“Glaciers in the tropical Andes have been rapidly losing mass since the 1970s. In addition to the documented increase in temperature, increases in light-absorbing particles deposited on glaciers could be contributing to the observed glacier loss. Here we report on measurements of lightabsorbing particles sampled from glaciers during three surveys in the Cordillera Blanca Mountains in Peru.”
“We investigate properties of the turbulent flow and sensible heat fluxes in the atmospheric surface layer of the high elevation tropical Zongo glacier (Bolivia) from data collected in the dry season from July to August 2007, with an eddy-covariance system and a 6-m mast for wind speed and temperature profiles. Focus is on the predominant downslope wind regime.”
“This paper discusses the formation and variations of supraglacial lakes on the Baltoro glacier system in the Central Karakoram Himalaya during the last four decades. We mapped supraglacial lakes on the Baltoro Glacier from 1978 to 2014 using Landsat MSS, TM, ETM+ and LCDM images. Most of the glacial lakes were formed or expanded during the late 1970s to 2008. After 2008, the total number and the area of glacial lakes were found to be lesser compared to previous years.”
Terrestrial fluvial-lacustrine environments suggest past habitability in Mars
“The search for once-habitable locations on Mars is increasingly focused on environments dominated by fluvial and lacustrine processes, such as those investigated by the Mars Science Laboratory Curiosity rover. The availability of liquid water coupled with the potential longevity of such systems renders these localities prime targets for the future exploration of Martian biosignatures. Fluvial-lacustrine environments associated with basaltic volcanism are highly relevant to Mars, but their terrestrial counterparts have been largely overlooked as a field analogue. Such environments are common in Iceland, where basaltic volcanism interacts with glacial ice and surface snow to produce large volumes of meltwater within an otherwise cold and dry environment”
“The livelihoods of people in the Andes are expected to be affected by climate change due to their dependence on glacier water. The observed decrease in glacier volume over the last few decades is likely to accelerate during the current century, which will affect water availability in the region. This paper presents an approach for participatory development of community-based adaptation measures to cope with the projected impacts of climate change. It combines in an innovative manner participatory design with physical measurements, modeling and a vulnerability analysis.”
Mineral dust and black carbon from wildfires melt Washington’s glaciers
“Assessing the potential for black carbon (BC) and dust deposition to reduce albedo and accelerate glacier melt is of interest in Washington because snow and glacier melt are an important source of water resources, and glaciers are retreating. In August 2012 on Snow Dome, Mount Olympus, Washington, we measured snow surface spectral albedo and collected surface snow samples and a 7 m ice core. The snow and ice samples were analyzed for iron (Fe, used as a dust proxy) via inductively coupled plasma sector field mass spectrometry, total impurity content gravimetrically, BC using a single-particle soot photometer (SP2), and charcoal through microscopy……The Big Hump forest fire is the likely source for the higher concentrations”
Can you spot the glacier on the picture above? Not that easy… Glacier Noir is a debris-covered glacier located in the French Alps. Contrary to clean-ice glaciers which are shiny white or blue ice masses, debris-covered glaciers are ice masses with a layer of rock debris on the top which makes them look like their surrounding environment: they are the “chameleon glaciers”. They are currently called debris-covered glaciers but in the early 2000s, you could hear “debris-mantled glaciers” and even “buried glaciers” in the 1960s. They are often confused with rock glaciers. There are a lot of names and confusion around debris-covered glaciers. Why? Simply because they are difficult to find, define and study as you can imagine from the picture above.
Debris-covered glaciers represent around 5% of all mountains glaciers in the world. So why is it important to study them – there are many more clean-ice glaciers, aren’t there? Yes, debris-covered glaciers are a small fraction of all glaciers but like any other glacier, the melting of debris-covered glaciers contributes to sea level rise and there is currently huge uncertainty about how fast they melt compared to clean-ice glaciers. In addition, in the Himalayas, they make up a greater proportion of the glaciers and in many valleys, debris-covered glaciers are the main and often the only source of drinking water, like for example the famous Khumbu Glacier just below Mount Everest on the Nepal side.
Some debris-covered glaciers, like the Tasman Glacier, the biggest glacier in New Zealand, are very large features that can be the origin of risks and hazards. The debris layer creates numerous ponds filled with meltwater on the surface of glaciers. These ponds can hold monumental volumes of water that can be suddenly and brutally drained through crevasses in the ice or a breach on their edge. This drainage can create an outburst flood and submerge the valley below.
Debris layers on top of glaciers can come from rock falls, like for the Sherman Glacier in Alaska. This rock cover modifies the dynamics of the ice by slowing down the melting happening underneath. This insulation process creates various phenomena, like thickening of the ice under the debris, building hills of ice slowly moving down the glacier or advancement of the glacier’s tongue. These two phenomena can block or deviate water streams and again generate massive floods.
A less obvious reason to study debris-covered glaciers is that if glaciers on Mars exist, they are debris-covered. So studying debris-covered glaciers on Earth can contribute to space conquest and the human adventure on Mars. In the same vein, studying current debris-covered glaciers and their behavior in the face of climate change can help us understand and interpret the climate of the past. There is an example of a potential misinterpretation of the Waiho Loop moraine in New Zealand in front of the Franz-Joseph Glacier: 12000 years there was a worldwide cooling event (called Younger Dryas) that might have led to the formation of the very large moraine of Waiho Loop. Or, a massive rock avalanche landing on Franz-Joseph Glacier triggered its advance and the deposition of the moraine.
I’ve already described a few examples of debris-covered glaciers: Glacier Noir, Khumbu Glacier, Tasman Glacier, Sherman Glacier and maybe Franz-Joseph Glacier. But where else can you find debris-covered glaciers? They can actually be found in every mountain range: from the Miage Glacier (Italy) in the European Alps with to the Inylchek Glacier (Kyrgyzstan) or Langtang (Nepal) glaciers in the Asian High Mountain; from the Black Rapids Glacier (Alaska) in the Rocky Mountains and the Dome Glacier (Canada), to the Andes with Grosse and Exploradores glaciers in Patagonia (Chile). There are debris-covered glaciers even in Antarctica in the Dry Valleys, such as the Mullins Glacier.
So understanding debris-covered glaciers is an international problem. This is my final reason to study them. I study debris-covered glaciers and their past, present and future evolution. I focus more on glacier-wide aspects like length, surface area and volume change to model their future behavior.
They do not make up a large number, but debris-covered glaciers are important. In the face of climate change, debris-covered glaciers may be the last standing glaciers, as their evolution is slower. But at the current pace, they will still end up like all other glaciers: ice chunks melting in the sun…
Pierre is a PhD student at the Centre for Glaciology at Aberystwyth University, Wales, UK (started 2013). His Earth Sciences Master degree from the University of Grenoble, France and his 4 years as a surveyor in the National Institute of Geographic and Forestry Information (IGN) drove his research interests toward field observation techniques, remote sensing and glacier-wide digital modeling. His current project is entitled “Predicting the effect of climate change on debris-covered glaciers evolution”.
Humans may have begun to pollute the atmosphere earlier than we thought. So says recent research conducted at the Quelccaya Ice Cap in Peru, where scientists drilled into the ice to pull out cores, which they could read like ancient texts.
Those cores show widespread traces of copper and lead starting in about A.D. 1540, which corresponds to the end of the Inca empire and a period of mining and metallurgy when the areas that are now Peru and Bolivia became part of the Spanish Empire. The findings, published by Paolo Gabrielli and colleagues in February in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, suggest for the first time that the Anthropocene, the geological epoch defined by massive and widespread human impacts on the planet, began about 240 years before the industrial age arrived on the scene with its steam engines and its coal plants.
Scientists have long used glacier ice cores to learn about the Earth’s climates and air pollution and reconstruct pollution histories. In Greenland, for example, they have traced metals found in ice cores back to ancient Greek and Roman mining operations. The pattern of climate changes and air quality are recorded in the ice itself as glaciers grow, accumulating layer after layer of ice, year after year. For example, winter layers are often thicker and lighter in color, while summer layers are often thinner and darker because of less snowfall and more dust in summer. Scientists can read these layers much in the same way they read tree rings to calculate historical environmental conditions, including snowfall and atmospheric composition.
Once the scientists have removed the ice cores from a glacier, they can analyze the trace elements in the ice itself. They also study the air bubbles trapped in those cores at the time of their formation to learn about the chemical components of the atmosphere. According to Paolo Gabrielli, an Earth scientist at Ohio State University, anything in the air at the time the glacier layer was formed, such as soot particles, dust and a wide variety of chemicals, will be trapped in the ice layers as well. Gabrielli says there are no glaciers on Earth in which traces of anthropogenic air pollution cannot be detected.
Gabrielli and his team found that lead levels in the Quelccaya ice core doubled between 1450 and 1900, while the amount of chemical element antimony (Sb) in the ice was 3.5 times greater than before. They also compared data from a peat bog in Tierra del Fuego, Chile, and from sedimentary lake records from regions including Potosí and other mines throughout Bolivia and Peru to determine the path the pollution took, and found that most of the pollution was carried to the Quelccaya Ice Cap in Peru by the wind.
In the 16th century, the Spanish colonial authorities forced the indigenous populations in South America to extract ore and refine silver from the mountaintop mines of Potosi. They introduced mercury amalgamation, a new technology, to expand silver production, which lead to dramatic increases in the amounts of trace metals released into the atmosphere.
“This evidence supports the idea that human impact on the environment was widespread even before the industrial revolution,” Gabrielli said in a statement on Ohio State University’s website.
While the industrial economies in 20th century produced more pollution than any other time in human history, colonial mining should be considered the beginning of the Anthropocene, according to these new findings.
The mountain Yerupaja in the Cordillera Huayhuash locates at the west central Peru. It is part of the Peruvian Andes and ranks as the second highest mountain in Peru. As one of the hardest mountains along the Andes to climb, it draws mountaineers from all over the world, who come to conquer this high peak.
For more photos featuring glaciers from Peru, look here.
Photo Friday highlights photo essays and collections from areas with glaciers. If you have photos you’d like to share, let us know in the comments, by Twitter @glacierhub or email us at email@example.com.
Late December brings an opportunity for those of us at GlacierHub to look back over 2014. We launched the site on 7 July, and have published 140 posts since then.
Three of the ten top stories of the year have featured Barðarbunga, the volcano in Iceland that erupted in late August and has continued to issue lava ever since. There were several moments when it appeared that lava might emerge under Vatnajökull, the country’s largest glacier, which would lead to vast clouds of steam and ash, and create a risk of outburst floods as well. Though such an event has not taken place, it remains within the realm of possibility. Barðarbunga was the topic of the story in seventh place for the number of pageviews, the mid-August announcement that an eruption was likely. The second-place story, in September, reported on craters that appeared on glaciers, the result of subsidence as magma flowed out from under them to other places on the surface. And the story with the largest number of pageviews was published the day before Christmas. It discussed the announcement by a Danish bank that a major eruption of Barðarbunga is one of the serious, underrated threats to the world economy in 2015, since the release of ash could threaten crop yields and food supplies in many regions.
Also in the top 10 are two stories on science and two on art. The science posts are closely related topically. Both of them examine the study of things that have emerged from retreating glaciers. One discusses human remains—some thousands of years old, others only decades old—that had been preserved in ice and have recently appeared. Another, the third highest-ranked story in 2014, gives an overview of the field of glacier archaeology and the new journal that discusses research in this area.
The art posts, by contrast, are related spatially, since they are both set in the Peruvian Andes. One story from August reports on a trip made by a musician and an anthropologist to record the sounds made by ice and water at different points on a glacier. Another story, from October, details the installations and performance pieces produced by a group of two dozen artists and a dozen indigenous herders who camped for ten days near a glacier.
The remaining three stories also form a group. They consist of personal narratives by anthropologists of travels from lower areas up towards glaciers. They all discuss the experiences of the individual writer and of the people whom they meet along the way. Each of them links glaciers with memories, telling of how people saw glaciers in earlier times and how glaciers serve as records of change. Pasang Yangjee Sherpa, who grew up in Kathmandu, traveled to the remote high villages where her parents were born. As she spoke with local residents, she came to understand their reticence in speaking of these disasters. Gísli Pálsson trekked up to a glacier in a distant part of his native Iceland with his wife and two friends; though they anticipated nothing more than a day-long outing, their walk brought surprises—meeting foreign tourists as well as locals, facing difficulties on the trail, recalling earlier periods of Icelandic history, encountering unexpected sights and sounds. And I wrote one about a hike in Bhutan last October, where I met a yak-herder who told me of the changes he has seen in decades of visiting glaciers, and whose observations prepared me when I came upon yak-herder camps on high ridges.
These four sets of stories might seem very disparate, since they cover a natural hazard, science, art and personal experiences and memories. But they show how glaciers can command human attention and emotion, whether anxiety about a possible disaster, the curiosity of scientists, the esthetic concerns of artists, or the personal experiences and memories of people who inhabit mountain regions. One lesson, perhaps, is that glaciers serve so well to convey the importance of climate change because they address not only the material side of life but the imaginative side as well.
This appeal of glaciers ranges not only over topics but over places as well. GlacierHub received visits from 175 countries. People came to the site from every country in the world, with only a handful of exceptions—a contiguous set of African countries centered in the Sahel with the two outliers of Botswana and Somalia; Afghanistan and Turkmenistan; and North Korea. The United States and Britain were, unsurprisingly, the two countries with the largest number of visitors, but the top 25 included some smaller countries with glaciers, both within western and central Europe (Switzerland, Norway, Austria, Iceland) and elsewhere (Bhutan, Nepal, Peru, Chile, Georgia).
We look forward to an active year in 2015. Science, art and personal experience are likely to continue as themes. Unexpected events may also capture our attention. And issues of politics and policy—well-represented in our posts though not in the top 10—may grow in importance as well. We welcome our readers to send us suggestions for topics, and to contribute posts of their own as well.
In October 2011, while I was conducting ethnographic research on water and climate change in southern Peru’s Colca Valley, I was invited to join the villagers of Pinchollo on a hike up to the point at the foot of a glacier where meltwater starts flowing down towards the village. There, we offered a gift to the mountain lord Hualca Hualca, whom they regard as a living and powerful being. The gift contained dried alpaca fetuses, llama fat, maize, coca leaves, sweets, fruit, flowers, wine and chicha, a kind of maize beer. As the leader of the village irrigation group presented these gifts, he asked Hualca Hualca to not forget the people, to give them more water and to protect the village. At that moment, a large chunk of ice fell down. The villagers understood this to mean that Hualca Hualca was pleased with the gift and was saying to them, ‘Look, here is the water!’
Rising 6,025 meters above sea level in the southern Peruvian Andes, Mount Hualca Hualca provides several villages in the Colca Valley with glacial meltwater for irrigation and human consumption. In the village of Pinchollo, about sixty percent of the fields are irrigated with water from Hualca Hualca. During the last couple of decades, however, villagers have been increasingly noticing glacial shrinkage and decreasing water levels in the springs, which are fed by rainwater and meltwater.
Several mountain springs have dried up completely during the last few years. Local people are starting to blame global warming, as they frame water scarcity in new narratives that are promoted by national and international NGOs and governmental agencies. Moreover, though water is scarcer, the flow of the meltwater is stronger when it does occur, destroying the canals and eroding the soil. Hence, the water flows downvalley rather than being used for irrigation. The villagers are concerned that the water will be wasted as it flows down into the Pacific Ocean. One of the elderly peasant farmers in Pinchollo expressed his concern about Hualca Hualca in this way:
“In August and September there is a strong flow that starts in the glacier, it is the meltwater. The white snow can no longer be seen after September. There is less ice than before. […] If the glacier disappears, there is no life anymore; there is no village anymore. The mountain supports us. Who will contain the thaw? Earlier the snow of Hualca Hualca reached the foot of the mountain. Now there is little snow.”
Living with the highly unpredictable weather in the semi-arid Andean mountain environment, the peasant farmers are dependent on water and the administration of it, including modern institutions of water management as well as various other-than-human beings like the mountain lord to whom we made an offering.
Today, global warming produces effects on temperature, precipitation, seasonality, glacier retreat and water supply. The dwindling resources lead to new uncertainties about the future. Peru contains seventy percent of the world’s tropical glaciers, which are the most visible indicators of climate change due to their sensitivity to increased temperatures and the visibility of their shrinkage. According to the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC), there has been a 22 percent reduction of the total glacier area in Peru during the last 35 years, and a reduction of up to 80 percent of glacier surface from very small glaciers the last 30 years.
For the peasant farmers in Colca Valley, climate change is not something that may happen in the future but is an immediate, lived reality that they struggle to apprehend, negotiate, and respond to. The valley is a poverty-stricken area where a peasant family might lose everything in case of a failed harvest: without savings and insurance they would be dependent on government relief, help from the community, expensive credit loans, or alternative income-strategies to make ends meet.
This challenge is the main concern in the article “Climate Change, Water Practices, and Relational Worlds in the Andes”, published online in Ethnos: Journal of Anthropology. The article argues that ethnography can contribute to disrupt the boundaries that might separate ecological and political dynamics by focusing on how nature and water are practiced in different, but overlapping ways in Colca Valley.
Researchers, activists, and politicians all over the world agree that situations like this one necessitates urgent ecological and political action. What is not necessarily agreed upon, however, are which entities this action should relate to, and which outcomes it could lead to? Ultimately, this divergence is about what kind of world – or worlds – we live in.
This guest post was written by Astrid B. Stensrud, a postdoctoral research fellow at the University of Oslo’s Department of Social Anthropology. If you’d like to write a guest post for GlacierHub, contact us at firstname.lastname@example.org or @glacierhub on Twitter.
Educating the Public about Glaciers at a Park in Peru
“Peru, the host country for this year’s United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change has one of the lowest carbon dioxide emissions in the Americas. But scientists said it is among countries which will be most impacted by climate hazards. To educate the public, one park has created a climate change route for tourists. CCTV America’s Dan Collyns reported this story from Lima, Peru.”
“Glacier Climate Action is a loose confederation of concerned citizens in the communities near Glacier National Park. We plan to make our voices heard, celebrate local solutions, and let elected officials know that we expect them to act now to avert a climate crisis that threatens to devastate the future of our grandchildren and theirs.”
Changes in Glacier Mass and Water Resources in Xinjiang, China
“It is important to understand and quantify glacier changes and their impact on water resources in Hami Prefecture, an extremely arid region in the eastern Xinjiang of northwestern China. Yushugou Glacier No. 6 and Miaoergou Ice Cap in Hami Prefecture were selected in this study. Results showed that the thickness of Yushugou Glacier No. 6 decreased by 20 m with a rate of 0.51 m/y from 1972 to 2011 and the terminus retreated by 254 m, or 6.5 m/y for the same period.”
About 100 kilometers southeast of Cuzco sits the majestic Ausangate mountain, which is surrounded by herds of alpaca and communities of llama herders. The mountain was considered a deity by the Incans and today backpackers enjoy the Ausengate circuit, a hike that circles the mountain in five or six days. Here is a selection of photos from along the route, courtesy of Flickr users Rick McCharles, Tim Farley, Josh, Indrik myneur, and Aaron Korr.
Photo Friday highlights photo essays and collections from areas with glaciers. If you have photos you’d like to share, let us know in the comments, by Twitter @glacierhub or email us at email@example.com.
In early October, Peruvian artist Maxim Holland attempted to make an offering of water to a remote and legendary tropical glacier in the Peruvian Andes named Pariacaca, which is situated 13,000 feet above the sea. He lugged 150 liters of bottled water up to the foot of the glacier with the intention of boiling it until it evaporated into the thin mountain air. But the firewood, sticks and cow patties he and the other artists accompanying him were able to collect at the site only kept the fire burning long enough to consume part of his liquid sacrifice. The rest, he carried back down the mountain. The performance piece was part of a 10-day retreat into the Peruvian Andes called HAWAPI 2014 that Holland organized to bring attention to climate change and its human and environmental impacts.
On October 6, Holland and an international group of 23 other artists plus a dozen Andean herders climbed up to the site just below the glacier, which is about an hour by car and two by foot from the nearest town, Tanta. They were accompanied by a pack of some 80 llamas that wound along the scrubby golden mountain trails lugging food and an odd assortment of art supplies for the group—huge copper plates, stretches of rebar, gutters, tanks of helium, welding equipment. When they arrived, they set up a solar-powered camp between two glacial lakes, and for the next ten days, they cooked, ate, slept, and battled the elements to create art in the shadow of the glacier.
HAWAPI, the Quechua word for “outside,” is an itinerant arts collective that stages art events in remote regions of Peru, and this one was timed to coincide with the United Nations Framework Convention on climate change. The meeting will convene in Lima in early December, just as work from HAWAPI goes up at the Lima Contemporary Museum of Art, a show that runs from Dec. 3- Jan. 9. Many of the pieces were installed permanently at the site of the mountain camp, but documentation of their creation will be part of the museum’s exhibit.
In mid October, the Peruvian government announced that climate change had shrunk the country’s glaciers by 40 percent over the past four decades, and that the meltwater has given life to 1,000 new high-altitude lakes since the 1980s. Peru hosts 70 percent of the world’s tropical glaciers, which are particularly vulnerable to rising global temperatures, and the country’s glaciers are the source of most of the country’s drinking water. Without them, the rivers will run dry.
“I think it’s essential that the Pariacaca glacier be incorporated into the imagination of every resident of Lima, because it’s part of their inheritance and today it seems a little bit forgotten,” wrote Alejandro Jaime, one of the artists who participated in the project, in an email (translated from Spanish). Jaime has a long history of producing art that showcases or addresses Pariacaca. “So, I find these creative projects like HAWAPI that are developed around this mountain symbol very healthy, that they broadcast the glacier’s presence and importance for those who drink its waters.”
Glaciers have long been worshipped in the Peruvian Andes as sacred overlords of climate, keepers of rain, and they are still celebrated in annual rites called champería by many Andean communities, according to Frank Salomon, a scholar of the region.
“In any province in the Andes, most people have one particular mountain they think of being as the overlord of the climate in their area,” says Salomon. “That establishes relationships between people and mountains that have to be attended to. Otherwise, people are not in the right relation with their environment.”
Pariacaca could be considered among the most treasured of Peru’s glacier gods, particularly among scholars, given that the rituals practiced here during Incan times were recorded by a priest and preserved in a storied text known as The Huarochirí Manuscript.
The HAWAPI artists attempted to engage both with local environment and its culture during their stay in the mountains. The group invited residents of Tanta to come and visit midway through their residency, and some 70 townspeople showed up to perform traditional music and dances. Many of the artists also designed projects that gestured at ancient Inca rites and practices, and to man’s influence on nature.
Peruvian artist Ishmael Randal Weeks, for instance, carved a seat out of rock in a spot with a view of Pariacaca. The sculpted seat was meant as a direct reference to the Incan “Ushnus” still found all over Cuzco, stone carved seats often placed facing holy sites, such as mountains, and configured in such a way as to intersect with sacred lines that were thought to radiate out of the city. Randal also diverted a small waterfall near the camp through a series of gutters, to emphasize nature’s tendency to take its own course regardless of human interventions.
Haresh Bhojwani of the International Research Institute for Climate and Society at Columbia University in New York attempted to launch his Carbon Cube project—but faced some complications. He planned to represent with helium balloons the amount of coal burnt each day in the world: 300 meters by 300 meters, which is as wide and as long as the Empire State Building. But the balloons were too fragile to survive the conditions on the mountain. Ultimately, the group managed to represent a single second of coal consumption, 7 meters by 7 meters, using string, in a collaborative effort to salvage the project.
Holland and two other artists were intent on having direct contact with the glacier itself, so they made a four-hour hike out from the campsite. But the glacier was very visible from the camp. “We had a direct view of the glacier, it was a constant presence,” he said.
(Read more about artists who incorporate glaciers into their work on GlacierHub, here and here.)
“The new names mainly refer to places in the vicinity. For example, Kerlingarbaksjökull lies to the west of the mountain Kerling in Eyjafjörður, Sýlingarjökull in Svarfaðardalur is named after the mountain Auðnasýling and Dyrajökull lies in the Dyrfjöll mountains in Borgarfjörður eystri, as stated on ruv.is. Oddur is working with local and U.S. colleagues on making a map for an international glacier atlas.”
Pakistan is suffering from disasters caused by climate change
“If we look at the current disaster history of Pakistan, the country has encountered multiple disasters which are only caused by the climate change phenomena, which includes coastal flooding, drought, and flash floods. Among these the melting of glacier causing glacial outbursts observed an unprecedented events in northern part of the country.”
“Yet the idea that the ice cap has retreated over time because of a change in temperature, rather than other possible factors like reduced snowfall, has always been more of a surmise than a proven case. In fact, how to interpret the disappearance of glaciers throughout the tropics has been a scientific controversy. ”
When attacking a problem as complex and diverse as climate change, sometimes the best way is from the ground up. Bringing indigenous communities, including those near glacier in high mountain regions, into the discussion is the new tactic discussed at a September 24 meeting at the United Nations Development Programme in New York during Climate Week. With many heads of state present at the UN headquarters two blocks away, security was tight.
The event, “Building Indigenous Knowledge into Climate Change Assessments: A Roundtable Discussion,” was sponsored by UNESCO. It drew together nearly two dozen representatives from international agencies, NGOs, indigenous communities and universities. Its goal was to increase the presence of indigenous knowledge in climate assessments, and to use this knowledge to promote effective adaptation efforts. The meeting built on two key statements in the Summary for Policy-makers of Working Group II of the Fifth Assessment Report of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change: that “including indigenous peoples’ holistic views of community and environment are a major resource for adapting to climate change” and that these views “have not been used consistently in existing adaptation efforts.”
The animated discussions lasted well over three hours. The meeting was chaired by Douglas Nakashima, the chief of the Local and Indigenous Knowledge Systems Programme of UNESCO and Minnie Degawan, a member of the Kankanaey Igorot indigenous community of the Philippines and a Senior Advisor of the World Wildlife Fund Forest and Climate Initiative. Nakashima opened with a thoughtful review of the involvement of indigenous peoples and indigenous knowledge in the IPCC and the UNFCCC over the last 10 years, and of the efforts of the International Indigenous Peoples Forum on Climate Change, a network of indigenous peoples who engage with the UNFCCC, to expand this role.
Discussions focused on indigenous knowledge about climate change, the ways that indigenous peoples bring their knowledge into adaptation, and an exploration of the opportunities and barriers to fuller incorporation of this knowledge into global climate assessments. The issue of indigenous youth came up again and again, with the concern for assuring continuity of strong indigenous communities on their lands. They included detailed case studies of different communities and of international organizations. Of the nine speakers, five were representatives of indigenous communities, principally from Southeast Asia and North America. Indigenous people formed a majority of the discussants and commentators as well.
People spoke with intensity and listened to each other closely, providing many comments and drawing out comparisons across disparate cases. The discussion became fast-paced after Youba Sokona, the Co-Chair of IPCC Working Group III on Mitigation, offered an overview of the process of writing assessment reports with a focus on the potential for greater incorporation of indigenous knowledge. The group came up with several recommendations—still under discussion—for concrete future steps, leading up to the UNFCCC Conference of Parties in Paris in December 2015.