Mountain communities, climbers and scientists sound alarm from Everest and call for world leaders to decarbonise now

Mountain Protection, UIAA

The important message and content contained in this article is produced by ICIMOD, a unique intergovernmental institution leading the global effort to protect the pulse of the planet – the Hindu Kush Himalaya (HKH) – and the people, resources and culture that define it.

The UIAA supports this work which has also been endorsed by UIAA partner organisations like the Mountain Research Initiative (MRI) and Mountain Partnership and UIAA member federation, Nepal Mountaineering Association (NMA).

The UIAA encourages climbers and mountaineers to support the campaign by signing the declaration.

70 years since the first successful ascent of Everest, the tallest mountain on earth – Chomolungma, “Goddess, Mother of the World”, as it is known in Tibetan, and Sagarmatha, “Head above the Clouds” in Nepali – is undergoing unprecedented and largely irreversible change.

With high mountains across the Hindu Kush Himalaya warming at double the global rate, scientists warn that the 1.5 degrees of warming we are predicted to pass in the next five years puts this crucial biome in jeopardy.

2 billion people, including millions facing chronic hunger, rely on glacier and snow-melt from these mountains to drink and to cultivate crops. Countless lifeforms depend on these landscapes for their habitat.

Emissions from the burning of fossil fuels, agriculture and deforestation are warming the planet to such an extent that two-thirds of the 54,000 glaciers, holding 6,000 km3 of ice, across the Hindu Kush Himalaya mountain range are at risk of vanishing.

As scientists warn of the 1.5C threshold being passed – _even if just temporarily – _in the next five years, global warming threatens to unleash catastrophe across the Hindu Kush Himalayas: jeopardising the lives and livelihoods of 240 million people in the mountains and 2 billion more people downstream.

On glaciers that surround Everest, ice has thinned by over 100 metres in just six decades, and the rate of thinning has nearly doubled since 2009. Imja Lake, in the Everest region, is one of the most dangerous glacial lakes in Nepal. The Khumbu Glacier, which is the iconic starting point for most expeditions, is precariously close to melting.

Dangerous climate change has already reached this region, causing catastrophic floods, droughts, heatwaves and other natural disasters. Nobody is safe, but, in a region where more than half the population are malnourished, the most vulnerable will be the hardest hit. These trends are set to worsen as the planet warms. There is no time left. To borrow a phrase from mountaineering, there is now just the narrowest of windows in which to act.

We – mountain communities, climbers and scientists – stand at the top of the world today, 70 years after humanity’s first ascent of Everest, to call for governments and business leaders and every man, woman and child across the world to come together to protect Earth’s mountains, snow, and ice.

With even 1.5 degrees of warming too hot for the Hindu Kush Himalaya and the quarter of humanity who live within or rely on it, every fraction of a degree matters. We urge leaders of all nations: make real on your commitments to make rapid and deep emission cuts, end all new coal, gas and oil exploration, and accelerate the transition to renewable energy.

We are calling for the protection of natural ecosystems; the scaling up of work to halt deforestation while increasing afforestation and reforestation; much greater investment and faster flows of funding in climate resilience and adaptation, including early-warning systems for all mountain communities; greater recognition and integration of local and indigenous communities in decision-making; and greater international cooperation and funding for loss and damage.

In signing this declaration, we pledge our commitment to fight to prevent the worst climate impacts – to fight to protect and restore our planet. Choices made now will decide all our futures.

Further Reading

Sign the declaration here.

Visit the dedicated microsite.

Download the Champions Pack.

View the official ICIMOD press release to mark 70 years of the first Everest ascent.

Photos and visuals courtesy of ICIMOD