

SR1.5 mentions glaciers once in each of two early key sections, presenting distinct, important features which they possess. In the Summary for Policy-Makers, the most widely read section in all IPCC reports, the report lists a set of “reasons for concern.” The reason which is listed first, because it is the most vulnerable to warming, are the “Unique and threatened systems.” These systems consist of ecosystems and societies which have narrow spatial ranges which face firm climate constraints, and which have endemic species or other distinctive features which cannot be replicated. To provide specific examples of such systems, the report lists “coral reefs, the Arctic and its indigenous people, mountain glaciers, and biodiversity hotspots.”

In Chapter 1, Framing and Context, the report underscores a second crucial role of glaciers. They serve as an example of the interconnectedness of climate change impacts, a characteristic that creates interacting, compounding negative effects. In section 1.3.2. of this chapter, Drivers of Impacts, the report states “Impacts may also be triggered by combinations of factors, including ‘impact cascades’ through secondary consequences of changed systems. Changes in agricultural water availability caused by upstream changes in glacier volume are a typical example.”

Chapter 3, Impacts of 1.5˚C Global Warming on Natural and Human Systems, offers a somber note on the future of glaciers, reflecting the slowness with which glaciers respond to climate drivers. It states, “28–44% of present-day glacier volume is unsustainable in the present-day climate, so that it would eventually (over the course of a few centuries) melt, even if there were no further climate change.”

Pasterze Glacier in Austria, showing significant retreat
Pasterze Glacier in Austria, showing significant retreat (source: Bernd Thaller).

Chapter 3 contains more than half of all the references to glaciers in the report. It discusses the contribution of glacier retreat to sea level rise. It notes that the contributions of glaciers to sea level rise in the present century cannot be distinguished statistically. Current research indicates that they would be between 54-97 mm (in relation to present sea levels) for 1.5˚C, and 63-112 mm for 2˚C, using a 90% confidence interval). To explain this finding, the report states “This arises because melt during the remainder of the century is dominated by the response to warming from preindustrial to present-day levels (in turn a reflection of the slow response times of glaciers).” This chapter also notes that glacier melt will contribute to the decrease in salinity in seawater, particularly at high latitudes in the Northern Hemisphere (section 3.3.10, Ocean Chemistry).

Chapter 3 is the only one which mentions glaciers in its section on Frequently Asked Questions. In response to the first FAQ, “What are the impacts of 1.5°C and 2°C of warming?” it states “The impacts of climate change are being felt in every inhabited continent and in the oceans. But they are not spread uniformly across the globe, and different parts of the world experience impacts differently. … The impacts of any additional warming would also include stronger melting of ice sheets and glaciers.”

This chapter also describes the effects of glacier retreat on social and economic sectors. Since glaciers are a “critical resource” for tourism, they might affect this sector, though the report notes “limited analyses of projected risks associated with 1.5° versus 2°C are available.” It indicates that glacier melt will affect water security in alpine regions (section 3.5.4.3).

Chapter 4, Strengthening and Implementing the Global Response, describes how glaciers can be incorporated into actions to address climate change. Section 4.3.8, Solar Radiation Modification, mentions a small-scale form of geoengineering: “covering glaciers … with reflective sheeting.” The Supplementary Material for this chapter includes a table titled “Overarching adaptation options.” This table mentions glacial lake outburst floods (GLOFs) as a risk that will increase with 1.5°C warming. It also notes disaster risk management as an adaptation option which could be implemented.

The New Report Contributes to Upcoming Climate Negotiations

The ability of glaciers to stir the human imagination may well support the contributions of the report as a key scientific input to the Katowice Climate Change Conference this December. This conference, also known as COP24 under the United Nations Framework Convention for Climate Change (UNFCCC) is designated as the context for the completion and adoption of the “rulebook” of guidelines for the implementation of the Paris Agreement. Delegates at that conference have the opportunity to provide momentum which could carry the world from the deep engagement seen in Paris to significant achievements before the crucial Global Stocktake of the Paris Agreement in 2023. That Global Stocktake will provide a full assessment of the progress towards the achievement of the purpose and goals of the agreement.

The powerful stories of glaciers, in conjunction with the other elements of SR1.5, may provide some of the motivation that is required for the world to undertake the challenging steps to reach these goals. As Pinho noted, “Even in a 1.5°C warming world, adaptation will be challenging for some regions and people around the world, especially in Small Island States in the Pacific, Southeast Asia and sub-Saharan Africa, but it still gives a better chance when compared to a 2°C world. But we also show with high confidence that climate-resilient trajectories at 1.5°C are possible and feasible, requiring transformative visions from a range of people to lead to a sustainable future for all.”

UN Resolution Recognizes the Rights of Rural Peoples

A Recent UN Declaration Offers Recognition of Human Rights in Rural Areas

UNHCR working group, debating human rights for peasants
Meeting of the Working Group on Rights of Peasants 13 April 2018 (source: UNHRC)

On 28 September, the United Nations Human Rights Council (UNHRC), meeting in Geneva, passed a resolution which calls for the UN General Assembly to adopt the “United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Peasants and Other People Working in Rural Areas.” This proposed declaration includes a number of rights, and specifically mentions that water resources in mountain ecosystems should be protected against pollution from mining activities.

In recent decades, this pollution has had serious consequences for drinking water and irrigation in mountain regions, including the glacier-rich regions of the Andes and the Tien Shan. The declaration specifically mentions these uses of water, and could serve to protect mountain communities against mining activities which harm their livelihoods and well-being.

This resolution is the outcome of sustained efforts by peasant groups in recent decades and builds on the successful efforts of indigenous peoples to gain recognition within the UNHRC and other international organizations. It follows on a proposal, first brought in 2000 and 2001 by Indonesian peasant organizations to La Via Campesina (LVC), an international peasant movement founded in 1993 in broad opposition to the negative consequences of globalization for peasants and other rural working people. The initial proposal was modified and adopted by the UNHRC’s Advisory Committee in 2013, with significant input from peasant organizations and academic researchers. Bolivia, a country with a long history of indigenous and peasants movements, played a leading role in building coalitions with other Latin American countries and African countries to promote the resolution. The resolution also drew support from a number of civil society organizations which focus on rural issues of land, labor, livelihoods and food security.

Significant Provisions of the Resolution

In a recent interview with GlacierHub, Marc Edelman, a professor of anthropology at Hunter College and the CUNY Graduate Center, stated that the proposed declaration “reiterates many rights that are protected under other international agreements, but it also establishes that peasants in some cases have a collective right to land and that they have the right to save, exchange and plant their own seeds, something that is limited or banned in most countries by seed certification laws and the 1991 international treaty which governs seed varieties.”

The Peruvian anthropologist Jorge Recharte, director of The Mountain Institute’s Andean Program, underscored this importance of collective land rights. He told GlacierHub, “In the specific context of Peru, this declaration provides support to efforts by grassroots movements in the Andes that are fighting to promote their right to be recognized as indigenous, original peoples.” He stated that, in Peru alone, “the rights to land” of “nearly six thousand peasant communities …  have to be affirmed and secured.”

Drawing on his long experience with LVC and the UNHRC, Edelman also noted that the proposed declaration established a right to “food sovereignty.” The UNHRC defines it in Article 15 as “the right to determine … food and agriculture systems, [including] the right to participate in decision-making processes on food and agriculture policy and the right to healthy and adequate food produced through ecologically sound and sustainable methods that respect [rural] cultures.”

The Next Steps within the United Nations and Beyond

Edelman described the steps that may follow on the UNHRC resolution. He indicated that the Third Committee (on Social, Humanitarian and Cultural Issues) of the UN General Assembly in New York is scheduled to vote on the declaration on October 25, and that the General Assembly itself will vote on it in December, with approval being likely. This step would raise the statement from a resolution (a statement of the will of the council) to a declaration (a more formal statement of the intent of the entire UN). Edelman noted, “Implementation is, of course, the biggest challenge, as with other human rights instruments and national-level laws,” since declarations do not have the force of treaties. Anthony Bebbington, a professor of geography at Clark University, agreed with this point. He told GlacierHub, “Getting national authorities to recognize and act upon this declaration will be one of the next struggles.”

Dirk Salomons, director of the Humanitarian Policy Track at the School of International Public Affairs at Columbia University noted these difficulties as well. In an interview with GlacierHub, he stated “a ‘Declaration’ has no legal validity— it is not an instrument that can be ratified by member states and, once it has a majority, become international law.” However, he added that some organizations are sensitive to declarations. He added, “Governments, the private sector, and large international organizations such as the World Bank or the new, Chinese-dominated Asian Infrastructure and Investment Bank should review their practices and take corrective action where needed. Much of this also ties in with policies to prevent natural disasters.”

Japanese farmers support recent UN resolution supporting human rights.
Members of the Japan Family Farmers’ Movement showing their support of peasant rights (source: Nouminren).

This specific character of resolutions was echoed by Elazar Barkan, a professor of International and Public Affairs at Columbia University and director of Columbia’s Institute for the Study of Human Rights. In an interview with GlacierHub, he noted that declarations, though lacking full legal force, can nonetheless be powerful, and cited the UN Universal Declaration of Human Rights as an example. He qualified the recent UNHRC resolution as “a mid-level victory.” In the current context, where human rights have been “under tremendous pressure” in recent years from populist and authoritarian regimes, Barkan suggested that this resolution not only offers support to peasants and other rural people, but also represents an important broad effort for human rights in general. He hopes that “a new norm will be established” through food sovereignty, which recognizes the intellectual property rights of indigenous peoples, and which values food, not only through an “economic calculus,” but also as a component of  the human right to “cultural diversity.” He took particular encouragement from the strong support that the resolution received in the UNHRC, with 33 votes in favor, and only 11 opposed and 3 abstentions. This majority is stronger than many other resolutions receive.

Ryskeldi Satke, a journalist from Kyrgyzstan, emphasized the importance of environmental protections in the resolution. In particular, Article 21 contains a paragraph which serves to support mountain communities in their efforts to limit mining, which damages glaciers and entire watersheds.

States shall protect and restore water-related ecosystems, including mountains, forests, wetlands, rivers, aquifers and lakes, from overuse and contamination by harmful substances, in particular by industrial effluent and concentrated minerals and chemicals that result in slow and fast poisoning.

In an interview with GlacierHub, Satke described his experiences in rural areas in Mongolia and Kyrgyzstan, where “pastoralists and nomadic communities have undoubtedly come under pressure due to the extractive industry activity.” Recognizing weak governance in some mountain regions, he noted that “the declaration may have an impact on how foreign corporations will conduct operations in countries with dysfunctional judiciary systems. The local communities may have more legal tools to seek justice internationally if their rights are violated by the foreign enterprises.”

Edelman offered a succinct overview of the resolution’s significance

One of the arguments that peasant activists frequently assert is that having “all” the rights in one place — that is, in one instrument — will make it easier to defend those rights, in national courts and in mass mobilizations. The multiple assaults on rural livelihoods from agribusiness and mining corporations, from repressive governments, and from globalized markets have made it clear that peasants and other rural people constitute a vulnerable group, in the sense that “vulnerable” is applied in international law to indigenous peoples, women, children, the disabled, and others. The Peasants’ Rights Declaration is intended to recognize this and to provide some measure of protection.

GlacierHub Writer Tsechu Dolma Wins Major Award

GlacierHub Writer Receives Youth Award

Tsechu Dolma at Himalayan grasslands in Nepal
Tsechu Dolma at Himalayan grasslands in Nepal (source: Tsechu Dolma).

The Asia Society recently announced the 2018 class of its Asia 21 Young Leaders program. Among the new awardees is Tsechu Dolma, a former GlacierHub writer.

Dolma’s award highlighted her achievements as the founder of Mountain Resiliency Project. As its name suggests, the NGO works to build climate resilience in vulnerable mountain communities. It focuses on the Himalayan region of Nepal, where economic and political marginalization are compounded by climate change impacts, particularly drought and glacier retreat. The strategy of the organization is to focus on supporting resilience through women’s empowerment in sustainable agricultural enterprises. These include honeybee farms, orchards, and greenhouses, all using locally available materials and drawing on traditional architectural forms and craft skills. They seek as well to promote opportunities for youth, as a way of stemming the outmigration from the region.

Tsechu Dolma during work with UNDP in Colombia
Tsechu Dolma during work with UNDP in Colombia (source: Tsechu Dolma).

Dolma grew up in a Tibetan refugee camp in Kathmandu, Nepal. She and her parents fled political violence in that country, coming to Queens, New York, when she was in her early teens. A graduate of Barnard College and Columbia University’s School of International and Public Affairs, Dolma has also worked as a natural resource management consultant for the United Nations Development Programme in Latin America and climate change strategist for the Timor Leste Ministry of Commerce, Industry and Environment. She has received a number of other awards, including a Fulbright Public Policy Fellowship, an Echoing Green Fellowship, and a Brower Youth Award, as well as being recognized as one of the Forbes 30 under 30 Social Entrepreneurs.

Dolma worked as a writer for GlacierHub from 2014 to 2016. As a fluent speaker of Nepali and Tibetan, she conducted a number of interviews with community members and activists in the Himalayas. Her posts addressed challenges created by climate change, including impacts in a small village and the persistence of gender inequality in the Himalayas. She noted social obstacles as well, including policies which limit local engagement in small-scale tourism enterprises. She focused in detail on concrete activities to promote sustainability and social inclusion. One examined the construction of village greenhouses, and another discussed a post-disaster recovery program, which drew on local skills, knowledge and resources, rather than relying on contracting the work of rebuilding to outside firms.

GlacierHub spoke with Dolma about her award. She described what it means to her:

I was born and raised in a refugee camp. I spent the first 19 years of my life as a stateless person, until I became an American. It’s why I am so deeply honored and humbled to be recognized as one of Asia Society’s 21 Young Leaders, an unparalleled network of accomplished young Asian professionals representing the new generation of leaders in government, business, arts, media and the nonprofit sector. Having this level of recognition so early in my career is incredibly emboldening. I am so proud to fight alongside refugees and displaced peoples for equality, dignity and freedom. Leadership is the grit, vision, and communication skills to be a positive and effective steward to our community and environment. It is the tool to address inequities and development gaps, and improve livelihoods.

Asia 21 Young Leaders Program

Tsechu Dolma at community meeting in Nepal
Tsechu Dolma (standing) at community meeting in Nepal (source: IYFNET).

The Asia Society is a global non-profit organization that seeks to address issues of importance for Asia, and to build a deeper understanding of Asia around the world. It has long promoted international awareness of Asian art, and it has worked to advance public discussion of economic and policy issues in Asia. Well known for its architecturally striking headquarters in New York, which houses the Asia Society Museum, it also has centers in Hong Kong and Houston as well, with offices across Asia, the United States, Europe and Australia.

The Asia 21 Young Leaders Program honors professionals under the age of 40 from many different fields who demonstrate leadership and collaborative efforts, at local, national and global levels. This year’s group includes a number of women who are active in fields long dominated by men, including Bulgantuya Khurelbaatar, the deputy finance minister of Mongolia, and Ernestine Fu, an American venture capitalist who draws on her experience in cybersecurity and data science to provide guidance to philanthropic foundations. It also includes activists who work on social justice issues of ethnic discrimination, inclusion of people with disabilities and LGBT rights. Other awardees work on peace-making, poverty reduction and social entrepreneurship.

Sanjeev Sherchan, executive director of the Global Initiatives Group at the Asia Society, also spoke with GlacierHub about Dolma.

GlacierHub: What are the goals of the ASIA 21 Fellows Program?

Sanjeev Sherchan: To build a network of young leaders (under the age of 40) across the Asia Pacific as a way to promote mutual understanding and effective collaboration among the next generation’s most important and influential leaders. This will contribute towards creating a more connected, better integrated Asia-Pacific region with leaders capable of drawing on vital connections to move the region forward, for the betterment of all.

 

GH: How are the fellows nominated and selected?

 The people of Namgyal Village in Upper Mustang with donated tarpaulins in their hand
Tsechu Dolma (middle row, center, in red jacket and white scarf) at meeting in Namgyal Village in Upper Mustang, Nepal (Source: Tsechu Dolma).

SS: Nominations are sent by the Asia 21 Alumni community and Asia Society’s various networks. Selection process goes through two sets of reviews – first, by Asia 21 Secretariat and then, Asia 21 Selection Committee comprised of Asia 21 alumni

A typical Asia 21 Young Leader is someone who embodies the change that he/she wishes to see in the world and strives to create a wildfire of innovative approaches to addressing shared challenges within the region and beyond. Asia 21 Young Leaders endeavor to mobilize his/her counterparts locally, regionally, or globally to take action in affecting change—multiplying the number of people impacted, and extending the reach of Asia 21 through the power of the idea and the power of the people behind it.

 

GH: Are there any ways in which the class of 2018 is distinctive?

SS: The diversity of the expertise and their backgrounds is the distinctive feature of the Class of 2018.  The newest members of the Asia 21 network include activists and visionaries, policymakers and lifesavers, technology entrepreneurs and innovators—all affecting change in their own unique ways.

 

Readers can learn more about Tsechu Dolma and the Mountain Resiliency Project at the project’s website.

Ecuador Presents High Mountain Projects at World Water Week

FONAG, the organization which protects and restores the water resources for the Ecuadorian capital city of Quito, played a significant role in presenting high mountain issues to World Water Week, a major conference which was held late last month in Stockholm. Organized by the Stockholm International Water Institute (SIWI), World Water Week is the largest annual global conference on water issues.

Ecuadorian researchers speaking at water conference in Stockholm.
FONAG researchers speaking at World Water Week in Stockholm (source: de Bievre).

Dating back to 1991, World Water Week conferences address key issues of water and sustainable development, and seek long-lasting solutions to water crises. They develop ways to strengthen water governance, promoting cooperation rather than competition over water issues. The thousands of attendees, representing hundreds of organizations and over 100 countries, include experts, representatives of public and private organizations, practitioners, and young professionals. The 2018 theme was Water, Ecosystems and Human Development.

SIWI houses the Water Governance Institute, a branch of the United Nations Development Program. SIWI’s five thematic areas are all of relevance to mountain regions: water governance, transboundary water management, water and climate change, the water-energy-food nexus, and water economics.

FONAG, the Fund for Water Protection, supplies Quito with water from paramo wetlands in the high Andes. Established in 2006 to address issues of water supply and quality and to manage competing demands for water, it is supported through a 2 percent contribution from water use fees, with some contributions from local firms and conservation organizations. It operates with a time horizon of 80 years. It follows the principles of integrated water resource management.  

Explaining the environmental importance of mountain wetlands in water management in Ecuador
Bert de Bievre (middle) explaining the role of high mountain wetlands in water management in Ecuador (source: Ben Orlove).

Bert de Bievre, the technical sectertary of FONAG, has a Ph.D. in water resources from the University of Leuven in Belgium. He has worked in Ecuador for over 20 years. Before joining FONAG in 2015, he served as a professor at the University of Cuenca, the head of the Ecuador office of the International Potato Center, and as a researcher for CONDESAN, a major environmental NGO in Ecuador and Peru. GlacierHub has previously reported on a field trip where de Bievre provided technical orientation. The trip was to the glacier Antisana, which supplies water to FONAG sites, in conjunction with an IPCC meeting in Ecuador. His talks focused on páramos, the high elevation wetlands that are critical for the city’s water supply.  

De Bievre discussed the recent workshop with GlacierHub.

GlacierHub: Who were the people who participated in the session ”Research Initiatives on the High Andes:  Ecosystems and Water Interactions”? What nations, institutions and perspectives did they represent?

Bert de Bievre: The session was convened by Quito’s water utility EPMAPS, and its green infrastructure operator FONAG (Fondo para la Protección del Agua). We had participants from Ecuador, Peru, Colombia, Venezuela, Argentina, Hondures, Kenya, South Africa, Spain, Switzerland, Germany, Sweden, the United Arab Emirates and the United States.

We had the CapNET initiative, an organization within the United Nations Development Program which promotes capacity development in sustainable water development. Development banks such as the Andean Development Corporation and the Interamerican Development Bank were involved, as were other water utilities and green infrastructure initiatives.  

One particular perspective is worth mentioning: we had a couple of Ecuadorian visual artists, who were attending in order to understand better how we depend on high Andean ecosystems for water in the region. They are elaborating ideas on how to reflect this in art!

 

GH:  What were the points that attracted the most discussion in that session?

A woman researcher takes measurements in a high mountain wetland in Ecuador.
FONAG researcher taking measurements in a high mountain wetland in Ecuador (source: de Bievre)

BdB: Development banks see Quito as a benchmark case, for natural or green infrastructure development. A major point in the session and actually the whole Stockholm Water Week this year, was that nature-based solutions are very important, but they should be science and evidence based. The generation of this evidence is not obvious at all. EPMAPS and FONAG showcased their “Paramo and Water Scientific Station” whose aim is precisely to permit scientists to have suitable conditions for rigorous, systematic, continuous data collection of variables relevant for sustainable water management.

 

GH:  Was climate change discussed in that session? What other ecosystem-water interactions were also discussed?

BdB: Climate change was certainly discussed, primarily from an adaptation point of view. The question arose to determine which are the most effective and cost-effective interventions in the high Andean ecosystems that conserve and restore the hydrological ecosystem services. These interventions also stop land use change trends which reduce ecosystem services; these land use changes deserve, at least on the short term, at least as much attention as climate change. However, the scientific station is embedded in the long-term financial mechanism which FONAG creates, and therefore offers good conditions for long-term climate research at unusual locations (tropical high altitude, or the cold tropics).

 

GH: What similarities and differences were discussed between FONAG and other water organizations in high mountain regions?

BdB: Attention focused on the financial mechanisms underlying FONAG, a topic that was thoroughly discussed in other sessions at World Water Week. The aspect that draw most attention was the new generation of studies on “return on Investment” in green infrastructure. The development banks are extremely interested, in order to improve the performance of grey infrastructure of public water utilities. In this context, differences between more public and more private based initiatives, with FONAG more public, was certainly on the agenda.

 

GH: What were the conclusions of that session? Were there points raised for future research? Were any specific actions discussed?

Researchers stand in front of Antisana Glacier in Ecuador.
Bert de Bievre (third from left) and IPCC lead authors at the foot of Antisana Glacier, which supplies meltwater to the city of Quito (source: Ben Orlove)

BdB: Important points for future research are the “usual suspects” such as restoration of high altitude grasslands, but some more novel research agenda includes much more intensive efforts of our high altitude lakes (limnology) under climate change, interaction of active volcanism with the water sources.

Specifically the foundation of thematic working group, e.g. on tropical high altitude limnology, was discussed, and the possibility of a network of high altitude research stations along the tropical Andes.

 

GH: What additional points were presented in the sessions on monitoring and on infrastructure?

BdB: In this and other sessions, it was stressed that monitoring comes first, and we need more ground-truthing on the impact of natural infrastructure, in hydrological terms. The role of modeling was discussed, as potentially important tools for scenario analysis and extrapolation, but always based on field monitoring of the impact of individual natural infrastructure interventions. Key issues include the elimination of overgrazing, wetland restoration, and avoiding environmental degradation.

 

North Cascades Festival Celebrates Community, Heritage

The town of Concrete, Washington, celebrated Cascade Days last month. This festival, held each year on the third weekend in August, was established in 1934 to promote the construction of a highway that would pass through the North Cascades, linking northern sections of western and eastern Washington. The road opened in 1972, and the festival has continued since then.

The festival celebrates the traditions and community spirit of this small town. Named for the concrete plants which opened there in 1905, its economy shifted after the closure of the last plant in 1973. Two dams on the Baker River, opened in 1925 and 1959, create reservoirs, supplied by glacier meltwater and snowmelt from nearby Mount Baker, which provide hydropower and generate a number of jobs in the town.

The town has a long history of logging as well. Though timber production in the area is well below the levels of the mid-twentieth century, it still provides some employment and is a major focus of the town’s identity, strongly in view at Cascade Days.

The festival opened late in the morning on Main Street with a few short speeches. This was followed by the singing of the national anthem. The young woman who sang was the great-great-granddaughter of the couple that established Cascade Supply, the hardware store in town that is still in operation.

Man in pirate costume in the parade (source: Cascade Days).

A parade followed, with floats from local schools, clubs, organizations and churches, along with one man dressed as a pirate, and another, a self-described peace wizard, clad largely in purple. Immediately after the parade came the car show, with vintage cars, trucks, fire engines and tractors proceeding slowly down Main Street.

The first event in the afternoon was the Firemen’s Muster, a competition between four volunteer fire departments from Concrete and nearby towns. They competed in three events: assembling hoses that were connected to a fire truck, hauling hoses up a slope, and using streams of water from hoses to push a target suspended on a cable. These firefighters protect houses in town and out in rural areas, and are the first responders for fires in the Mount Baker Ranger District in the nearby national forest.

The second afternoon event had a more explicit connection to the forests on Mount Baker and across the region. The log show included an axe throw and time trials for attaching choker cables to logs.

The log show also included a time trial for using a two-man crosscut saw, and a variety of competitions with chain saws, with the largest and loudest chain saws saved for the end. This event drew participants from timber sports enthusiasts across northwest Washington.

The last event of the first day of the festival was the duck race. Participants purchased rubber ducks, which were numbered and placed in the water in a large tank truck, known locally as the fish taxi because it is used to transport juvenile salmon around the dams. The fish taxi was parked at the top of a hill on Main Street. It released the water slowly. People cheered as the ducks were carried down the hill. Prizes were given to the first three ducks to complete the course.

Watermelon eating contest at Cascade Days, 19 August 2018 (source: Cascade Days).

The second day had several events as well: a pet costume show, a pie and watermelon eating contest, and a jam contest, with preserves made from locally harvested berries.

Paralleling the official events of the festival were more informal gatherings in homes, restaurants and bars. A number of local families held barbecues for people who visited from out of town. Several graduating classes of Concrete High School held their reunions to coincide with the festival as well.

The festival served as a fundraiser for local organizations and promoted Concrete as a tourist destination. It drew attention to other festivals, including Mardi Gras, an Eagle Festival, and a Ghost Walk, where local residents stand in costume at locations along Main Street and elsewhere downtown, sharing stories and legends of the town’s colorful history.

And above all, Cascade Days accomplished in 2018 a purpose that it has accomplished every year: maintaining ties between former and current residents, and connecting both groups with the town’s heritage as a mountain town and logging center.

 

 

 

Glacier Researchers Gather at IPCC Meeting in China

Lead Author Meeting of IPCC Report Held in China

Qilian Mountains Tibetan Plateau on GlacierHub
Qilian Mountains, with the Tibetan Plateau in the distance (source: Susie Crate/Facebook).

Researchers from several countries gathered in July to advance their work on a report that will assess the state of research on glaciers and related topics. The IPCC meeting took place in Lanzhou, China, the capital of the province of Gansu in the central part of the country, close to a number of glaciated peaks in the Qilian Mountains. This location reflects the focus of the document, the Special Report on the Ocean and Cryosphere in a Changing Climate (SROCC) of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC). This report traces cryosphere-ocean links, particularly the contribution of meltwater from the Antarctic and Greenland Ice Sheets to sea-level rise, and also considers other topics related to oceans and the cryosphere. This event was the third Lead Author Meeting (LAM3) for SROCC.

The report’s Chapter 2, High Mountain Areas, examines a variety of topics which include observed and projected changes in glaciers, permafrost and snow, as well as links to climate, hazards and water resources. It also discusses risks for societies and the strategies to respond to these risks. The full chapter structure can be found in the outline of the report, which was approved last year.

This chapter is being led by two Coordinating Lead Authors, Regine Hock, a glaciologist and hydrologist from the University of Alaska, and Golam Rasul, an economist and rural development specialist from the International Center for Integrated Mountain Development (ICIMOD) in Nepal. The 13 Lead Authors come from four continents and represent 10 countries—the U.K., France, Norway, Sweden, Switzerland, Austria, Russia, China, Japan, Ecuador, the U.S. and Canada.

Activities at the Meeting

The IPCC meeting, hosted by the State Key Laboratory of Cryospheric Science of the Chinese Academy of Sciences, was held on 23-27 July at the Lanzhou Hotel in Lanzhou. Shichang Kang, the director of the laboratory, coordinated the event and served as host.

IPCC Speakers in China Ko Barrett Yun Gao Weihua He Shichang Kang Panmao Zhai on GlacierHub
Speakers at the opening session of the meeting. Left to right, Ko Barrett, Yun Gao, Weihua He, Shichang Kang, Panmao Zhai. (source: IPCC/Twitter).

The meeting was opened by Panmao Zhai, Co-Chair of IPCC Working Group I and Secretary General of the Chinese Meteorological Society. The first speech was given by Yun Gao, the Dputy Director of the Science and Technology and Climate Change Division of the China Meteorological Administration, who emphasized the country’s commitment to the IPCC and to international cooperation more broadly.

The next address was given by Weihua He, the vice-inspector of the Gansu Science and Technology Department. She emphasized the importance of developing a low-carbon economy in the province which could contribute to poverty reduction while improving economic and environmental quality. She said that she could envision “a new happy and beautiful Gansu,” and closed her speech with wishes for the meeting’s “great success.” In the evening of the meeting’s inauguration, the provincial government also sponsored a performance by a troupe of folk dancers, who presented the diverse cultural styles of the ethnic groups in central and western China, and showcased as well developments in Chinese media.

The meeting drew over 100 participants from 30 countries. In addition to attending plenary meetings, the chapter teams discussed the comments which they had received from experts on the First Order Drafts of their chapters. They coordinated with each other to promote the integration of the chapters, and also began the planning of communication products. They advanced as well on five cross-chapter boxes which address topics that span the report’s topics. The discussions continued at meals and in the evenings.

This meeting was distinguished by the relatively large proportion of women among the lead authors and by the international diversity, with representatives from more than 30 countries across six continents and the Pacific. It received wide coverage in a number of Chinese media outlets  

Yaks in the Qilian Mountains on GlacierHub
Yaks in the Qilian Mountains (source: Susie Crate/Facebook).

After the conference, a number of participants set off on a four-day tour of the province. Their travels included a visit to the Qilian Mountains, a glaciated range which forms the border between Gansu and the neighboring province of Qinghai. Although severe flooding had damaged roads, preventing the group from reaching Laohuguo Glacier, they did explore regions up to 3780 meters, where they saw large herds of yaks.

After the tour, a conference was held on 31 July and 1 August on Cryospheric Changes and the Regional and Global Impacts. A number of authors from Chapter 2, including Shichang Kang, Regine Hock, Miriam Jackson and Stephan Gruber, gave talks at this conference.

Comments on the Meeting

IPCC authors on GlacierHub
IPCC authors at dinner in a hotpot restaurant (source: Ben Orlove)

Hans-Otto Poertner, Co-Chair of IPCC Working Group II, described the meeting. “We are grateful for the comprehensive feedback we received in the first Expert Review of this report,” he said. “By ensuring that the latest scientific knowledge is included in our assessments, the reviews help us to provide the best available basis for global climate policy. The outcomes of our Lead Author Meeting in Lanzhou will take us a huge step closer to this goal.”

“We are looking forward to the meeting in Lanzhou as we continue developing and refining the IPCC Special Report on the Ocean and Cryosphere in a Changing Climate. We believe this report will help policymakers better understand the changes we are seeing and the risks to lives and livelihoods that may occur with future climate change,” said IPCC Vice-Chair Ko Barrett. “The gracious hospitality of our hosts is much appreciated,” she added.

Outreach Events and Upcoming Activities

In conjunction with the meeting, outreach events were held at Lanzhou University on 24 July and at the State Key Laboratory of Cryospheric Science on 26 July. IPCC Bureau leaders, Shichang Kang, and several lead authors spoke. They presented the outline of the report to local audiences, discussed major findings of earlier IPCC reports about changes in climate and in mountain and coastal environments, and reviewed issues specific to China and other Asian countries. At both events, speakers emphasized the importance of international cooperation and the great advances of Chinese researchers. One participant described the comments of Debra Roberts, Co-Chair of IPCC Working Group II at the first event as “deeply inspiring.” The participant continued, “She really renewed my optimism.”

The participants left the meeting ready to begin the process of preparing the Second Order Draft of the report. This draft will be circulated for review by experts and governments in November 2018, and will be reviewed and revised at a fourth meeting in March 2019 in Kazan, Russia. The following draft will be reviewed by governments, and the report will be completed in September 2019. The recent meeting provided highly motivating support to this long process, immersing the authors for several days in a vulnerable context of a country, impacted by glacier retreat as well as sea level rise, which is a central player in international climate affairs.

IPCC Report is Now Open for Comment

An Opportunity to Offer Comments on an IPCC Report Currently in Development

Readers of GlacierHub, and other individuals and organizations as well, have the opportunity to provide comments on the current draft of a major international report on climate change. This report contains a chapter on glaciers, permafrost and snow in high mountain areas.

The report is the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) Special Report on the Ocean and Cryosphere in a Changing Climate (SROCC). The First Order Draft of this report, which has been produced by a team of over 100 experts from more than 30 countries, is now open for comment, in what is called the Expert Review process. This review opened on 4 May, and will continue through 29 June 2018.

This report presents the latest scientific knowledge about the physical science basis and impacts of climate change on ocean, coastal, polar and mountain ecosystems, and the human communities that depend on them. It evaluates the vulnerabilities of these communities, as well as their capacities for adaptation. The report presents options for achieving climate-resilient development pathways in the face of the challenges which climate change imposes.

How to Register to Provide Comments on the Report

Expert Reviewers can register at this site. Registration will remain open through 22 June 2018. Interested individuals are encouraged to sign up earlier, in order to have sufficient time to read the material closely and formulate their responses. There is no fee for registration.

Lead authors of High Mountain Areas chapter at a meeting in Nadi, Fiji in October 2017 (source: Ben Orlove).

This Expert Review of the First Order Draft is a key element of the IPCC assessment process. Experts from around the world will offer comments and suggestions to the author teams. The report’s authors will address every comment received, and draw on them when they prepare the next draft. The review process aims to include the broadest possible scientific perspective. The next meeting of the authors will take place in Lanzhou, China, in late July, and will serve as an occasion for a thorough discussion and consideration of the comments.

The IPCC solicits comments from three categories of experts: scientific, technical, and socioeconomic. The third category includes stakeholders whose knowledge and experience aligns with the topics of the report. Individuals and organizations in any of these categories may register and submit their reviews.

“The review process is essential for the quality of IPCC assessment reports. We expect a broad range of feedback from the natural and social science research communities and also encourage stakeholders with relevant expertise to participate,” said Hans-Otto Pörtner, Co-Chair of IPCC Working Group II.

Working Group II Co-Chair Debra Roberts added: “The author teams assess the current state of knowledge to inform policymakers at all levels and in all regions. Experts from all parts of the world are invited to review the draft based on their respective knowledge.”

All IPCC reports go through multiple stages of formal review. This first review will be followed by a second review when governments will also be invited to provide feedback. Expert Reviewers can register with a self-declaration of expertise. All Expert Reviewers will be acknowledged in the final report, due to be finalized in September 2019. Further information on the IPCC review process can be found on the IPCC website.

Mountains and Glaciers are a Major Focus of the Report

Lead authors of High Mountain Areas chapter on an excursion to Antisana Glacier before meeting in Quito, Ecuador, in February 2018 (source: Ben Orlove)

Readers of GlacierHub are likely to be particularly interested in Chapter 2 of the Special Report. Titled “High Mountain Areas,” it covers a variety of topics:

  • Observed and projected changes in mountain cryosphere (glaciers, permafrost, and snow), common drivers of change, and feedbacks (e.g., CH4 emissions, albedo) to regional and global climate
  • Effects of a changing mountain cryosphere on natural hazards and management options for protecting lives, livelihoods, infrastructure, and ecosystems
  • Impacts from changes in the mountain environment, including low latitudes (e.g., Himalayas, Andes, Africa) on habitability, community livelihoods and culture
  • Risks for societies that depend on mountain cryosphere for water resources (e.g., human consumption, ecosystems and agriculture), including cascading risks, and potential response strategies (e.g., national and international water resource management and technologies)
  • Impacts of variability and trends in water supply on hydropower production and implications for energy policy and water governance
  • Influence of mountain cryosphere run-off on river and coastal systems and sea level

Please consider this opportunity. And please pass word on to your associates and colleagues. The IPCC seeks a broad set of comments, from many nations, many fields and many perspectives.

IPCC Lead Authors Hike Up to Antisana Glacier in Ecuador

Bolívar Cáceres, a glaciologist at Ecuador’s National Meteorology and Hydrology Institute, organized an excursion to a glacier-covered volcano, Antisana, north of Quito, last month. About a dozen researchers took part. They had come to Quito for a lead authors’ meeting of IPCC’s Special Report on Oceans and the Cryosphere. Bert De Bièvre, the technical secretary of FONAG, the Quito Water Conservation Fund, joined the group as well.

The skies were cloudy for much of the day, as is common in Ecuador at that time of the year. But the group felt fortunate to have no rain. After driving from Quito through some agricultural areas, small towns, and forests, they came to the páramos, the high elevation wetlands that are critical for the city’s water supply. After entering a large protected area, De Bièvre explained the dynamics of the páramos, their connection to the glaciers of Antisana, and the mechanisms for diverting water to Quito.

Páramo grasslands on the lower slopes of Antisana (source: Ben Orlove).

 

Entering the Antisana Water Conservation Area (source: Ben Orlove).

 

Bert De Bièvre explaining the importance of glaciers and native vegetation to the urban water supply for Quito (source: Ben Orlove).

 

The group then drove to a trailhead. They hiked up to the glacier. Cáceres discussed the importance of an automated weather station  they had passed.

IPCC lead authors approaching Antisana Glacier. Bolívar Cáceres is second from left (source: Ben Orlove).

 

Automated weather station just below Antisana Glacier (source: Ben Orlove).

 

IPCC author Miriam Jackson explained the pattern of crevasses on Antisana Glacier (source: Ben Orlove).

 

The group spent some time up on the glacier, glad to have been able to reach this ice, at an elevation close to 5000 meters.

IPCC lead authors walking on Antisana Glacier (source: Ben Orlove).

 

Fresh snow on old ice, at a lower section of Antisana Glacier (source: Ben Orlove).

 

Frozen meltwater on Antisana Glacier (source: Ben Orlove).

 

On the way back down to the trailhead, the hikers looked back at the mountain, first seeing it partially obscured by clouds, and then finally getting a clearer view.

 

Mist on Antisana Glacier (source: Ben Orlove).

 

Clouds lifting from Antisana at the end of the hike (source: Ben Orlove).

 

 

 

 

Is the Department of the Interior Taking Steps to Protect Montana’s Glaciers?

Beartooth Range in Montana (source: Save the Beartooth Front).

A Delay on an Auction of Oil and Gas Leases

A recent move by Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke appears—to some, at least—to represent a reversal of the federal government’s firm policy of promoting energy extraction on the public lands it manages. On March 5, Zinke announced that he would delay the sale of oil and gas leases in 26 parcels located in several sites in Montana. Several of these parcels are in the foothills surrounding the Beartooth and Absaroka mountain ranges, north of Yellowstone National Park. These ranges contain the second largest glacier area in the state, after Glacier National Park.

This delay offers at least temporary protection for the mountains and glaciers, preserving their scenic quality and reducing the risk that dust and extraction byproducts would land on the glaciers, darkening them and making them melt more quickly. Moreover, it follows a decision in March to postpone the sale of oil and gas leases near Chaco Canyon in northern New Mexico, a UNESCO World Heritage site, held sacred by Native Americans and of great archaeological importance. These steps contrast sharply with other recent actions of the Department of the Interior to remove lands from protected area status and to permit mining, oil and gas extraction, and other activities in them.

Local Opposition to Energy Extraction on Public Lands

Zinke (right) applauding after Trump signed Presidential Executive Order on Promoting Energy Independence and Economic Growth (source: Department of Interior/Twitter).

This postponement reflects significant opposition within the state to the sale of leases. A local environmental group, Preseve the Beartooth Front, organized a campaign last year for locals to provide public comment to the BLM against the leases. Three environmental groups, the Montana Wilderness Association, the Wilderness Society, and Park County Environmental Council, filed a petition earlier this year, opposing the auction on the grounds that the BLM had not adequately considered potential environmental impacts of oil and gas drilling on wildlife, nearby towns, and rivers.

Residents in the area spoke out against the auction, as did local and county officials, who thought that the drilling would harm tourism. Objections were also raised by state officials, including both senators, Steve Daines, a Democrat, and Jon Tester, a Republican, as well as the governor, Steve Bullock, a Democrat. Bullock, who has recently signaled his broader political ambitions by planning a trip to the key caucus state of Iowa next month, linked environmental quality and economic growth in a recent statement in which he said, “High-tech businesses are attracted to Montana thanks to our exceptional quality of life and outdoor recreation. … Our public lands lead to more jobs and higher wages.”

Gas flaring at a well site (source: Montana Environmental Information Center).

The BLM offered some acknowledgment of these concerns. In a statement issued the day after the announcement of the delay in the auction, it stated, “the following parcels are being deferred or partially deferred… until staff can review the adequacy of the … Resource Management Plans to provide the appropriate level of protection in light of issues raised concerning the view shed, the local economy, and the effects of oil and gas drilling and production on the environment including air quality, drinking water, and overall water quality.“

GlacierHub wrote to the BLM to ask whether the decision about the leases had taken into account “possible effects of mining or energy extraction on glaciers (deposition of dust or particles on ice surfaces). In response, Al Nash, chief of communications at the BLM’s Montana/Dakotas State Office, replied, “The BLM doesn’t conduct a great deal of scientific research other than that directly involved in specific projects. For your broad question regarding impacts to glaciers, you might reach out to the U.S. Geological Survey.“ Though the USGS conducts extensive research on glaciers in Montana, it does not include dust or other light-absorbing particles among the topics which it studies.

Responses to the Delay in the Auction

Some Montana residents were pleased to see that the leases had been postponed, at least temporarily. Jill Belsky, a professor of sociology at the University of Montana and chair of the university’s Department of Society and Conservation, saw this postponement of leases as a step in the right direction. In an interview with GlacierHub, she stated, “Oil and gas exploration is inappropriate for the area. Many of the lands in question are multigenerational ranchers, outfitters and others rightly concerned about impacts of oil and gas exploration on water quality and their livelihoods. Nature-based tourism is also a large and growing part of our state’s economy and employs more people than in oil and gas. The more lands excluded from oil and gas, the better.”

Others are less positive. Ann Hedges, deputy director and lead lobbyist for the Montana Environmental Information Center, communicated her thoughts on Twitter: “Postponing only 27% of lease acreage shouldn’t invoke praise. Cancel them would. Postponing the other 73% would.”:

Grasshopper Glacier and Mt. Wilse in the Absaroka Range (source: Alexandre Lussier/Portland State University).

She elaborated her points in an interview with GlacierHub. “I’m happy for the folks on the Beartooth front, but I remain deeply concerned about the future of leases in that area as well as all of the other leases that were not deferred, and I’m reluctant to pop the champagne as I suffer from history-induced cynicism. He did not cancel those leases or withdraw them. He simply deferred action on them… he didn’t even cancel all of the leases in that area, only some. My cynical side says that the area where the leases were deferred is loaded with wealthier folks. It’s no surprise that Zinke catered to potentially wealthy donors and sacrificed the remaining lease areas.”

Jess Prentice-Dunn, the advocacy director of the Denver-based environmental group Center for Western Priorities, issued a statement that voiced a similar view: “Secterary Zinke is once again treating America’s public lands like contestants on a reality show, handing out roses to the places he chooses to save while casting the rest aside. Of course these lease sales should be postponed. But a temporary deferment for lands that should never have been offered at all is hardly worthy of loud applause. Lands at the doorstep of Yellowstone or the gateway to spectacular cultural sites at Chaco should never have been put on the auction block in the first place.”

Government and Industry Support for Energy Extraction on Public Lands

In contrast, the BLM has espoused a position in favor of energy extraction. Jon Raby, the acting director for the BLM’s Montana/Dakotas State Office, spoke in favor of leasing programs, saying, “We help put people to work, contribute to local economies, and help make America safe through energy independence by providing for responsible oil and gas development.”

Industry groups, who share this view, seemed surprised by the decision. In an interview with the Washington Post, Kathleen Sgamma, president of the Western Energy Alliance, an association of independent energy producers, said, “It seems as though Secretary Zinke is feeling pressure from those who do not want oil and natural gas.” The Western Energy Alliance has supported the shift from public to online auctions of leases, a change which would reduce the opportunities for public comment. Sgamma is a member of the Interior Department’s Royalty Policy Committee and met last year with Zinke to promote a loosening of federal restrictions on the granting of leases.

An Uncertain Future for Montana’s Glaciers

Fishing at a lake in the Absaroka-Beartooth Wilderness (source: Montanaangler/Instagram).

Perhaps seeking to placate industry and environmental camps, Zinke stated, “Multiple use is about balance. I’ve always said there are places where it is appropriate to develop and where it’s not. This area certainly deserves more study, and appropriately we have decided to defer [these parcels].”

It seems likely that both groups will closely follow the moves of the Department of the Interior. The pristine quality of one of the state’s largest areas of glaciers, and of the mountain ranges in which they are located, is at stake.