Roundup: A Soldier’s Mother, Hydropower, and Supraglacial Ice Melt

Mother with a Heart of Gold at Siachen Glacier

From “A school teacher and mother of a soldier was so inspired by the sacrifices made by the country’s jawans, that she decided to make one of her own. Pune resident, Sumedha Chithade, 54, has sold her ancestral gold bangles to raise funds to build an oxygen plant for soldiers posted at Siachen Glacier.”

Read the news here.

Sumedha Chithade, the mother of a soldier, who sold her ancestral jewelry to help other soldiers at Siachen Glacier (Source:


Controversial Hydropower Along a Trans-Himalayan River

From Water Policy: “Teesta is one such mighty trans-Himalayan river flowing through India and Bangladesh and is recognized as a basin where there is increasing tension between these two nations. Due to upstream interventions including barrage, dam and hydropower construction, the lower riparian region of Bangladesh faces acute water stresses, which hampers the agricultural, fisheries and livelihood activities of the river-dependent communities and impedes the economic prosperity of the greater North-west region. The study provides a robust outline of the transboundary nexus between India and Bangladesh, and identifies upstream intervention-induced economic loss and ecological deterioration in the lower Teesta basin.”

Learn more about the controversy here.

Teesta a mighty trans-Himalayan river flowing through India and Bangladesh (Image: Source)
Teesta, a mighty trans-Himalayan river flowing through India and Bangladesh (Image: (Source: Akuppa John Wigham/Flickr).


What Makes Supraglacial Ice Melt Faster?

From PNAS: “Supraglacial ice cliffs exist on debris-covered glaciers worldwide, but despite their importance as melt hot spots, their life cycle is little understood. Early field observations had advanced a hypothesis of survival of north-facing and disappearance of south-facing cliffs, which is central for predicting the contribution of cliffs to total glacier mass losses.”

Find out more here.

High Mountain Asia, the Tibetan Plateau (Image: Source)
High Mountain Asia, the Tibetan Plateau (Source: DaiLuo/Flickr).



Calls for “Inclusive Governance” in Climate Change Policy

Climate change mitigation and adaptation policies need to stop merely “paying lip service” to the knowledge and needs of rural communities, indigenous lands, and high mountain communities, according to two anthropologists who make their case in a recent issue of Science.

The perspective, “Environmental governance for all,” written by Eduardo S. Brondizio and Francois-Michel Le Tourneau of Indiana University and Sorbonne Nouvelle University in June, argues that effective governance can only occur with the consultation and incorporation of local and indigenous knowledge into policy decisions.

Andes Mountains
High mountain ecosystems, such as the Andes in Peru, are extremely vulnerable to climate change Source: David Stanley

Research suggests that indigenous peoples, who own, occupy or manage up to 65 percent of the Earth’s land surface, are largely excluded from environmental policymaking and forums such as the 2015 Paris climate change conference (COP 21) that led to the negotiated Paris Agreement. The convention aims to limit rising global average temperatures to 2 degrees Celsius above pre-industrial levels.

COP 21 asked countries to submit intended nationally determined contributions (INDCs) to publicly outline what climate actions they intend to take under the Paris Agreement. However, the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change reported in a 2015 review that none of these notes, or INDCs, submitted by countries as of October 1, 2015 made any mention of indigenous peoples, signaling a key disconnect of indigenous inclusion in national environmental policies.  

The paper in Science argues that the inclusion of indigenous people is crucial to effectively tackle challenges caused by climate change and human-caused environmental degradation. Noting that as local and indigenous communities are “crucial for climate change adaptation and mitigation, from carbon sequestration to provisioning of water, food, and energy to cities,” the authors write that attempts to mitigate and adapt to climate change will be “compromised” without their inclusion and participation.

Co-author Le Torneau told GlacierHub via email, “Glacier and high mountain communities are on the frontline of climate change.”  

Glacial retreat and rapidly changing ecosystems especially threaten these communities’ livelihoods, water supply, and food security, as indigenous peoples tend to rely on land and natural resources for survival. A recent study from the United Nations Environmental Programme and affiliated center GRID-Arendal reported that glacial melt “will most likely increase human vulnerability in many areas.”

Namche Bazaar
Namche Bazaar, a village in northeastern Nepal, with the peak of Kongde Ri in the background. Source: Steve Hicks

As a result, the perspective’s argument especially holds weight for climate change mitigation and adaptation policy affecting high mountain communities near glaciers, such as mountain villages in Nepal.

While the paper acknowledges that many international conventions like the COP21 climate meeting in Paris have recognized the importance of local and indigenous inclusion in climate change policy in their texts, Le Torneau said he believes that the documents do not actually translate into equal representation when it comes to the establishment or implementation of policy. 

“There is today a certain kind of inclusion in so far as their existence is considered and a number of compensations are called for. But there is no equality,” he tells GlacierHub via email. “City people can impose new regulations on remote small communities but the reverse is not true as a consequence of the democratic game.”

The authors said they hope that these groups will gain more access to future environmental policy decisions and initiatives at all governmental levels. However, they note that delegated responsibilities must pay particular attention to disparities in funding between communities.

The paper notes that while “sparsely populated areas are increasingly targeted to meet national and global conservation and climate mitigation goals…local and indigenous populations, many of which are poor, are expected to take on growing responsibilities as environmental stewards.”

Le Torneau writes that the paper was inspired by fieldwork observations about Amazonian forest communities’ lack of input in key policy decisions regarding the Amazon’s conservation. He explains that local forest communities were often expected to act as “environmental stewards,” but that these expectations for their direction and goals of their stewardship were “much more imposed by external centers of power,” extending from international non-profits to governments.

Le Torneau said he believes that such power dynamics “could create strong local resentment and opposition.”

He notes that some of those in charge of governing Amazon forest conservation ironically “have only a very limited knowledge of the natural environment.”

“Some international donors in the Amazon have prohibited the purchase of chainsaws in environmental programs. But if you have no chainsaw in your boat, you cannot control a protected area, because you will be blocked by the first fallen tree on your path,” he said.

World Landscapes Forum
A speaker at the first Global Landscapes Forum in 2013 in Warsaw, Poland. Source: N. Palmer (IWMI)

The paper notes that a few environmental initiatives exist that have successfully practiced inclusive governance. It praises the Center for International Forestry Research’s Global Landscape Forum for its wide range of stakeholder engagement to “share ideas, propose solutions, and make commitments for the inclusive management of landscapes.”

The authors write they hope that efforts such as the Global Landscape Forum will craft effective and inclusive policies that will work to conserve ecosystems in diverse regions around the world.

Political Tug of War Over Greenland’s Mining Industry

Greenlanders are engaging in a fierce ongoing debate about whether to develop the country’s onshore mineral resources into a robust mining industry.

Since gaining political autonomy from Kingdom of Denmark in 2009, the government of the world’s largest non-continental island has long been brainstorming how to solve its increasing financial woes. When a 2008 US Geological Survey documented the potential for more than 50 billion BOE (barrel of oil equivalent) in the Greenland region, rapid political support emerged for the development of a national mining industry.

Colored houses clustered at the foot of Qaaqarsuaq
Colored houses clustered at the foot of Qaaqarsuaq. Courtesy of BBC.

Indeed, with the rise of temperatures and subsequent melt of icecaps and glaciers, the available surfaces for extraction in Greenland are rapidly increasing, and are being trailed by the arrival of small scale mining companies and exploration wells.

Greenland’s particular mining and extraction of fossil fuels would have noticeable ramifications on encouraging the country’s long-term use of carbon-emitting energy sources, ensuring and reinforcing an energy dependence that the 2009 European Commission’s Market Observatory for Energy study predicts to last for quite some time. However,  climatologists warn that fossil fuel extraction will further contribute to rising Arctic temperatures, which are causing the melting of the ice caps and glaciers in the first place.

Nalunaq Gold Mine,  Greenland’s first gold mine.
Nalunaq Gold Mine, Greenland’s first gold mine. Courtesy of Wikipedia Commons

Companies are exploring the mining potential of a long list of minerals in Greenland, including iron ore, copper, oil, zinc, lead, uranium, fluoride, gold, rubies, and rare-earth minerals, which are commonly used in the manufacturing of mobile phones, solar panels, and wind turbines.

Greenland’s major political parties, all unanimous in support for the development of the mining industry, hope to capture the rich benefits of oil taxes, royalties, employment opportunities, and financial independence, and therefore perhaps increased political independence, from Denmark.

However, elections have proceeded with caution as politicians battle over the pace at which to attract foreign investors to the market and over the employment of uranium mining, which was recently relieved of a decades-old ban on the practice.

Greenland citizens, however, are deeply divided over the ambitious plans to develop the mining industry.

Some believe a robust mining industry development could solve Greenland’s struggling economy. The country’s locals, historically sustaining themselves through hunting and fishing, have faced a faltering economy and a declining population, particularly in the town of Narsaq. When the its largest employer, a shrimp processing plant, closed a few years ago after the shrimp population fled to cooler northern waters, the town lost over 80 jobs.

Town slaughterhouse manager Henning Sonderup told BBC, “Many people are unemployed,” he says. “Lots of families from Narsaq have moved out to other cities, so we have to do something.”

Local Susanne Lynge sees mining as a potential solution to the government’s financial woes.

“Our local government needs money,” she says. “I wish they would open the mining,” she told BBC News as she led a protest calling for the local council to speed up the construction of a new school.

Local protest calling for the council to speed up construction of a new school.
Local protest calling for the council to speed up construction of a new school. Courtesy of BBC.

Sonderup added that a stable industry could bring economic prosperity and development back to Greenland.

“New school, bigger hospital, better airport, new harbor, new roads, everything. Greenland will be on the map again,” he said.

The site of the Kvanefjeld uranium and rare earth element project in southern Greenland
The site of the Kvanefjeld uranium and rare earth element project in southern Greenland

Other citizens in Narsaq, however, deeply oppose the mining industry’s encroaching presence, concerned about environmental impacts such as pollution, radioactivity, and threats to biodiversity.

One resident, Agathe Devisme, remarked, “People coming to Greenland are looking for something pure,” she says. “It’s the last corner of the world not touched by pollution. If there is any kind of radioactivity in the area, they will not like it.”

In addition to these environmental threats, Greenland’s extraction industry poses major geopolitical and economic implications onto the hazy future of Arctic oil extraction. A 2015 study estimated there to be 100 billion barrels of oil and natural gas reserves in Arctic, but concluded that Arctic reserves could not be exploited if global temperature increases were to be kept under the generally agreed “safety limit” of 2ºC. With the approach of December’s UN negotiations and international climate deal, environmental policymakers will be watching Greenland’s move.

Record-speed melting ice in Greenland
Record-speed melting ice in Greenland (Courtesy of Brendan Delaney/Shutterstock)

Greenland Minerals and Energy’s operations manager Ib Laursen believes that a mining industry can still adhere to sustainability goals.

“Other countries like Canada and France have uranium mining,” he says. “If they can do it, we can do it in Greenland, we can take best environmental standards and put them to work here.”

Several recent studies and working papers, most recently a paper on developing energy sectors in the Arctic in the soon-to-be-published Handbook of the Politics of the Arctic, seek to predict the unknown future of Greenland’s mining industry and environmental policy. The Energy Security Institute at Brookings offers its own interpretation of the future in a 2014 report, as does MaRS Discovery District in this blog post.

For many, the debate over the development of Greenland’s mining industry hinges not on whether to capitalize on the economic benefits of a mining industry, but on whether the industry can balance tense sociopolitical tensions in the Arctic and extract resources in a sustainable and environmentally-safe manner.