Climate change is affecting people around the globe, and this is especially evident at the top of the world, around Mount Everest and other great peaks of the Himalayas. Glaciers are shrinking leaving behind glacial lakes with massive amounts of water threatening people and land downstream. The loss of ice and snow heralds water problems for the 1.45 billion people living in the great water basins of the Himalayan rivers. This is the message given by the 11 member climbing team of the Eco Everest Expedition 2008 when they met at Everest Base Camp on 18th April to mark the start of their climb with a traditional Buddhist religious ceremony, called puja. Dr Schild, Director General of ICIMOD, handed over the ICIMOD Silver Jubilee flag to Dawa Steven Sherpa, the leader of the climbing team, to take to the top of the world. A premier of a photo exhibition, 50 Years of Change – Glaciers, Landscapes, People and Resilience in the Mount Everest Region, Nepal is taking place at Base Camp at the same time. The exhibition includes a unique collection of repeat panoramas of mountains, valleys and glaciers taken in the 1950s, and retaken in the past few years. These photographs demonstrate the changes in the climatic, cultural and physical landscape of the Khumbu over the past half century. The exhibition will be unveiled at Everest Base Camp and will then tour several European countries.
The Eco Everest expedition is the brainchild of Dawa Steven Sherpa of Asian Trekking, shocked by his own experience of ice collapse in the Khumbu ice fall, and the realisation of the impacts of climate change. Dawa Steven and Asian Trekking have joined with the International Centre for Integrated Mountain Development – ICIMOD – and the United Nations Environment Programme – UNEP – in a plan to use the climb to draw the world’s attention to the problems resulting from climate change and the need to help the people of the region, and the world. ICIMOD has been working for 25 years for the mountains and people of the Hindu Kush-Himalayas, 2008 marks its ‘Silver Jubilee’. The Expedition is one of a number of events being held to celebrate this milestone. The expedition will also field test an ecofriendly approach to climbing, including a ten-point plan that could be used as a basis for international certification for environmentally friendly climbing expeditions. The expedition plans to bring down garbage left by other groups, and will encourage others to do the same. The climbing team is being supported by the renowned Japanese conservationist Ken Noguchi, who is expected to visit the Everest Base Camp. The expedition is endorsed by world renowned mountaineers including Reinhold Messner, Conrad Anker, and Peter Habeler, and is also supported by the Nepal Ministry of Tourism and Civil Aviation, Tourism Board, and Department of National Parks and Wildlife Conservation and numerous local, regional, and international organisations.
Parallel to the climbing expedition, scientific research is being carried out to monitor glaciers and glacial lakes in the region and gather information to help communities and develop early warning systems. A six-member research team led by Basanta Shrestha of ICIMOD is already in Khumbu to start the work. A pilot early warning system will be implemented for Imja lake, one of the fastest growing lakes in the region, in collaboration with the Department of National Parks and Wildlife Conservation and Keio University of Japan. The scientists have already carried out investigations to assess the status of Dig Tsho glacial lake, which had a devastating impact when it burst in 1985.
A Trust Fund has been set up to support development of early warning systems, scientific investigations to help assess risks, monitoring of the melting glaciers, and removal and disposal of waste in eco friendly ways. Every climber on the expedition has contributed to the fund and contributions are now being solicited from interested individuals and organisations.
ICIMOD’s new strategy focuses on understanding the impacts of climate change, and finding ways to strengthen people’s resilience and support adaptation. Says Dr. Andreas Schild, Director General of ICIMOD: “The changes taking place currently are alarming, and the time to act is now.” While climate change is mostly caused by the highly industrialised parts of the world, the effects are already taking their toll in the sensitive mountain areas. Climate change needs global measures of mitigation, regionally focused measures of adaptation, and targeted measures to strengthen the resilience of the mountain people. “We want to build up a system of early warning of risks from glacial lake outbursts. We want to discuss and prepare measures to strengthen the resilience and adaptation of people to climate change. This means livelihoods, conservation of biodiversity, and maintenance of the landscape as a global heritage. Conservation and management of water has the highest priority,” concludes Dr Schild.