1.5°C Survive and Thrive: Mountain region of Nepal

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The East Rongbuk glacier, photographed in 1921 by E.O. Wheeler and in 2008 by David Breashears.  (Photo Credit: E.O. Wheeler and David Breashears)

Nepal is an agrarian mountainous country situated in the central Himalayas, with an altitude ranging from the lowest point, 60m in the south to the highest point on earth, 8848m in the north. Within this climatic range, the mountain ecosystem of Nepal nurtures around 118 ecosystems, 75 vegetation types, and 35 forest types. Nepal also has 3,252 glaciers, encompassing an area of 5,23km2. However, the mountains of Nepal are geographically fragile and exhibits huge susceptibility to the profound effects of climate change. With the proliferation of climate change, Nepal has the potential to be the extreme target of its unprecedented effects. The difficult land topography and poor socio-economic conditions make the country highly vulnerable to climate change. Over the years, Nepal has experienced profound increment in the rate of temperature. The temperature trends from 1975 to 2005 showed a positive data as 0.060°C rise in temperature was observed on an annual basis. Furthermore, the mean annual temperature of Nepal has been projected to increase between 1.3-3.8°C by the 2060s and 1.8-5.8°C by the 2090s.

The effects of extreme warming can invite manifold difficulties to vulnerable communities residing in mountains of Nepal. One of the major implication of climate change can cause GLOF (Glacial Lake Outburst Floods). The glaciers in Nepal are retreating at a rapid pace, 60m annually. And if the increasing trend of temperature surpasses 1.5°C, the retreating ice can exacerbate floods in the downstream. So far, Nepal has experienced 14 GLOF, and additionally, 20 glacial lakes in Nepal have been characterized as the “potentially dangerous”. The effects of GLOF can escalate into other major hurdles like the obstruction of tourism in the country. Since the majority of Sherpa’s are heavily dependent on tourism, the disturbances on tourism can alleviate the frequency of unemployment, and also weaken the economic status of the country eventually. In addition, it also imposes difficulties for the mountains livelihood to sustain, as it strengthens poverty alleviation and causes the extinction of biodiversity. One of the major occupations of people living in the mountain is agriculture. The erratic precipitation triggered by the climate change can aggravate the loss in agricultural productivity, and hence paves the way for human famine. As the difficulty topography of mountain region is isolated from the easy reach of transportation, the isolation mountain communities can experience more difficulties as it very difficult to receive immediate relief during the time of disaster.

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Apa Sherpa proudly unfurls a WWF banner calling for action on climate change from the summit of Mt. Everest.  (Photo Credit: Climate4life.org )

According to the report, the Main Rongbuk glacier in the Everest region has experienced 2330 vertical sheet of ice loss between 1921 and 2007. Apa Sherpa, a living legend, and pioneer mountaineer has conquered the summit of Everest for the record breaking 20 times, says he was once a farmer but decided to change his career into mountaineering after GLOF swept all his farm and homes in 1985. “In the Himalayas, catastrophic risks of GLOFs have increased in recent years because most Himalayan glaciers have experienced remarkable down wasting under a warming climate,” according to one of the researchers and the authors of a 2013 study published in the PLOS ONE. Evidence suggest that the extreme warming of the planet and erratic rainfall can be blamed for its occurrence. The mountaineering community has been shattered by the predicament of various research that says the mountains like the iconic Everest may be unclimbable in the near future. Furthermore, Apa Sherpa added, “What will happen in the future I cannot say but this much I can say from my own experiences — it has changed a lot,”.

Amidst all these imposing characteristics of climate change observed in the Mountain of Nepal, the issue of mountain environment hasn’t been addressed adequately in the international policy deliberations. The active collaboration of an international community along with the immediate response to limit the increasing trend of temperature below 1.5°C can assure the successful future of mountain ecosystem. The least developed countries like Nepal should appeal all the mountainous countries to collaborate and establish a common platform to discuss mountain concerns.

On the brighter side, the active participation of local communities and many local organizations like SPCC (Sagarmatha Pollution Control Committee) have geared up to strengthen the adaptive capacities of the mountain ecosystem and increase the climate resiliency of the local communities. The strict implementation of rules along with a regular assessment of forest sustainability has been actively partaken by the concerned local authoritative bodies. The active participation of locals in collaboration with Nepal army’s engineering department have successfully constructed a controlled drainage system in the Imja lake. With the installment of this dam, the persistent of fear in locals have been subsided. If activities such as this continue, the vulnerable communities of the mountain, as well as the mountain ecosystem, can have secured sustainability and overcome the insurmountable effects of climate change.

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