The upcoming climate summit in Paris is a chance for us to highlight the disproportionate effect of climate change on mountainous areas. Here’s how you can help.
At the end of November, nearly 120 world leaders - along with thousands of delegates and environmental activists - will descend on Paris for the United Nations Climate Change Conference (COP21). The aim is to attempt to impose binding global restrictions on the emission of carbon dioxide, with the ultimate goal of keeping global warming below the 2C threshold identified by scientists as disastrous for the health of our planet. So what does this mean for those of us with a passion for peaks?
The roof of the world isn’t immune to the effects of climate change - if anything, the rise in temperature is having a greater impact on the world’s mountains than anywhere else. Changes in rainfall, melting permafrost and the increasing number of extreme weather events are endangering the survival of mountain peoples; specialised mountain plants and animals are struggling with altering conditions; and rapidly melting glaciers are threatening water sources and regional security. That’s before you even get started on the more frivolous (but, to many of us, crucially important) impact on our sport: the prospective loss of Alpine climbing, European ski touring, and even the deterioration of limestone crags thanks to increased rainfall.
Is it really our problem?
In a recent article for Summit, Kevin Anderson argued that climbers and mountaineers are contributing to the problem rather than helping to protect these fragile uplands.
“We no longer get to the crag, the hills or the occasional alpine trip by cycling, the train, thumbing a lift, or cramming four sweaty oiks and their kit into a mini clubman,” he wrote. “Now it’s the powerful estate car, the flashy hatchback, the Suburu 4WD or the moronic SUV. Worse still, the crag is often now far beyond the local outcrop, it’s a drive to Malham, a motorway marathon to do the Three Peaks or a bit of Munro bagging, a long weekend in Calpe, a week at Smith Rocks or a rapid ascent of some alpine peak. We take our litter home, the cars have catalytic convertors and we may even fall for the scam of ‘offsetting’ our flight’s emissions. But all this is conscience-salving crap.”
We should, argues, Kevin, be stopping to seriously consider the globalised impact of our adventures on the poor and vulnerable and taking steps to safeguard the future of the mountains we all love so much.
So what can we do?
Radically reducing our energy usage by flying and driving less, sharing vehicles and using public transport is an excellent start - but it’s only part of the picture. We also need to be ensuring that our voices are heard by those in power, and that’s the opportunity we have now in the run-up to COP21.
The BMC has signed up to several initiatives aiming to highlight the devastating effects of climate change in the mountains. Paramount among these is a ‘Declaration on Mountains and Climate Change for COP21’ prepared by the International Climbing and Mountaineering Federation (UIAA) alongside the Mountain Partnership and other experts. It calls for the governments meeting at COP21 to recognise the impact of climate change on mountain regions in their negotiations and emphasises that these areas are under particular threat.
You can help by signing the Mountain Partnership’s petition on change.org. It asks the key players at COP21 to acknowledge that mountains are often fragile and easily damaged eco-systems; recognise the spiritual, recreational, cultural and economic importance of these regions; and introduce urgent measures to improve the lives of mountain peoples and safeguard mountain eco-systems.
Will they listen? That remains to be seen. But it’s up to us to give our mountains and their residents a voice.
The Access and Conservation Trust
The BMC's charity – the BMC Access & Conservation Trust – promotes sustainable access to cliffs, mountains and open countryside by facilitating education and conservation projects across the United Kingdom and Ireland.
By educating climbers, hill walkers and mountaineers to enjoy outdoor recreation while minimising their impact on the landscape, conserving the UK’s upland resources, and campaigning for improved access rights, ACT enables future generations to continue to enjoy outdoor activities and the physical, mental and social benefits they bring to individual lives and society in general.
WATCH: the Mend Our Mountains: Make One Million campaign film