MADRID – In the year that Iceland lost its first glacier due to climate change, experts from around the world have gathered at COP25 in Madrid to stress the urgency of the effects of this global crisis on mountainous regions.
“We have to end the war against nature,” said Carole Dieschbourg, Luxembourg’s minister of environment, on Wednesday at the United Nations’ climate summit event “From Andes to Alps and other mountains.”
Mountains are seriously affected by climate change, so the study of their alterations has become crucial.
“What happens is, it warms faster at higher elevations, so even if we could reach a 1.5-degree world by 2100, it would still reach 2 degrees in mountains,” David Molden, director-general of the International Center for Integrated Mountain Development (ICIMOD), which has been working in the Himalayan region for 36 years, said.
“It has all kinds of other impacts like melting glaciers and snow, but also changing monsoon patterns, changing ecosystems, farming patterns,” he added.
The Himalayan region is the source of water for two billion people, so the climate crisis has and will continue to have an important impact.
ICIMOD is working to bring together the countries that share the Himalayas – Nepal, India, Pakistan, Bhutan, China, Afghanistan, Myanmar and Bangladesh – so that they can fight for a sustainable environment and help residents’ livelihoods.
“We call (the Himalayas) ‘the pulse of the planet,’ so our job is to protect the pulse of the planet,” said Molden, underlining the importance of safeguarding the Asian region.
These issues can be seen on a global scale.
Ecosystems might be affected, as species adapted to a warmer climate would migrate upslope and those that have evolved to live in colder habitats would face extinction.
“Glacier retreat, glacier melt and the accumulation of water and mountain lakes” can be used “as an opportunity to start the storage of water or managing that water resource so that we don’t see a situation where that water is lost,” said Carolina Adler, executive director at the Mountain Research Initiative.
According to a recent study led by the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, small glaciers could lose up to 80 percent of their ice by the year 2100 if emissions continue to increase.
For Adler, storing water would give researchers a chance to look for a proper solution.
“One of the key adaptation opportunities we would have is to think how to capture that water so that we can buy a bit more time before we can find a more ambitious mitigation effort,” she said.
This is a concern that has also reached the Andes, Ecuadorian official Carlos Espinosa Gallego Anda explained.
For the National Director for Climate Change Adaptation at Ecuador’s ministry of the environment, “one of the main threats is the provision of water (…) which with glacier retreat just gets worse every time. One of the main concerns Latin America has is gathering sufficient data to actually create adaptation policies that are adequate to face that threat.”
But the Andes regions have looked for solutions in their indigenous communities, who have lived in the mountains for centuries, adapting to every change.
“Local solutions obviously relates back to harnessing the wealth of knowledge we have as Latin America, as Ecuador, as indigenous communities that have lived in the Andes for millennia,” he said.
Gallego added that building policies that relate to indigenous communities’ practices and livelihoods and respect their heritage could make the strategies last.
The Andes may have found a way to fight climate emergency: getting local communities involved to face the world’s greatest challenge and therefore strengthen the planet’s pulse.