ice depletion on Africa's high peak
Photo Source: UN Environment
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The world-famous explorer Will Gaddi has rethought his ice climbing career and carbon footprint when he discovers that the substantial shrinking of his glaciers no longer allowed his scheduled ascent into Tanzania’s Mount Kilimanjaro. Gadd, the first person in Africa to ascend the frozen Falls of Niagara, hoped, with climbing partner Sarah Hueniken in February, to scale the remaining ice above the African top. But when they came to it, they discovered how much ice they couldn’t ice-climb the very difficult Messner route, once scaled from the 80s. 

In Africa, the Democratic Republic of Congo and Uganda only have tropical glaciers, Kilimanjaro, Mount Kenya, and the Rwenzori range. Their high altitudes above sea level of more than 5,000 metres mean that they freeze much of the year. However, since the 19th century, glacier cover and weight have decreased significantly. The UNEP works to ensure that mountains are incorporated into the global biodiversity system after 2020, which is to replace Aichi’s Biodiversity goal and Strategic Plan 2011-2020. The dormant volcano Kilimanjaro is in many respects the poster kid for the collapse of tropical Ice sheets, which stands at 5,985 m above sea level. 

The Kibo Caldera, Killimanjaro ‘s central cone, was a ragged fringe in the 19th century. Since then roughly 90 per cent of ice has been melted by melting and sublimation, a phase where solid ice moves to water vapour immediately without being liquid first.

Douglas Hardy, a climate and glacier expert at the University of Amherst in Massachusetts, accompanying Gadd on the February expedition, says that most of the remaining glaciers will melt in a few years and the last ice will be gone for decades.

By means of GPS mapping, Hardy concluded that 70% of its ice mass was lost between 2014 and 2020 in the Furtwängler Glacier, which he climbed in 2014, and had intended to explore on his recent journey. Just thin ice walls have allowed the glacier to break up and shrink. Research by Hardy and his colleagues shows Kilimanjaro’s glaciers are more vulnerable to snowfall, cloud cover and precipitation than air temperature changes. 

UNEP partners with the International Federation for Climbing and Mountain Climate in mountainous regions. In partnership with the International Federation of Mountain Guides, the proposed work will include educating Mountain Guides on sustainability issues. One example is focusing on reducing the litter left in the fragile environments with the climbing and mountaineering community.

In February 2020 the two sides have signed a Memorandum of Understanding. The Adaptation at Altitude programme, which is sponsored by the Swiss Development and Cooperation Agency, has recently begun to be jointly implemented by UNEP and partners. The goal is to improve mountain observation data availability and use, enhance regional exchange and collaboration and create a community of practice on climate change adaptation in the mountains. UNEP supports strengthening the East African Community in eastern Africa and building capacity for adaptation to mountains, including the Kilimanjaro region, at the local and regional level.

Data Source: UN Environment  

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