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Glacial dialogues in China: Uniting minds on climate change 

In the midst of a peak climbing season, a host of cryosphere policymakers, scientists, researchers, students, media personnel, and other stakeholders convened in Chengdu and Sichuan for open conversations and examination of a pressing global issue: climate change and its impact on the Earth’s cryosphere.
Published: 26 Jun, 2024
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⏲ 11 minutes Read

2 Glacial dialouges in China

In the midst of a peak climbing season, a host of cryosphere policymakers, scientists, researchers, students, media personnel, and other stakeholders convened in Chengdu and Sichuan for open conversations and examination of a pressing global issue: climate change and its impact on the Earth’s cryosphere. At Chengdu, the 2024 World Earth Day Ice Peak Forum was held on 16 April, while a day later, the Hailuogou Glacier in Sichuan was the venue for the four-day (17–20 April) COP29 Youth Glacier & Climate Change Scientific Exploration Campaign.

The organisers of these significant events were: the Center for Environmental Education and Communications (CEEC) of the Ministry of Ecology and Environment (MEE), China; the Institute of Mountain Hazards and Environment (IMHE) of the Chinese Academy of Sciences (CAS)/the Chinese Committee of the International Centre for Integrated Mountain Development (CNICIMOD); the Chinese Academy of Meteorological Sciences (CAMS) under the China Meteorological Administration (CMA); the Institute of Tibetan Plateau Research (ITPR) of CAS; and the Polar Hub (the Tianjin Ultimate Climate Change Promotion Center). 

The two events also received support from: the provincial departments of ecology and environment in Sichuan, Tibet (Xizang), and Qinghai; several CAS institutes; Yunnan University and China University of Geosciences (Beijing); the China Association for Science and Expedition; CAS’s Alpine Ecosystem Observation and Experiment Station of Mt. Gongga; and various Chinese private enterprises. 

But at the forefront of these dialogues stood ICIMOD, a regional knowledge hub committed to addressing the climate crisis in the Third Pole region. Under the leadership of its Director General, Pema Gyamtsho, ICIMOD, during these two events, embarked on a journey of exploration, collaboration, and advocacy, seeking to forge stronger partnerships and deepen understanding about climate change and the cryosphere with its Chinese partners and counterparts.

Ice Peak Forum: Speakers and themes

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Academician Qin Dahe of the Chinese Academy of Sciences

At the opening ceremony of the Ice Peak Forum, academician Qin Dahe of the Chinese Academy of Sciences, in his online address, outlined the focus of the forum and emphasized the importance of integrating science with societal response to mitigate the impacts of climate change and thus promote sustainable development. 

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Jiang Zhaoli, Chief Inspector of the Department of Climate Change of the MEE, China 

Jiang Zhaoli, the Chief Inspector of the Department of Climate Change of the Ministry of Ecology and Environment, stated that China has always attached great importance to addressing the issue of climate change as it considers its mitigation an intrinsic requirement for sustainable development. He said that guided by the Chinese President Xi Jinping’s ecological civilisation ideology, China would tackle climate change with utmost determination and promote a green transformation of both the economy and the society. 

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Yan Shidong, Deputy Director of the CEEC, China 

Yan Shidong, the Deputy Director of the Center for Environmental Education and Communications of the Ministry of Ecology and Environment, remarked that the retreat of the cryosphere and the response to climate change were not only scientific issues but also comprehensive social challenges. He said that achieving ‘carbon peaking and carbon neutrality goals’ would necessitate a multifaceted approach: scientific research to guide the way; strong governmental leadership based on scientific principles; and active participation by all sectors of society. 

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Su Lijun, Deputy Director General of IMHE/Secretary General of CNICIMOD

Su Lijun, the Deputy Director General of the Institute of Mountain Hazards and Environment of CAS and the Ministry of Water Resources of China, and Secretary General of the Chinese Committee of ICIMOD made the observation that the Ice Peak Forum has stimulated scientists’ enthusiasm for innovation, cultivated young scientific and technological talents, and promoted scientific research and technological innovation in the cryosphere field and the climate change response system in the Qinghai-Tibet Plateau. 

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Pema Gyamtsho, Director General of ICIMOD

Pema Gyamtsho, the Director General of ICIMOD, delivered the keynote speech at the opening ceremony where he pointed to the factor of climate change transcending borders. He advocated for a collaborative approach, highlighting the crucial role of regional cooperation, while also emphasizing on the interconnected nature of ecosystems. He cited that the Hindu Kush Himalaya (HKH) region is often called the Third Pole as it houses the largest glacier mass beyond the polar zones. Yet, adjacent to these glaciers, he said, local communities are witnessing a profound climate crisis. Explaining the role of ICIMOD, Dr. Gyamtsho said that it serves as a messenger that collects insights and solutions from the stakeholders, and it then disseminates them to the policymakers. 

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The ICIMOD team with representatives of the cryosphere science community, promoting ICIMOD publications and the global Save Our Snow campaign

Following the opening ceremony, a series of parallel meetings was convened, each tackling critical issues related to climate change and environmental impacts. The discussions centred on topics such as climate change in the Tibetan Plateau, ice core records, social impacts on the cryosphere, and changes in mountain glaciers. The experts and scholars delved into the patterns of change and discussed response strategies and the importance of public engagement. The overarching goal of these meetings was to deepen scientific understanding, inspire social action, and influence policy to confront the challenges posed by climate change. 

In a session on the theme of ‘Climate Change and Response in the Tibetan Plateau’, hosted by the Chinese Academy of Meteorological Sciences, the participants discussed the causes behind multi-layer climate change in the Tibetan Plateau and the impact of climate change and risks to the environment of the area. They also deliberated on the ways to deal with these changes and on how green development could be achieved.  

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Babar Khan, Interim Action Area Coordinator at ICIMOD, making a presentation

During this session, Babar Khan, Interim Action Area Coordinator at ICIMOD, made a comprehensive presentation called ‘Unifying Forces: Spearheading Regional Collaboration to Combat Climate & Environmental Change in the Hindu Kush Himalaya’. The presentation drew attention to ICIMOD’s efforts to support its regional member countries in setting up a high-level institutional mechanism to collectively respond to the impacts and risks of the ‘triple planetary crisis’ in the HKH region. 

Following this, at a meeting on the theme of ‘Mountain Glacier Changes and Their Impacts: From Scientific Monitoring to Public Participation’, hosted by the IMHE and the Ministry of Water Resources of China, the discussions revolved around glacier changes, water supply, ecological evolution, and geological disasters in the alpine areas. The attendees examined the current status of glacier monitoring, the broad impacts of glacier change, and the ways in which the public could participate in monitoring and recording typical glacier changes in western China. It was Pema Gyamtsho who delivered the opening remarks at this session. 

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Pema Gyamtsho, the Director General of ICIMOD, delivering the opening remarks
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Sonam Wangchuk, the Cryosphere Specialist of ICIMOD, speaking on HKH’s changing cryosphere

In conclusion, Sonam Wangchuk, the Cryosphere Specialist at ICIMOD, spoke about the transboundary impacts and the risks associated with the rapidly changing cryosphere in the HKH region. In this context, he stressed the importance of regional collaboration in cryosphere research, glacier monitoring, and in mitigating downstream risks. 

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Kang Shichang, Deputy Director of the Northwest Institute of Eco-Environment and Resources/Director of the State Key Laboratory of Cryospheric Sciences, addressing the youth scientist team

Amidst these discussions, the representative of the Center for Environmental Education and Communications, which serves as China’s leading authority on education, communication, and international cooperation in ecology and the environment, acknowledged the heightened global attention towards cryosphere issues. Referring to the inception of the International Year of Glacier Preservation (IYGP) and World Glacier Day in 2025, the CEEC expert underscored the necessity for widespread citizen awareness and continuous collaboration across all societal sectors, which he said, necessitated sustained engagement. The CEEC representative also stated that leveraging social momentum and fostering diverse partnerships would be crucial strategies for effectively addressing the challenges of climate change in the future. 

As for the role of the ICIMOD delegation, beyond mere participation, its aim was to disseminate scientific insights, cultivate new partnerships, and enhance ICIMOD’s global advocacy endeavours. At this forum, ICIMOD positioned itself as a driving force for regional cooperation by advocating for a comprehensive approach to addressing the interconnected challenges of the climate and cryosphere crises in the region. 

Warming up for COP29 and IYGP 2025 

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Sunwi Maskey, ICIMOD Glaciologist, speaking on the opening day of the exploration trip

From April 17 to 20, 15 youth representatives went to the Sichuan Hailuogou Glacier on a four-day scientific exploration trip with senior scientists and experts from the IMHE, Yunnan University, and the Polar Hub. This was part of the official launch of the COP29 Youth Glacier & Climate Change Scientific Exploration Campaign. The team went deep into the glaciers to participate in a series of field courses and in-depth learning exercises.

On the opening day of the exploration trip, ICIMOD Glaciologist Sunwi Maskey, speaking on behalf of all the young explorers participating in the fieldwork at Hailuogou Glacier, described her experiences and ICIMOD’s extensive work on the region’s cryosphere. Apart from Maskey, ICIMOD was represented by Feng Yuan (Yangee), who too joined the exploration team.

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The COP29 Youth Glacier & Climate Change Scientific Exploration Campaign team at the Hailuogou Glacier

All through the exploratory trip, the team displayed a tremendous sense of purpose and commitment towards preserving glaciers and combating climate change. Equally importantly, ICIMOD’s global advocacy campaign of Save Our Snow found ample resonance among the team, especially among its Chinese members. 

The Hailuogou Glacier serves as more than just a landscape marked by the impact of climate change – it symbolises all the complexities of the Earth’s cryosphere and thus is an ideal study material for all those who are interested in unravelling the mysteries locked within ancient ice. The exploration team, guided by experts like professors Tian Lide and Liu Qiao, observed the melting of the glacier first-hand, and against the backdrop of the receding ice, the young researchers immersed themselves in the rigours of scientific inquiry, from ice core drilling to glacier monitoring.

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Dr. Chang Ruiying, the Director of the Alpine Ecosystem Observation and Experiment Station of Mt. Gongga, with the youth scientist team visiting the station

As the expedition drew to a close, these youth representatives emerged not only as budding scientists but also as ambassadors for climate action. Their comprehensive analysis of the Hailuogou Glacier retreat revealed the stark realities of a changing climate, and this ignited in them a renewed sense of purpose in collectively combating climate change. Such an investigative study of the glacier is also a testament to the power of youth engagement in climate science. Armed with knowledge, passion, and determination, the young researchers seem to be poised to drive meaningful change and inspire others to join global efforts towards securing a sustainable future.

At the end of the glacier exploration, in recognition of ICIMOD’s unwavering support to such field studies, the CEEC, the MEE, and the Polar Hub presented a certificate of thanks to the institution.  

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The certificate of thanks for ICIMOD

Takeaways 

The two events – the 2024 World Earth Day Ice Peak Forum and the COP29 Youth Glacier & Climate Change Scientific Exploration Campaign –demonstrated how characteristics like collaboration, innovation, and resolute determination are essential for elevating public awareness and educating communities on the urgent matters of climate change and cryosphere preservation.  

The events also provided a platform for ICIMOD to reassert its proactive engagement with China’s initiatives on climate change and cryosphere preservation; they showcased ICIMOD’s dedication to tackling significant environmental challenges through collective action and meaningful involvement. These two successful events also gave a fillip to ICIMOD’s mission and goals in the HKH region and reaffirmed its commitment to Strategy 2030: Moving Mountains and its Medium-Term Action Plan V for the years 2023–2026

Media coverage

2024 World Earth Day Ice Peak Forum & COP29 Youth Glacier & Climate Change Scientific Exploration Campaign

青藏高原冰冻圈退缩如何应对?2024冰峰大会呼吁强化公民认知

2024年冰峰大会暨青年科学探索活动在四川成功启动

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Communication Officer - China, ICIMOD

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