A recent study published in the journal Earth’s Future presents the first ever inventory of glaciers in UNESCO World heritage sites. The study authors identified 19,000 glaciers across 46 sites, studied their current state, and projected their changes in mass by 2100. The researchers found that “except for the mostly balanced conditions modeled for Heard and McDonald Islands (Antarctic Islands), substantial ice loss will occur in all natural World Heritage sites.” The study compares glaciers to umbrella species because “their conservation will automatically allow and imply the conservation of other features threatened by global warming” and to keystone species “because of their disproportionately large impacts on nature and societies on Earth.”
The study highlights that “the safeguarding of these iconic and important natural features could mobilize global‐scale conservation and mitigation benefits. As for all glaciers and ice sheets on Earth, their preservation reinforces the compelling priority for strong and rapid reduction of greenhouse gas emissions and thereby a deep modification of human impacts on the climate.”
Artificial Glaciers in the Himalayas
The New Yorker looks at the proliferation of artificial glaciers in the Himalayas: “The first ice stupa was created in 2013, in Ladakh, in Kashmir. Villages in Ladakh, a high mountain-desert region bordered by the Himalayas, largely depend on glacial runoﬀ for water. As the glaciers recede, owing to climate change, the ﬂow of water has become more erratic. Sometimes there’s too much, producing flashflooding; often, there’s too little. The ice stupa, a kind of artficial glacier, is the brainchild of a Ladakhi engineer named Sonam Wangchuk.”
Graphic Novel Looks at Alexander von Humboldt’s Expeditions
Author Andrea Wulf and artist Lillian Melcher worked together to create The Adventures of Alexander von Humboldt.
From the New York Botanical Garden: “Focusing on Humboldt’s five-year expedition in South America, Wulf and Melcher incorporate pages of his own diaries, sketches, drawings, and maps to create an intimate portrait of the radical ecologist who predicted human-induced climate change and fashioned poetic narrative out of scientific observation.
Driven by his conviction that the world was a single, interconnected organism, Humboldt was the first to note similarities among climate zones across the world. His work turned scientific observation into poetic narrative that influenced great minds from Goethe to Darwin and Thoreau.”
In a recently published Earth’s Futurestudy, researchers from Swiss research institutions inventory and analyze a total of 19,039 glaciers found within 46 World Heritage sites. The research team, led by glaciologist Jean Baptiste Bosson, is the first to catalog and examine glaciers located within UNESCO World Heritage sites. Bosson serves as a scientific officer for the world heritage program at the International Union for Conservation of Nature.
Bosson told GlacierHub: “Theoretically, the World Heritage status is the most important commitment to protect the integrity of cultural and natural features on Earth.”
In 1972, UNESCO created World Heritage sites in order to identify and preserve areas of significance. Today, there are a total of 1,092 World Heritage sites around the world. Some of UNESCO’s world heritage locations include the Great Barrier Reef, Machu Picchu, the city of Venice, and Yellowstone National Park. World Heritage sites can range from places of cultural significance to areas containing natural value.
More About the Study
Using climate modeling techniques and greenhouse gas emissions scenarios, the researchers calculated the total volume of glaciers located within World Heritage sites and project glacial mass volume changes over time.
The researchers found that the largest proportion of ice-covered areas within world heritage locations are in New Zealand (76 percent), Alaska (44 percent), and northern Asia (26 percent).
In a “business as usual” emissions scenario (RCP8.5), the researchers calculate that 60 percent of total glacial mass volume within world heritage glaciers will be lost by 2100. Additionally, 21 of the 46 sites examined in the study will likely suffer from complete glacial extinction. Glacial loss of this magnitude would likely threaten the integrity of ecosystems, alter large-scale hydrology, and reduce species’ diversity.
Reduced emissions scenarios, such as RCP4.5 and RCP2.6, project lessened environmental impacts but require immediate action on curbing greenhouse gas pollution. Unfortunately, all emissions scenarios project future ice loss.
“The key message is that we have to make utmost efforts to conserve glaciers because if they disappear, the current earth system and the life [on] its surface will be completely modified,” Bosson said.
UNESCO recently published a report which addresses the effects of global warming on the glaciers of the Andes. The Andean Glacier and Water Atlas examines the changing climate patterns across western South America, as well the historical and projected rates of retreat of important glaciers in the region. Increased melting will impact societies reliant on glaciers for water resources. The eventual loss of glaciers presents a challenge for countries to address.
The Andes are the longest continental mountain range in the world, spanning the western edge of South America through several countries. These mountains are considered to be the water towers for the surrounding populations. They provide water to about 75 million people living within the Andes region and 20 million downstream along surrounding rivers. The Andes continue to have a significant influence on local cultures and economies. The impending loss of these glaciers may cripple dependent communities, industries, and various sectors across South America.
Key Messages and Future Projections
The atlas identifies several key messages essential for discerning the changes in the Andes. Projections indicate that temperatures in the tropical Andes could increase between 2°C and 5°C by the end of the 21st century. The recent IPCC SR1.5 report emphasized the devastating effects of just 1°C of warming, such as extended periods of drought and extreme global heat events. The Andes will likely experience increasingly hotter years with warming driving further glacier retreat.
The report notes that changes in precipitation are harder to project than temperature changes. Nonetheless it presents serious concerns for some regions across the Andes. The atlas refers to the IPCC for precipitation projections. In the southern Andes region, precipitation will greatly decrease by the end of the century, including Chile and Argentina in particular. These regions will likely experience drought events, and loss of glaciers may be devastating to the environment and its people.
Scientists have also observed rapid retreat in glaciers in the tropical Andes, as well as lower-altitude glaciers. According to the atlas, one glacier which remains in Venezuela will likely disappear by 2021. Many large tropical glaciers exist in Peru, including Quelccaya Ice Cap, which may disappear by 2050 at the current rate of warming. Glaciers are also quickly retreating in Bolivia, Chile, and Argentina. This retreat and volume loss of glaciers is “locked in,”and glaciers will continue to retreat no matter what. Even with a moderate level of emissions, the IPCC projects that barely a fifth of the glaciers will remain by the end of the century, with some reduced to barely 3 percent of their current size.
Impacts of Retreating Glaciers
The loss of glaciers and glacial meltwater is inevitable. As warming continues, a majority of glaciers will soon experience “peak water” (which occurs when melting exceeds new mass accumulated by snowfall), likely within the next 20 years. Many tropical Andes glaciers already reached peak water in the 1980s and have been outputting less water since. Although many countries will benefit from peak water, the aftereffects of less meltwater outflow will heavily strain the available water supply.
Bolívar Cáceres, a specialist of the tropical Andes who worked on the atlas, told GlacierHub about some of the effects of glacier retreat and possible methods for adapting to water scarcity. “One of the indirect effects of long-term melting in communities is the reduction of visitors. Since glaciers no longer exist in some places or become very difficult to climb, tourists are currently opting out and most likely will go to other places in the future,” he said. This will affect local economies that depend on tourism flow and the resources generated. As for adaptation, Cáceres believes that promoting technologies in agriculture and livestock areas to better manage water resources is essential for sustainability.
Water quality will also be affected by the loss of glaciers. Bryan Mark, an expert on Andes and Peruvian glaciers, added: “Recently glacier-free landscapes feature lots of unconsolidated materials that tend to result in more sediment laden, erosive, and ‘flashy’ discharge streams.'” Sediment pollution presents a number of problems for the water supply, including degrading the quality of drinking water for locals and their livestock. Mark also highlighted the importance of diversifying water reservoir resources, utilizing groundwater, small dams, and precipitation capture as alternate water resources.
Efficacy and Practicality of Policy Recommendations
The atlas examines the significance of glacier retreat on communities. It provides policy recommendations for countries to sustainably secure future water availability. Some examples include implementing preventative measures for natural glacier-related hazards and developing climate services for water resource management. Although these recommendations are intended to provide direction towards sustainable water supply management, there are concerns of clarity, implementation, and effectiveness of these policies.
Dirk Hoffmann, an expert on glaciers in high mountain ecosystems, commented on the effectiveness of the policy recommendations on communities. “The policy recommendations are all very interesting, but on the whole seem to be somewhat too general as to be useful to specific decision maker,” he said. Hoffmann views the recommendations as well intended and believes the atlas to be effective in raising awareness of these issues. In a practical sense, however, they are too far removed to help decision makers, he said. A clear indication as to whom these recommendations are directed towards would be beneficial.
Mark Carey, an expert of the Peruvian Andes, shared similar thoughts on the effectiveness of these recommendations. Carey stated that the lack of social science and humanities research on vulnerability and unequal impacts of shrinking glaciers is an issue. “Vulnerability is framed in ways to conceptualize homogenous ‘affected populations,’ such as those in agriculture or urban areas, rather than understanding the complicated social divisions and power imbalances embedded in the diverse social groups,” he said. Carey added that although the science is necessary, the complex human dimensions of climate change adaptation are essential.
The Andean Glacier and Water Atlas recognizes the importance of improving interactions between science and policy, bringing awareness of key issues surrounding the loss of glaciers in the Andes. This is a major step towards successful adaptation; climate scientists, social scientists, and policymakers will need to collaborate to effectively allocate resources for sustainable management of the challenges associated with glacier retreat.
In the following months, Kazakhstan will start the implementation of a Central Asian Regional Glaciological Center. The center was established after the president of the Republic of Kazakhstan, Nursultan Nazarbayev, ratified an agreement last March between his country and the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO).
The Central Asian Regional Glaciological Center will be located in Almaty, the largest city in the country, and has the objective to both contribute to the research of glaciology and improve the scientific understanding of the impacts of climate change on glaciers and the water cycle in the region. As stated by UNESCO, the center will improve coordination of research projects and information sharing between regional institutions currently working on glaciers. Moreover, it will aim to increase the capacities of Central Asian specialists in the field of glaciology.
Christian Hergarten, a current research scientist at the Mountain Societies Research Institute at the University of Central Asia, told GlacierHub that he and his colleagues believe the regional research center will create local and regional ownership in terms of environmental data and information generation for Central Asia. “This should help to move glaciers higher on national agendas and render the effects of global warming on glaciers, water flow and storage a political priority in the area,” Hergarten said.
For Ryskeldi Satke, a researcher focused on Central Asia, countries must have more research hubs outside of the one in Kazakhstan for the sake of the whole region. “In my opinion, Tajikistan, Kyrgyz Republic, Uzbekistan, Kazakhstan and Turkmenistan should have scientific collaboration regarding glaciers and water resources. It is a good step for Kazakhstan to develop research capacity and support scientific exploration in the field of glaciology,” he told GlacierHub.
Due to the relative aridity of the region, glacier meltwater is a key water resource for these countries, with glaciers relevant to the future development of the region. Major Central Asian rivers such as the Syr Darya and Amu Darya provide for the livelihoods of the people living in this semi‐arid region, for example, mostly through hydropower generation and irrigation agriculture. Hergarten added, “Many rivers in Central Asia have their sources in the high mountains where snow and glacier melt contribute substantially to runoff generation— between 10 and 30 percent.”
As stated in the draft proposal of the establishment of the center, thawed snow and glacial water in Central Asia is formed in high-mountainous areas. The zone of runoff formation in these locations determines the hydrological regime and provides water resources to the densely populated region. Unfortunately, these territories are not adequately monitored. This situation is responsible for inadequate information on glacier mass dynamics, among other deficiencies. The lack of factual information on processes and natural phenomena at high altitudes in cold mountain regions forces scientists to use secondary data and indirect methods to make assumptions when constructing forecast models. This explains the lack of consensus among scientists on the impact of climate change on the region’s water resources in general and glaciers in particular.
Nazif Shahrani, professor of Anthropology, Central Asian and Middle Eastern Studies at Indiana University, told GlacierHub that it is “critical and necessary” to monitor the global impact of changing ecological conditions and the Aral Sea’s virtual disappearance in the region, especially on the remaining glacier fields in the area. Moreover, the initiative by Kazakhstan, one of the richest and more populous nations in the region, is most welcome and will be beneficial, especially if it includes monitoring the glacier field not just within the boundaries of Kazakhstan but also in the other republics with glaciers, Shahrani noted. “The future viability of all five republics of former Central Asia and Afghanistan will depend on waters from the glaciers and the mountains of this region,” he said.
The dependence of Central Asian countries on mountain resources varies across Central Asia. While countries such as Kyrgyzstan, Tajikistan and Uzbekistan rely heavily and immediately on mountain resources, the importance of mountain resources is less pronounced for Kazakhstan with its vast steppes and grasslands, according to Hergarten. “The Kyrgyz, Tajik and partly also the Uzbek economies depend critically on water originating from Central Asian mountain ranges for agricultural production, benefitting large parts of the population. But the economies also depend on mineral resources originating from mountains,” he said.
The negotiation and development of the agreement dates back to 2006 when Central Asian countries assessed the state of glaciers and water resources of the region during a workshop organized by UNESCO in Kazakhstan. During the meeting, the participants acknowledged the need for a regional center on glacier research. Six years later, an agreement on the establishment of the regional research center was signed in Astana, the capital of the country, during the official visit of the Director-General of UNESCO, Irina Bokova. The Central-Asian Regional Glaciological Center will be implemented under the auspices of UNESCO as a category 2 organization, which indicates that the center is not legally part of the international organization. However, it is associated with it through an agreement between UNESCO and the country that will host the center.
“Kazakhstan is a prominent member of the international community and such status gives the Kazakh government more opportunities to implement or initiate regional cooperation based on the scientific data and research from the hub in Almaty. Regardless of the outcome, the research center is a good and positive sign for the region. Most likely, it will create more room and opportunities for the regional scientists to congregate and exchange scientific data on glaciers and water resources,” Satke concluded.
A popular off-season freestyle snow park located on the Dachstein glacier in Austria has cancelled its fall season due to glacial retreat. The Superpark Dachstein became a favorite destination for local and international pro skiers and snowboarders, including Polish rider Adrian Smardz, to train during the summer months. Due to a lack of snow, the park will be opening its doors only in late autumn and closing again in the early summer, rather than maintaining its tradition of a year-round operation. Other attractions such as the ski slopes and cross country tracks will remain open. The news of the park’s closing followed the closing of Camp of Champions, a prominent camp on Horstman Glacier in Canada.
“After many great years of Superpark on the Dachstein glacier, we’ve heavy-heartedly decided that we will not rebuild Dachstein Superpark in the upcoming fall,” reads the official statement released by the park’s operators, Planai-Hochwurzen-Bahnen. “One important reason is the increasing glacial retreat in the park area. It is definitely unjustifiable that we were already forced to damage the glacial ice sheet during the build-up. It’s the dictate of the moment to preserve the glacial substance. We ask you to understand the justified criticism of environmentalists.”
Since it was created by pro-snowboarder Bernd Mandlberger in 2002, the park has been one of the only snow parks to remain open after May. Markus Zeiringer, the marketing head for Planai-Hochwurzen-Bahnen, said the park is “obliged to a responsible and sustainable approach to nature – especially on Dachstein glacier.” Zeiringer explained that last year, due to a lack of snow, the park had to damage the ice layer to build kickers, small handmade jumps that allow snowboarders and skiers to show off their tricks and gain height, ultimately prompting the park to reconsider its toll on the environment. “There is enough snow for skiers and cross-country skiers on Dachstein, but the kickers have not been justifiable any more,” he said.
As one of the first snow parks in Austria, the park has a unique geographical location on Dachstein Glacier in Austria, just below 2700 meters in elevation. The Hallstatt-Dachstein alpine landscape, part of the Eastern Alps, was declared a UNESCO World Heritage Site in 1997 for its huge mountains and narrow valleys. Dachstein’s three glaciers— the Gosau, the Hallstätter, and the Schladminger— have already thinned out by around 50 centimeters to a full meter each year, which is two to three times more than the 20th century average, according to The Guardian. With 2015 the hottest year since 1880, almost all of Austria’s 900 glaciers have retreated 72 feet in 2015, more than twice the rate of 2014.
The shrinking of Austria’s glaciers has taken a toll on recreation and the economy in the Alps, with Superpark Dachstein the latest snow park to succumb to temperature rise. Austria generates about 4.5 percent of the country’s gross national product on its ski industry, with about fifty percent of tourist income coming from its winter season alone, The Guardian reports. The surrounding landscapes have changed significantly, leaving locals and tourists with melting ice that could induce rock falls, rather than supplying snow to functioning resorts for vacation and recreation.
Similarly, in the United States, ski resorts that used to be open year-round are now being forced to close between May and September because the slopes have disappeared. Ben Marconi, a graduate of the Climate and Society master’s program at Columbia University and a competitive skier from Utah, told GlacierHub, “The changing distribution of snowfall throughout the season will affect when and how often we ski. The increasing likelihood of extreme weather events and the redistribution of snowfall throughout the season, compared to the climatological norm for a given region, has had a major impact on glacial ski areas.”
In an interview with GlacierHub, Nick Smith, a journalist based in Austria, added, “Less snowfall during the year means a shorter ski season, which means lower tourism dollars, which is one of the primary means of income for many of these tiny towns. This can have a cascading effect if, for example, tourism dollars dry up in these rural areas, young people may move away rather than go into the tourism and mountain guide business, breaking the connection their towns have had for generations.”
“Snow accumulation is different in seasons where only a few large storms occur, bringing in large snowfall totals only a few times, versus seasons with predictable weekly snowfall,” said Marconi. “Regular snowfall patterns usually produce more stable snow packs for skiing, and can ultimately lead to longer seasons than errant, large storms dumping large quantities of snow at once.”
There have been numerous tactics to slow down glacial retreat in the Alps, including the use of a system called the “All Weather Snowmaker”— a machine like a giant freezer and blower that turns water into artificial snow. A glacial ski resort in Pitztal, an alpine valley in Austria, has been using an Israeli system that can produce nearly a thousand cubic meters of artificial snow a day. If temperatures do not become too high, this machine, created by Israel-based IDE Technologies Ltd., can help produce a sufficient amount of snow to keep ski resorts running.
Unfortunately, snowmaking can be expensive, averaging around $500,000 annually, making it unmanageable for small local resorts. And the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change found in 2016 that snowmaking will become increasingly unfeasible due to rising temperatures and energy costs.
Ski and resort industries have started to come together to fight against global warming, reducing their carbon footprint by using renewable energy sources like solar and wind power. A new movement called “We Are Still In” is taking action on climate change by uniting the resort communities to take matter into their own hands. To date, the movement consists of 125 cities, 9 states, 902 businesses and investors, and 183 colleges and universities, all who have pledged to lower carbon emissions in accordance with the Paris Agreement.
From the Japan Times: “A handful of pro-Tibet activists protested earlier this week while the International Campaign for Tibet (ICT) advocacy group warned that giving Hoh Xil heritage status could have consequences for Tibet.”
Read more about the controversy around one of the newest UNESCO World Heritage Sites here.
Indian Pilgrims Stalled in the Mountains
From The Economic Times: “China accused Indian troops of ‘crossing the boundary’ in the Sikkim sector and put their immediate withdrawal as condition to reopen the Nathu La Pass for Indian pilgrims traveling to Kailash Mansarovar.”
From the Hindustan Times: “China on Friday accused India of ‘ulterior motives’ in claiming the entire Doklam or Donglang region as part of the tri-junction with Bhutan, saying New Delhi’s stance went against its acceptance of a British-era convention on national boundaries in the area.”
Since 1972, UNESCO has been protecting more than 1,000 World Heritage sites in 163 different countries, with the goal of maintaining them for the benefit of future generations, and for all humankind. Most of these sites are iconic tourist destinations, ranging from natural wonders such as Yellowstone National Park, scenic wild landscapes such as the Galapagos Islands, to cultural icons, such as Stonehenge. Many are glaciers and glacial mountain ranges.
But climate change impacts, such as sea level rise, higher temperatures, habitat shifts, and more frequent and extreme weather events, threaten to quickly and permanently degrade and destroy both the natural beauty and cultural value of these sites. Moreover, climate change exacerbates the effects of other processes which endanger these sites, such as urbanization, pollution, natural resource extraction and, increasingly, poorly managed tourism.
The report argues that damaging what it calls the “outstanding universal value” of World Heritage sites harms not only the site itself, but also the local communities and economies that depend on these sites for tourism.
UNESCO and its World Heritage program were both created in a spirit of internationalism. UNESCO was formed following World War II, and in 1972, it created the World Heritage Centre to “encourage international cooperation in the conservation of our world’s cultural and natural heritage.” Now, climate change threatens these universally loved sites, as well as their surrounding local communities.
The report details 12 full case studies and 18 briefer “sketches” of the climate change vulnerability of 31 World Heritage properties in 29 countries. Four include glacier landmarks.
Sagarmatha National Park, Nepal
Sagarmatha National Park encompasses the highest point on earth: the peak of Mount Everest. The National Park is listed as a World Heritage site for the abundant natural beauty of its mountains, glaciers, and valleys, and for the cultural significance of local Sherpa culture. One third of the people on Earth depend on glacial melt water from the Himalayas, including water from Sagarmatha. However, glacial retreat caused by rising temperatures are threatening the reliability of Sagarmatha’s water source. Glacier loss in the region also threatens to cause catastrophic landslides, glacial lake outbreak floods (GLOFs), and erosion.
Golden Mountains of Altai, Russian Federation
The Altai Mountains are listed as a World Heritage site for their biodiversity and for the region’s cultural and archaeological traditions. The mountains hold the frozen tombs of the ancient Scythian people, who were documented by ancient historian Herodotus (484-425 BC). Climate change and rising temperatures threaten both threatens the tombs’ preservation, which are remarkably protected by permafrost, and the Altai mountain glaciers.
Huascarán National Park, Peru
Huascarán National Park rests in Cordillera Blanca, the highest mountain range in the world’s tropics, and the Park encases Huascarán: the highest peak in Peru. The Park contains incredibly diverse flora and fauna and 660 glaciers, making it a popular tourist destination. The famous Pastoruri Glacier is one of the park’s main attraction, but it may disappear altogether within the next few decades. Since the 1930s, the Park’s glaciers have shrunk by 30 per cent. This poses concerns about water availability for many local communities, as well as for hydropower.
Ilulissat Icefjord, Greenland, Denmark
The Icefjord serves as a major summer tourist destination, where visitors travel to the enormous Sermeq Kujalleq Glacier, which hangs off of the Disko Bay. In the summer, visitors can hear and see the ice cracking and caving into the bay. Increased temperatures have increased the amount of seasonal ice caving. The glacier is listed as a World Heritage site for its contribution to improving the scientific understanding of glaciology, for its global importance as a geological feature, and for its wild and scenic landscape.
The report stresses the importance of fulfilling the Paris Agreement, which was adopted in December of 2015. The report’s foreword states that achieving the Agreement’s goal of keeping global average temperature rise to well below 2°C is “vital for the future of World Heritage.” It contains as well a number of other specific recommendations which link many stakeholders–local communities, indigenous peoples, policy-makers, tourism agencies, intergovernmental organization and the World Heritage Convention–to monitor, manage and protect these areas.
In addition to detailing the climate vulnerability of World Heritage sites, the report also details a “clear and achievable” mitigation response. The paper recommends preserving and managing forest and coastal habitats, using World Heritage sites as “learning laboratories” to study resiliency and mitigation management strategies, and increasing visitors’ understanding of and appreciation for World Heritage sites, as well as how climate change affects them.
The report also suggests that in a changing climate, tourism can play a positive role in securing the future of many World Heritage sites by providing an economic incentive to invest in mitigation and adaptation strategies. In this light, glaciers may serve as an important rallying point for climate change mitigation. Their natural beauty and cultural value can inspire people at the local, national, and international level to take action.
From Huffpost Green: “A new study published in the journal Nature is drawing attention to the effect of warming water on the world’s largest ice mass, Totten Glacier in East Antarctica. Melting of the glacier, which has an ice catchment area bigger than California, could lift oceans at least two meters (6.56 feet). According to researchers who mapped the shape of the ice sheet as well as the thickness of rocks and sediments beneath it to examine the historical characteristic of erosion of Totten’s advances and retreats, unabated climate change could cause the glacier to enter an irreversible and rapid retreat within the next century.”
From Zee Media Bureau: “New Delhi: NASA’s IceBridge, an airborne survey of polar ice, recently captured this stunning view of fjord of Violin Glacier, with Nord Glacier at the upper left corner. IceBridge took this image on May 16, 2016 as the aircraft crossed Greenland to fly central glacier flowlines in the east-central region of the country. This year marks IceBridge’s eighth spring campaign of science flights over Arctic sea and land.”
UNESCO held a conference on indigenous people and climate change on 26-27 November in Paris, as a lead-up to COP21, the major annual conference of the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change. The UNESCO conference, entitled “Resilience in a Time of Uncertainty: Indigenous peoples and climate change,” drew over 60 speakers and an audience of over 650 people in plenary and parallel sessions and side-events. The event was unusual for its success in bringing indigenous people—from North and South America, Europe, Asia, Africa, Australia and the Pacific—in direct dialogue and exchange with scientists and with policy-makers. Though the specific cases varied greatly, they also shared some common elements. They show that indigenous groups are addressing the threats of climate change, along with the strong pressures which capitalist economies and modern bureaucratic states place on indigenous land rights and autonomy.
The numerous papers focused on the complementarities of indigenous and scientific knowledge about climate change. In contrast with some other discussions of the topic, which suggest that climate change has created unprecedented changes which render indigenous knowledge outdated and of little practical use, a number of presentations at the conference emphasized the dynamic nature of indigenous knowledge, and documented its ability to serve as a basis for the development of new forms of activity—pastoral and agricultural practices, land management (including controlled forest burns), internally-directed migration—which serve to adapt to climate change and to promote resilience.
This conference, organized by UNESCO and the French National Museum of Natural History, and Tebtebba, also received support from the French Ministry of Foreign Affairs, Sweden, the United National Development Programme, Sorbonne University, Conservation International, the National Research Agency of France and the Japanese Funds in Trust to UNESCO. It opened with talks by leading figures, including representatives of major Western institutions, such as Flavia Schlegel, the Assistant Director-General for the Natural Sciences of UNESCO, and Bruno David, the director of the French National Museum of Natural History, who discussed the reliance of indigenous peoples on natural resources and their vulnerability in the face of climate change. There were addresses as well by indigenous leaders, such as Cacique Raoni Metuktire of the Kayapó of Brazil, and Hindou Oumarou, a Mbororo from Chad, representing the International Indigenous Peoples’ Forum on Climate Change and the Association of Indigenous Women and Peoples of Chad; they recognized this vulnerability while emphasizing the long history of struggle and the effective resilience of indigenous peoples. Raoni’s energetic oratory and Oumarou’s evocation of human rights and sustainable development created strong impressions on the audience. Nicolas Hulot, the French Special Envoy for the Protection of the Planet, offered a provocative contrast, noting that indigenous peoples are often called “first peoples” and that current human generations will become the “last peoples” if climate change is not addressed.
The specific presentations, too numerous to be all summarized here, presented vivid accounts of the confrontations of indigenous peoples with climate change and with pressures on their lands. Minnie Degawan of the Kankanay people of the Philippines and the former Secretary-General of that country’s Cordillera Peoples Alliance, described how the Ibaloi people of Benguet, Philippines, faced with unprecedented weather conditions and land pressures, moved from their original territory to other sections lower down in the same watershed, where they adapted their traditional knowledge to construct terraces and select new crop and tree varieties in this area, but now face pressures from unregulated gold mining. She emphasized the role of religion and ritual in these adaptations.
Lino Mamani, a Quechua from Cusco, Peru, discussed a project in which a number of indigenous communities have created a “potato park” where they experiment with cultivating indigenous potato varieties at different elevations to assess which perform best under the changed climate circumstances. They coordinate with agricultural scientists, raising potatoes in both fields and greenhouses, and linking indigenous taxonomies of potato varieties with laboratory assessments of the DNA of these varieties. Alejandro Argumedo of a Peruvian NGO ANDES, and the coordinator of the International Network of Mountain Indigenous Peoples discussed the exchanges between this program and similar partnerships in Tajikistan, China and Kenya. These cases offer examples of the close interactions of indigenous peoples and natural scientists, and point to the way that these groups can learn from each other.
Tsechu Dolma, a Tibetan-Nepali researcher and organizer who has contributed to GlacierHub, discussed the Mountain resiliency project. In northern Nepal, climate change has brought irregular precipitation and glacier retreat. Working with local communities, this project works to develop activities such as greenhouses and micro-hydropower facilities which can promote food security, energy security and what she terms “talent security”—the promotion of local employment which can reduce youth outmigration. Local community men, women and youth contribute directly to the initial research which scopes out community needs and to the design and implementation of the activities. Dolma emphasized how this expansion of adaptive capacity can turn what would otherwise be climate disasters into manageable climate hazards. Her account documented the ways that investment of community land, labor and knowledge into these activities contributes to their long-term sustainability.
Other cases showed similar processes in other parts of the world. Fuluna Tikoidelaimakotu Tuimoce of Fiji described the revitalization of canoe-making traditions in his country, allowing sea travel once again to serve as an indigenous form of mobility which permits people to draw on the resources of different islands to promote resilience to disasters. Kathleen Galvin, an anthropologist from Colorado State University, discussed the negative combined effects of irregular rainfall and loss of land rights to indigenous pastoralists in East Africa, and spoke positively of the effects of meetings between these pastoralists, Mongolian herders, Native Americans and Euro-American ranchers in developing herd and land management strategies to address these challenges.
Several speakers located this work in the context of international climate policies. Douglas Nakashima and Jen Rubis of UNESCO noted that indigenous peoples have been observing climate change for at least two decades, citing as an example Inuit knowledge of shifting ice conditions and growing weather variability. They traced the growing recognition of indigenous knowledge in key statements and documents, including the Arctic Climate Impact Assessment of 2004, the IPCC’s Fourth and Fifth Impact Assessment Reports, and the Adaptation Committee of the UNFCCC Nairobi Work Program. Their discussion was complemented by a talk by Valerie Masson-Delmotte, the head of the IPCC Working Group I. She emphasized the value of peer reviewed publications on indigenous knowledge for the groups that write the IPCC Assessment Reports.
These discussions led to consideration of further activities, particularly the promotion of further exchanges among indigenous peoples and between indigenous peoples and natural scientists. A number of speakers expressed a wish to expand further the recognition of indigenous knowledge among natural scientists and international climate policy circles, as a means to promote resilience and to advance indigenous rights. The closing address by Irina Bokova, the secretary general of UNESCO, emphasized the longstanding commitment of that organization to indigenous cultures and indigenous rights. It seems likely that the discussions at this conference and the development of ties among the participants will promote such efforts.
UNESCO will sponsor an international conference on “Resilience in a Time of Uncertainty: Indigenous Peoples and Climate Change,” the organization recently announced. This conference will be held in Paris on 26-27 November, ahead of the COP21, the Conference of Parties of the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change. Nations will gather at COP21 with the goal of achieving a legally binding and universal agreement to keep global warming under 2°C. UNESCO’s conference has a related goal: ensuring that the COP includes the voices of indigenous people.
The conference grows out of the recognition that indigenous peoples worldwide are among the first to experience to climate change and have the longest direct contact with environments impacted by climate change. They are also among the first to adapt and respond to the impacts of climate change, whether in high mountain regions where glacier retreat alters water resources and exacerbates natural hazards, in low-lying islands affected by sea-level rise, Arctic communities facing unprecedented warming and coastal erosion, or many other settings around the world. The observations and knowledge of environmental management of indigenous peoples are critical components for the assessment of climate change impacts and the development of response. As Douglas Nakashima, head of UNESCO’s Local and Indigenous Knowledge Systems (LINKS) programme said in a recent email message, “We hope that this event will serve to create an opportunity for strengthened dialogue among indigenous peoples, climate scientists and decision-makers.”
This conference seeks to build on the call for action in the statement in the 2014 Summary for Policy-makers in the Fifth Assessment Report of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change:
Indigenous, local and traditional knowledge systems and practices, including indigenous peoples’ holistic view of community and environment, are a major resource for adapting to climate change, but these have not been used consistently in existing adaptation efforts. Integrating such forms of knowledge with existing practices increases the effectiveness of adaptation.
In the Speaker Application form, the organizers invite potential speakers to contribute “papers and testimonies of concrete case studies on the indigenous peoples’ initiatives and challenges in the face of climate change.” The website opens for submissions on 5 September and will continue to accept applications through 25 September. The call for applications mentions several categories of participants, including members of indigenous/local communities, scientists, and representatives of governments working on relevant policies and programs.
Specific topics to be addressed in the conference include
Observing and understanding the impacts of climate change
Adapting traditional livelihoods in the face of uncertainty
Indigenous peoples and climate change mitigation
Strengthening adaptation by recognizing culture and cultural diversity
Understanding and responding to extreme events and disasters
Co-production of knowledge
This event will build on several earlier events held by UNESCO on this topic. Sponsors include UNESCO’s Climate Frontlines, the French National Museum of Natural History, Tebtebba (International Indigenous Peoples’ Centre for Policy Research and Education) and COP21 itself. The scientific committee is comprised of Douglas Nakashima, Olivier Fontan Deputy Head, Division for Climate and Environment, Ministry of Foreign Affairs and International Development, France, Hindou Oumarou Ibrahim, the Coordinator, Association for Indigenous Women and Peoples of Chad (AFPAT), Marie Roué of the National Scientific Research Centre, France (CNRS), Vicky Tauli-Corpuz, the UN Special Rapporteur on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples, and myself.
GlacierHub encourages community members, researchers and government staff from high mountain regions and from around the world to visit the conference website and to submit applications. We also hope to spread word widely about this important event.
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.