Press Release
8 November 2021

Mountain and polar groups seek urgent COP26 decision

Climate talks lacking knowledge of permanent global impacts from glacier and ice sheet loss

Mountain and polar groups at the twenty-sixth United Nations Climate Change Conference of the Parties (COP26) are calling for more consideration of the dire global impacts that will result should governments not take greater action as the climate talks in Glasgow begin their second and final week.

These research, environmental and indigenous organizations span the entire global “cryosphere” (snow and ice regions), from the poles to the high mountain Asia “Third Pole.” They believe that the real implications of this science for climate goals remain so poorly understood by governments, that an entire day should be devoted to their impacts, especially as regards thresholds and tipping points.

“Nations in High Mountain Asia already are seeing the effects of glacier and snowpack loss. What these negotiations lack is an understanding that these changes will not be temporary.  The higher the temperature, the greater the permanent damage,” says Dr. Pema Gyamtsho, Director General of ICIMOD, the International Centre for Integrated Mountain Development, headquartered in Kathmandu, Nepal. “It is much harder to grow back a glacier, than to keep it from disappearing in the first place. And these losses of water resources will be irreversible.”

As a matter of urgency, the groups are asking COP26 to approve a decision point mandating the UNFCCC to arrange such a meeting, or “Cryosphere Dialogue” at the next inter-sessional climate conference, scheduled to take place in Bonn in June 2022. 

“For too long, our planet’s frozen elements have been absent from the climate debate at the UNFCCC, even though their crucial role in determining the future for more than a billion people and our climate is becoming ever more clear,” said Dr. Martin Sommerkorn, Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) Special Report on the Ocean and Cryosphere in a Changing Climate author, of the WWF Arctic Programme. “The UNFCCC must urgently create space for Parties and stakeholders to discuss actions to be taken in response to this cryosphere crisis.”

The groups note that despite the dire consequences noted in the IPCC’s latest report, released in August of this year, there has never been a full discussion of projected changes, especially their irreversibility at the climate talks. The UNFCCC has in the past held Dialogues on oceans and terrestrial systems or lands; but never on the Earth’s cryosphere.

“Negotiators may think they know about melting ice caps, but what they don’t realize is that the impacts are essentially permanent on human timescales, and catastrophic for humanity,” noted Dr. Robert DeConto, a leading researcher with one of the groups, the Scientific Committee for Antarctic Research (SCAR) who attended the conference last week.  “Once the collapse of the West Antarctic Ice Sheet begins, it will be effectively impossible to halt,” agrees Jonathan Bamber, Director of the Bristol Glaciology Centre and a multiple IPCC author who also attended.

Dr Rachael Treharne from Woodwell Climate Research Center explained, “Thawing Arctic permafrost makes carbon that has been locked in the deep-freeze for millennia vulnerable to release into the atmosphere. It's critical that international mitigation policies address this catastrophic regional and global hazard.”

“This science is so clear, yet complex; and the changes so drastic and permanent that more dialogue is essential,” said Pam Pearson, Director of the International Cryosphere Climate Initiative, which is hosting a Cryosphere Pavilion at the conference where (name of institution) is holding several events. “The questions by governments during discussion of the latest IPCC report last week underscore that this issue needs more than a 15-minute presentation.”

In addition to the organizations cited above, several academic institutions, including the International Arctic Science Committee (IASC), Grantham Institute at Imperial College, Bolin Centre at Stockholm University, and the National Snow and Ice Data Center at University of Colorado Boulder are participating in the COP-26 effort.

“The polar regions are no longer an early warming signal for climate change,” concludes Professor Dame Jane Francis, Director of the British Antarctic Survey. “Instead, they are now a driver of climate change and this reality needs to be better understood.”

ENDS

For more information or to request an interview:

ICIMOD:

Udayan Mishra

Udayan.Mishra@icimod.org

SCAR:

Johanna Grabow

johanna@scar.org

IASC:

Dr Gerlis Fugmann

gerlis.fugmann@iasc.info

Bolin Centre:

Dr. Gustaf Hugelius

gustaf.hugelius@natgeo.su.se

+46707972952

Woodwell:

Heather Goldstone

hgoldstone@woodwellclimate.org

+15086852092

NSIDC:

Mark Serreze

mark.serreze@colorado.edu

WWF-Arctic Programme:

Martin Sommerkorn

msommerkorn@wwf.no

+4792606995

ICCI:

Heid Sevestre

heidi@iccinet.org

+33671030246 or +447765165387

The Cryosphere Pavilion is located at Hall 4, stand 44.