Roundup: A Glacier State Congressman Changes Tone, Minority Rights in Asian Glacier Region, and a New Early Warning System in Peru

A Glacier State Congressman Cites Climate Change as Basis for Nuclear Energy Legislation

Senator John Barrasso, a Republican representing the glacier state of Wyoming, is chairman of the Senate Committee on Environment and Public Works. On April 24, Barrasso released a draft act reforming U.S. nuclear waste policy, to ensure the federal government’s legal obligations to dispose of spent nuclear fuel and high-level waste are fulfilled. His reason? Climate change.

The New York Times writes:

“When John Barrasso, a Republican from oil and uranium-rich Wyoming who has spent years blocking climate change legislation, introduced a bill this year to promote nuclear energy, he added a twist: a desire to tackle global warming.

Mr. Barrasso’s remarks — “If we are serious about climate change, we must be serious about expanding our use of nuclear energy” — were hardly a clarion call to action. Still they were highly unusual for the lawmaker who, despite decades of support for nuclear power and other policies that would reduce planet-warming emissions, has until recently avoided talking about them in the context of climate change.

The comments represent an important shift among Republicans in Congress. Driven by polls showing that voters in both parties — particularly younger Americans — are increasingly concerned about a warming planet, and prodded by the new Democratic majority in the House shining a spotlight on the issue, a growing number of Republicans are now openly discussing climate change and proposing what they call conservative solutions.”

U.S. Senator John Barrasso of Wyoming speaking at the 2015 Conservative Political Action Conference (Source: Gage Skidmore/Flickr)

Major UN Meeting Raises Minority Rights Issues in Asia’s Glaciated Mountain Areas

The United Nation’s Permanent Forum on Indigenous Issues held its annual meeting in New York City April 22 – May 3. There was significant debate about China’s treatment of minority peoples in the glaciated western provinces, Tibet and Xinjiang. The UN Press reports:

“Despite scattered gains in land, language and legal rights, a glaring lack of political will around the world is inhibiting fundamental change on the ground in thousands of communities in every region, delegates told the Permanent Forum on Indigenous Issues today as it continued its work.

Achievements outlined by Member State representatives today were starkly overshadowed by grave concerns – including high youth suicide rates, social exclusion and widespread political apathy – raised by many speakers, as the Permanent Forum concluded its general discussion on “implementation of the six mandated areas of the Permanent Forum with reference to the United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples”.  The six areas are economic and social development, culture, the environment, education, health and human rights.

Across these areas – from land marred by war or extractive industries’ activities to ignorance about indigenous history and languages – speakers called on Governments and the Permanent Forum alike to urgently take the kind of actions that will have a direct, positive impact on their communities.”

Permanent Forum on Indigenous Issues in New York on April 22, 2019 (Source: United Nations/Flickr)

An Early Warning System for Peru’s GLOF-Prone Lake Palcacocha

In northwestern Peru, government officials announced plans to install an early warning system to alert downstream populations of glacial lake outburst floods (GLOF) from the Andean glacier lake, Palcacocha,

The lake has a history of GLOFs . Most recently, an avalanche from a calving glacier above the lake on February 5 triggered a wave that tested the moraine holding back the glacial meltwater. The regional capital, Huaraz, which lies downstream, is the second most populous city of the Peruvian Andes.

Peruvian news outlet El Comercio reported on the new warning system, which is expected to take one year to complete.

Lake Palcacocha above the main city of Huaraz is drained using siphons to avoid Glacier Lake Outburst Floods. In 1941, a GLOF leveled Huaraz to the ground (Source: Mattias Borg Rasmussen).

Read More on GlacierHub:

Palcacocha Icefalls Demonstrate Hazard Vulnerabilities in Peru

Will Climate Change Be Responsible for More Glacial Lake Outburst Floods?

Powerful Glacial Lake Outburst Floods in the Himalayas

GlacierHub News Report 04-19-18

GlacierHub News Report 04-19-18

 

The GlacierHub News Report is a bi-monthly video news report that features some of our website’s top stories. This week, GlacierHub news is featuring recent stories on sea level rise, an ancient tunic, an avalanche that took place in Russia, and even the 100th year anniversary of a world famous mint.

This week’s news report features:

Future Sea-Level Rise and the Paris Agreement

By: Andrew Angle

Summary: The goal of Paris Agreement is to hold global temperature rise to well below two degrees Celsius. However, any rise in temperatures means sea-level rise will occur to some extent. A recent study in Nature Communications examined the implications of the Paris Agreement for future sea-level rise, finding that if the current country contributions are met in full, sea-levels would rise between 1.05 and 1.23 meters.

Read more here.

Reconstructing Norway’s Oldest Garment: the Tunic of Lendbreen

By: Natalie Belew

Summary: In 2011, archaeologists came across a crumpled piece of cloth in the ice of Lendbreen Glacier. When examined, it turned out to be an incredibly well-preserved 1,700-year-old tunic that became the oldest piece of clothing found in Norway. Now it has been reconstructed, and a recent study documented the process. Starting this summer, the original Lendbreen tunic will be on display alongside one its reconstructions at the Norwegian Mountain Center, while the other will be part of the permanent collection of the Museum of Cultural History in Oslo.

Read more here.

Avalanche Strikes Near Russian Glacier

By: Jade Payne

Summary: An avalanche struck at a ski resort on the slopes of Mount Elbrus in the Russian Caucasus on March 24. The trigger, in this case, was the accumulation of meltwater, which made the snow heavier and more prone to falling. The snow was also tinted a rust-like color. Stanislav Kutuzov, head of the Department of Glaciology at the Russian Academy of Sciences in Moscow, told GlacierHub that the “atmospheric front of March 22 to 24 brought large amounts of precipitation together with dust from the Libyan desert.” The dust, from North Africa, reached the Caucasus Mountains on March 23, one day before the avalanche. The avalanche did not cause any deaths or injuries, but it did cover at least a dozen cars that stood in its path.

Read more here.

Fox’s Glacier Mints Celebrates its 100th Anniversary

By: Sabrina Ho Yen Yin

Summary: This month, Fox’s Glacier Mints, a famous candy brand from the United Kingdom, is celebrating its 100th anniversary. Making use of the similarities between glaciers and mints as refreshing and cool, we look back at the company’s clever use of the imagery of glaciers in marketing their transparent mints. The mascot for the candy is Peppy, a polar bear that is well-recognized by the brand’s lovers. Peppy has appeared in various television commercials with a fox interacting in glacier settings, British humor-style.

Read more here.


Video Credits:

Presenters: Brian Poe Llamanzares, Angela Soriano

Video Editor: Brian Poe Llamanzares

Writer: Brian Poe Llamanzares

News Intro: YouTube

Music: iMovie

Why Didn’t These Two Glacier Countries Sign the Paris Agreement?

Earth Day, April 22, marked a major step forward in global efforts to address climate change when 175 parties gathered in New York to sign the Paris Agreement, the accord that had been adopted last December. The ceremony at the United Nations Headquarters marked the historical record for first-day signatures on an international agreement.  This event marks a strong commitment to the next phase of the process, in which countries deposit the technical documents known as “instruments of ratification,” which spell out in greater detail the steps that they will take to reduce their greenhouse gas emissions.

Christiana Figueres, Executive Secretary of the UN Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC), said: “Today is a remarkable, record-breaking day in the history of international cooperation on climate change and a sustainable future for billions of people alive today and those to come.”  

Countries with glaciers have already experienced the impact of climate change directly. Did this make them more likely to sign the agreement? The large countries with glaciers, like the US, China, India, Pakistan, Russia, Italy, and France, all signed. However, not all of the smaller countries did.

By GlacierHub’s reckoning, there are 11 such small glacier countries. Nine of them signed: Iceland, Norway, Austria, Switzerland, Nepal, Bhutan, Peru, Tajikistan, and New Zealand.

Chile was one of the two that did not participate. Their failure to attend the ceremony in New York will not prevent them from joining, since the signing period remains open for a year. The leaders in that country, who otherwise would have traveled to New York, remained in Chile to mark the death of Patricio Aylwin, the 97-year-old former president who passed away on April 19. Aylwin was elected to power in 1990, marking the return to democracy in the country after 17 years of military rule under Augusto Pinochet, who had deposed the democratically-elected Socialist president, Salvador Allende, in a coup.

Ala-Too Square (former Lenin Square), Bishkek, Kyrgyzstan
Ala-Too Square, Bishkek, Kyrgyzstan. (Source: Stefan Krasowski via Flickr)

The other country that did not sign was Kyrgyzstan, despite the fact that it had a significant delegation at COP21 in Paris last year. The reasons for its failure to participate are more complex. Leaders in that country may also have had their attention distracted by national events. A new prime minister, Sooronbay Jeenbekov, assumed office on April 13, replacing Temir Sariyev, who had held the position for less than a year.  

To understand Kyrgyzstan’s absence, GlacierHub contacted a number of people in Central Asia.

One of our contacts wrote that they had heard that Kyrgyzstan will sign the Paris Agreement this fall. “It’s a [pitiful] situation. The country could have at least sent an intention of signing the agreement,” this person wrote. “In the meantime, Kyrgyzstan is going through the internal process of discussion over the Paris agreement, which didn’t take place before COP 21 in December 2015. … [T]he ratification of the Paris agreement could have been organized after government signing the agreement, but the process is taking place now.”

Another, writing in a tone that suggests greater disappointment, stated: “This is a very sad story… The agreement was not properly discussed between the ministries. They will sign, but later. Certainly not a good sign about the capacities of the responsible bodies.”

A third, seemingly resigned to such delays, told us: “I am not surprised given the chaos in the government. …   It has to do with simple government bureaucratic capacity. A new Prime Minister was appointed only recently and a Paris agreement is not exactly something the Ministry of Foreign Affairs would put on the top of the agenda signing in the middle of an economic crisis.” In a follow-up email, this person added, “You can’t imagine how screwed up the machinery of government is in reality.”

Taken together, these statements make it seem much more likely than not that Kyrgyzstan will join the other glacier countries in signing this crucial agreement.

Kyrgyz in Paris COP21
Discussion on 5 December 2015 of Kyrgyz and Tajik delegations to COP21, with Christian Huggel and Ben Orlove, to plan 8 December meeting (source: Svetlana Jumaeva)

“Kyrgyzstan’s persistent problem is political indeterminacy,” Scott Horton, a lecturer at Columbia Law School, told GlacierHub, underscoring the reasons that others had offered for the delay. “And this in turn shows that Kyrgyzstan, unlike most of its neighbors, takes the process of democratic consensus formation very seriously.”

Another source told us that on April 25, the group of Kyrgyz delegates to Paris, concerned about the comments that they had received about their country’s lack of participation, began to talk about possible actions. This source indicated that they are discussing which specific organizations to mobilize to develop a response–a step that supports Horton’s account of the seriousness of their deliberations.

The small island states offer a useful contrast. Of the 37 members of the Association of Small Island States, 35 of them signed. The only two that did not participate have very small populations (the Cook Islands, with roughly 10,000 inhabitants, and tiny Niue, whose population barely exceeds 1,000), and, moreover, some of their international affairs are handled by New Zealand, with whom they have long-standing relations. Indeed, 13 of these small island states were among the 15 countries who submitted their instruments of ratification on the same day. These countries are diverse, and some of them have political systems that, like Kyrgyzstan, lack coordination among ministries and have frequent turnover of leadership.

One significant difference is that they have a long history of coordination on international climate accords—a striking difference with the small glacier states, some of whom cooperate on specific issues such as glacier monitoring and the management of glacier-related hazards, but who do not work together so closely.  This contrast suggests the importance of such coordination in allowing small vulnerable countries to participate effectively in the arena of international climate politics.

As Glaciers Melt, A Lake in Nepal Fills Up

 

Looking south on the way down from Island Peak (6189 m / 20305 ft), also known as Imja Tse, in Nepal Himalaya. Ama Dablam is to the right and Imja Tsho (lake) is down in the middle.(Kiril Rusev/Flickr
Looking south on the way down from Island Peak (6189 m / 20305 ft), also known as Imja Tse, in Nepal Himalaya. Ama Dablam is to the right and Imja Tsho (lake) is down in the middle.(Kiril Rusev/Flickr

Glaciers on Nepal’s Imja Tse (Island Peak) in the Himalayas have melted at an average rate of almost 10 meters per year over the past several decades, during which time residents of Imja Tse Valley below have literally watched the residual waters create an entirely new lake. The Imja Tsho (Imja Lake) first began collecting glacial meltwater in the 1960s, when it had a surface area of approximately 49 square kilometers. By 2007, it had grown to 945 square kilometers, an almost 2,000% increase. The aggressive rate of growth has residents and scientists worried about the threat of glacial lake outburst floods (GLOFs).

The Himalayas are often considered the earth’s “third pole,” given that they contain more ice than anywhere else in the world besides the ice caps in the Arctic and Antarctica. Glacial retreat in this region is also happening faster than anywhere else in the world. According to a study released earlier this year by the Chinese Academy of Sciences, glaciers on the Tibetan Plateau have shrunk by 15 percent in the last three decades to 43,000 square kilometers. The melt has been almost unanimously attributed to human-induced climate change.

The Imja Tsho lake has been filling with glacial meltwater at an alarming rate. Since the 1960s, the lake has increased 2,000 percent. (Matt Westoby/Flickr)
The Imja Tsho lake has been filling with glacial meltwater at an alarming rate. Since the 1960s, the lake has increased 2,000 percent. (Matt Westoby/Flickr)

In recent years, some organizations have found themselves in hot water for overstating the degree of melting at the Himalayan glaciers. In 2007, the United Nations’ Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, a scientific body made up of thousands of scientists and researchers, issued a report that claimed Himalayan glaciers could completely melt away by 2035. Three years later, IPCC officials issued a statement that said those original estimates were unfounded. (An op-ed appearing in April in Scientific American pointed out the seriousness of such overstatements.) And yet, despite the “Himalayan Blunder,” scientists still believe that by the time global temperatures increase by just 2 degrees Celsius, more than half of the Himalayan glaciers will have vanished.

GLOFs like the ones threatening the Imja Tse Valley are an increasing concern worldwide, and the Himalayas, with so much melting ice, are particularly at risk. Glacial lakes are not a new or human-induced phenomenon, however conditions become unstable when these lakes form quickly in cracks and valleys previously covered in ice. It is often unclear whether the walls of the lakes are made of rock or melting ice, which heightens the risk of flooding and landslides.

Many residents of the towns and villages scattered on the foothills of Himalayan glaciers, have already fallen victim to floods, avalanches, and mudslides caused by GLOFs. These disasters can result in loss of life and property, damaging essential infrastructure, destroying crops and crop land itself, and sometimes laying waste to entire villages, leaving only inhospitable rock and mud behind.

Villages like this one in the valleys below Imja Tse face a constant risk of glacial lake outburst floods.jarikir/Flickr)
Villages like this one in the valleys below Imja Tse face a constant risk of glacial lake outburst floods.jarikir/Flickr)

For these reasons, there has been increasing attention to monitoring new and expanding glacial lakes in the region. In 2011, the Mountain Institute organized a team of 30 scientists from around the globe to study the Imja Tsho, and concluded that the lake does, in fact, pose a potential threat to local communities. They estimated that melting ice under the moraine could trigger a huge flood,  and that meltwater could seep through the hills around the lake, potentially causing a hill to collapse. They also warned that as melting continues, ice avalanches could tumble into the lake, causing a giant wave to deluge downstream communities.

Last year, scientists from the High Mountain Glacier Watershed Program returned to Imja to discuss with village leaders the risks the lake poses and come up with a plan of action. They determined that there were three options: accepting the risk of a possible GLOF; relocating lodges and other structures to higher elevations to avoid flood damage; or an engineering solution, “such as siphoning or controlled drainage canals.” They emphasized the importance of letting the community decide, as opposed to outside groups or government.

But many residents are simply fed up with all of the warnings and scientific predictions. “We’ve been living in the shadow of this lake for so long now,” Ang Nima Sherpa, a local businessman told the Guardian in 2011. “The only thing I am interested in hearing about now is whether they can get us a hydroelectric plant out of that lake.”

 

Photo Friday: NYC Climate March

Last weekend, ahead of the United Nations Climate Summit, three hundred thousand people gathered on New York City streets in solidarity with similar marches across the globe in order to send a clear message to policy makers around the world that people are invested in their environment, and they are paying attention to what their governments are doing about our changing climate. The September 21 People’s Climate March kicking off Climate Week drew more than 300,000 participants.

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 glacierhub@gmail.com.

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UN looks to locals for climate solutions

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.

Tight security outside the United Nations (photo: Ben Orlove)
Tight security outside the United Nations (photo: Ben Orlove)

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.

A September 24 discussion of the indigenous communities in Asia. (photo: Ben Orlove)
A September 24 discussion of the indigenous communities in Asia. (photo: Ben Orlove)

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.

A discussion of international indigenous initiatives. (photo: Ben Orlove)
A discussion of international indigenous initiatives. (photo: Ben Orlove)

I spoke on communities around glaciers, including indigenous Quechua-speakers in Peru and Sherpas in Nepal. I reflected on the ways that some groupings of peoples and regions—glacier regions, the Arctic, low-lying islands—are relatively new to the United Nations, reflecting the growing awareness of climate impacts. I drew on several posts in GlacierHub, including the introduction of greenhouses to a region in Nepal, a discussion of waste management in a national park in Peru, and conflicts over the governance of mountaineering in Nepal. These stories dovetailed with other accounts at the meeting, which also examined the way that the integration of local knowledge into projects was linked to local control over land as well, and addressed the power inequalities within and between countries.

Columbia University professor Ben Orlove speaking at the UNESCO workshop (photo: Carla Roncoli)
Columbia University professor Ben Orlove speaking at the UNESCO workshop (photo: Carla Roncoli)

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.

Presentation on IPCC process by Youba Sokona, co-chair of IPCC Working Group III (photo: Ben Orlove)
Presentation on IPCC process by Youba Sokona, co-chair of IPCC Working Group III (photo: Ben Orlove)

 

Take a selfie with a glacier on Sunday

Two New York City science teachers will transform this wagon and bag of ice into a model glacier for the September 21 People's Climate March. (photo: Ben Orlove)
Two New York City science teachers will transform this wagon and bag of ice into a model glacier for the September 21 People’s Climate March. (photo: Ben Orlove)

Two teachers are preparing a model glacier, which they will bring to a major climate demonstration this weekend to illustrate the importance of glacier retreat as a climate change issue.

The People’s Climate March will be held on Sunday 21 September. This large event comes just before the opening of the 2014-15 session of the United Nations General Assembly on Tuesday at UN headquarters in New York. The UN Secretary-General, Ban Ki-Moon, has announced a Climate Summit to coincide with the opening. Over 120 heads of state and other leaders will attend it. It comes a little more than a year before a major international conference in Paris in December 2015, which has been designated as the site for the conclusion of a legally binding international agreement on climate change. The Climate Summit could build momentum towards bringing the nations of the world together to such an agreement.

The march comes just before the opening of the United Nations' 2014-15. (source: United Nations)
The march comes just before the opening of the United Nations’ 2014-15. (source: United Nations)

Coinciding with the Climate Summit is the People’s Climate March, a massive peaceful demonstration in support of action of climate change. Recognizing that the poor and marginalized groups are often the most strongly impacts by climate change, the march will emphasize issues of environmental justice and equity, It will be attended by more than a thousand groups—businesses, faith-based institutions, school groups and representatives of labor, environmental and social justice movements. Over 100,000 people are registered to attend.

Two New York City science teachers are preparing a model glacier that they will bring to the march. As they mentioned in an interview earlier today with GlacierHub, the base of the glacier will be a gray plastic wagon. They plan to model a mountain out of crushed newspaper, and then cover it with a waterproof tarp. They will place cubed and crushed ice on the tarp to represent a glacier. The blue plastic sheets will figure in somehow.

The climate march on September 21 will start on the Upper West and weave through Midtown. (source: 350.org)
The climate march on September 21 will start on the Upper West and weave through Midtown. (source: 350.org)

 

“We’d like to thank the head of the seafood department at Food Emporium on Broadway and West 90th,” one of them said. “She’s started saving up some crushed ice for us. We’ll pick it up on our way to the march.” The National Weather Service is currently forecasting mostly sunny weather, with a high of 78, so they may need to replenish the ice.

The teachers invite people who attend the march to find them and to take selfies with the glacier. GlacierHub will meet up with them and live tweet their location during the march. Attendees will have the opportunity to see other water-related floats as well, including an ark and a flotilla of paper boats.

The People's Climate March is being advertised as the "largest climate march in history". (source: 350.org)
The People’s Climate March is being advertised as the “largest climate march in history”. (source: 350.org)

They asked GlacierHub for a tagline for their glacier. Of the several possibilities that they considered, “Glacier Survival = Human Survival” is their current favorite. If readers would like to suggest alternatives, please email them to us at glacierhub@gmail.com and we will forward it to them.

Readers who would like to prepare wagon-based glaciers for events at other sites are also encouraged to email GlacierHub. We will put you in touch with the teachers for details on construction.

For other stories on glacier-related art, you can read about paintings and drawings. And for more information about the march, check the People’s Climate March.

The Food Emporium on Broadway and West 90th Street in New York City donated the ice for the glacier model. (source: Google Street View)
The Food Emporium on Broadway and West 90th Street in New York City donated the ice for the glacier model. (source: Google Street View)