Nepal signs climate pledge at Everest

Posted: 4 December 2009

The Government of Nepal signed a 10-point Everest Declaration, at Mount Everest today. This includes a commitment by the government to help communities cope with the impacts of climate change and to work alongside other countries to mitigate the impact of global warming.

Prime Minister Madhav Kumar Nepal, along with 23 ministers, officials, and international journalists, some of them with oxygen masks, held the historic 'cabinet meeting' at the Kala Patthar plateau, in the foothills of Mt. Everest to draw attention to the impact of climate change in the Himalayas.

Trekking in the Nepalese Himalayas© Hartmut Schwarzbach/Still Pictures
Trekking in the Nepalese Himalayas© Hartmut Schwarzbach/Still Pictures
Trekking in the Nepalese Himalayas© Hartmut Schwarzbach/Still Pictures
The declaration supported developed countries' plans to contribute 1.5 per cent of GDP to a climate fund for developing countries and bring down greenhouse gases to pre-industrial levels. It will be presented at the Copenhagen Climate Change Summit next week.

One of the most immediate threats arising from increased temperatures in the Himalaya region are the 'glacial lake outburst floods' or GLOF. These occur when a glacial lake is created by a melting glacier which then bursts. Around 25 glacial lakes in the Himalayas are dangerously full and at risk of flooding populated areas, potentially risking not only homes and lives, but the devastation of Nepal's tourism industry.

Nepal mountaineer and climate campaigner Dawa Steven Sherpa has said that his country is the 'canary in the mine shaft' of climate change, with the effects of global warming such as melting glaciers and changing weather patterns being felt faster and quicker there than elsewhere.

The Everest meeting also announced three new conservation areas that will increase the number of national parks in Nepal and help secure the future of the Eastern Himalayan landscape.

"The importance of these newly protected areas is that they start to fill in the gaps on the conservation map. Plants and animals do not recognise national or political boundaries and are often restricted to smaller areas than is ideal. This announcement is a really positive step in linking up these separate areas to a size that makes sense for wildlife" said Mark Wright, Conservation Science Advisor for WWF-UK.

Saving a Bhutan lake

The first phase of an international project to reduce the risk to a Bhutan valley from the threatening bursting of a growing and increasingly unstable glacial lake emphasisesing the huge costs of climate change adaptation in the Himalayas.

Thorthormi Tsho is a glacial lake perched precariously at 4428 metres above sea level in the remote Lunana area of northern Bhutan Rated as one of Bhutan's likeliest future catastrophes, a breach and flood through Thorthormi Tsho's unstable moraine walls would almost certainly spill into the also vulnerable Raphsthreng Tsho 80 metres below, with the combined flood suddenly releasing up to 53 million cubic metres of water and debris into the upper catchment of the Po Chu river.

This could damage crops and livestock over more than half of the fertile and economically critical Punakha and Wangdi valleys, destroy a vital bridge and roads, damage to hydropower facilities under construction and threaten 16 historic monuments.

A large effort by the government, communities and WWF, supported by the Global Environment Facility (GEF), the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP) and the Austrian Coordination Bureau this year succeeded in lowering the lake level by 86 cm, in the first phase of a project intended to artificially lower the water level at Thorthormi Lake by 5 metres in 3 years.

'The Cost of Climate Change: The Story of Thorthormi Glacial Lake in Bhutan' is a WWF report on the project and the growing risk to Himalayan nations by glacial lake outburst events.