Loss and Damage in the mountain cryosphere

Abstract

The mountain cryosphere, which includes glaciers, permafrost, and snow, is one of the Earth’s systems most strongly affected by climate change. In recent decades, changes in the cryosphere have been well documented in many high-mountain regions. While there are some benefits from snow and ice loss, the negative impacts, including from glacier lake outburst floods and variations in glacier runoff, are generally considered to far outweigh the positive impacts, particularly if cultural impacts are considered. In international climate policy, there has been growing momentum to address the negative impacts of climate change, or ‘Loss and Damage’ (L&D) from climate change. It is not clear exactly what can and should be done to tackle L&D, but researchers and practitioners are beginning to engage with policy discussions and develop potential frameworks and supporting information. Despite the strong impact of climate change on the mountain cryosphere, there has been limited interaction between cryosphere researchers and L&D. Therefore, little work has been done to consider how L&D in the mountain cryosphere might be conceptualized, categorized, and assessed. Here, we make a first attempt to analyze L&D in the mountain cryosphere by conducting a systematic literature review to extract L&D impacts and examples from existing literature. We find that L&D is a global phenomenon in the mountain cryosphere and has been more frequently documented in the developing world, both in relation with slow and sudden onset processes. We develop a categorization of L&D, making distinctions between physical and societal impacts, primary and secondary impacts, and identifying seven types of L&D (including L&D to culture, livelihoods, revenue, natural resources, life, and security). We hope this conceptual approach will support future work to understand and address L&D in the mountain cryosphere.

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Acknowledgements

This study has benefitted from information and discussions produced within the Proyecto Glaciares+ and the Sustainable Mountain Development for Global Change (SMD4GC) Programme of the Swiss Agency for Development and Coopeation (SDC), and the Project AguaFuturo funded by the Swiss National Science Foundation (project no. 205121L_166272). A workshop on Loss and Damage held in May 2016 in Rotterdam with representatives from science, policy, and practice provided further input.

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Huggel, C., Muccione, V., Carey, M. et al. Loss and Damage in the mountain cryosphere. Reg Environ Change 19, 1387–1399 (2019). https://doi.org/10.1007/s10113-018-1385-8

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Keywords

  • Mountain cryosphere
  • Climate change impacts
  • Loss and damage
  • Risks