Walking the talk on climate

The water level in the 2km long Imja Glacier at about 5,000m has been reduced with an outlet weir. Photo: KIRIL RUSEV

In the lead-up to the UN Climate Summit COP27 in Sharm el-Sheikh this week, the young activist Greta Thunberg told the BBC how the youth could cope with climate anxiety and the fatalism.

This year has seen heat waves, record-breaking rains and hurricanes across the world. News about a climate collapse has paralysed many into inaction, even when action is needed even more urgently.

But Thunberg said: ‘The things we are dealing with are existential threats to humanity. So it’s understandable not to know exactly where to begin and what to do about it. I started to read, educate myself. And I knew what I could do.’

For the young Swedish activist, it was a decision to start a school strike to press for climate-friendly policies. For others, it could be planting a tree or shifting to electric cooking. But the message is clear: do what you can from where you are. The problem is global, but local action can help achieve carbon reduction targets. And engagement of youth can be catalytic.

A trek in Nepal is the perfect exercise to get citizens of the world so awestruck by the raw beauty of the icy wilderness that they develop the urgency to protect it. The Himalaya can be the place to mobilise a global movement towards saving the planet from climate breakdown.

This is already happening. Sagarmatha National Park below Mt Everest is a model for sustainable tourism and collective action to save nature. Local authorities have banned cutting dwarf juniper for fuelwood and the use of plastic bags and bottles.

The ‘One Day, One tree’ campaign spearheaded by Ang Rita Sherpa of the non-profit The Partners Nepal is reforesting parts of Khumbu after careful study of the ecology of each location.

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Visitors and tourists can buy saplings of native species at just Rs500, and 18,000 trees have so far been planted. The program will be extened across Nepal.

“I was fed up with all talk and no action. And from my experience with forestry, I thought planting as many trees as possible was an immediate solution for adaptation as well as decreasing availability of water,” says Sherpa. “We have employed locals so they own the program.”

Much of this is detailed in The Partners Nepal’s Climate Change in the Himalayas: A case from Solukhumbu which is a powerful introduction to the changes in the Everest region targeted at the youth and school children in Nepal and abroad.

The book is divided into impacts of climate change in the Khumbu, glaciers and glacial lake outbrust floods, testimonies of climate witnesses, and adaptation and mitigation efforts. Sherpa plans a handbook on climate change for children to develop awareness from an early age.

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In one of the testimonies, Apa Sherpa, who climbed Mt Everest 25 times, recalls how shocked he was: ‘In 1989, when I first climbed Everest, there was a lot of snow and ice, but now most of it has just become bare rock. As a result, it is causing more rockfalls, which is a danger to climbers.’

Tourism entrepreneur Ang Tshering Sherpa says climate change may lead to a decline of climbing as a profession: ‘Just over a decade ago, the appropriate climbing season for mountaineering used to be September-November. Today it has shifted to May and is moving later and later into the summer… it snows when it is time to rain and rains when it should snow.’

Besides tourism, families in the Khumbu depend on farming and livestock, but changing precipitation patterns, declining soil fertility and weather extremes, including flashfloods, are reducing the productivity of the region.

‘Climate defines the length and quality of tourism season, and it plays a vital role in the choice of destination and tourist spending,’ the author notes.

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But the number of glacial lakes is increasing. There are 3,252 glaciers in Nepal, including the Khumbu Glacier where Base Camp is now 50km lower than when Hillary and Tenzing climbed Everest in 1953. Nepal's longest glacier, Ngozumpa, is now riddled with meltpools and debris. Imja Lake did not exist on trekking maps till 25 years ago, and now is a waterbody 2km long. Nepal's glaciers are shrinking three times faster than in 1998.

Climate Change in the Himalayas also delves into historic glacial lake floods including the one in Ama Dablam in 1977 and the Langmoche in Bhote Kosi in 1985. These are ominous reminders that there could be bigger ones in the future. It also profiles Imja Tso at 5,000m, where a weir has been built to reduce the water level.

The book will be a useful reference for Nepal’s schools to make the next generation aware of the crisis that awaits them. But it also shows a way out — how one community below Mt Everest has decided to cope and adapt to the changes.

Says Himalayan researcher Alton Byers: “Floods are more destructive but people are building gabions and higher bridges to protect their property from disasters. The Khumbu people know what the dangers are, and they are not waiting for others to come and help them.”

Climate Change in the Himalayas: A Case from Solukhumbu

Ang Rita Sherpa

The Partners Nepal

Spandan 2020

102 pages

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Sonia Awale


Sonia Awale is Executive Editor of Nepali Times where she also serves as the health, science and environment correspondent. She has extensively covered the climate crisis, disaster preparedness, development and public health -- looking at their political and economic interlinkages. Sonia is a graduate of public health, and has a master’s degree in journalism from the University of Hong Kong.