UN to recognize glacier preservation in 2025 thanks to Canadian researchers

UN to recognize glacier preservation in 2025 thanks to Canadian researchers

The United Nations General Assembly passed a resolution to designate 2025 as the International Year of Glacier Conservation — a concept that Coldwater Lab director John Pomeroy says has roots near his home in Canmore, Alta.

The explanation is something researchers in Canada hope will help wake the world up that it needs to change course. More than symbolic, it is a year in which scientists will publish findings and share climate models and forecasts related to glacier disappearance, and conferences will raise the profile of this topic.

“Like many things, it started over a beer at the Rose & Crown in Canmore,” Pomeroy told CBC News.

Pomeroy is a Distinguished Professor in Canada, a Research Chair at the University of Saskatchewan, where he is Director of the Global Water Futures Program.

Pomeroy and colleague Bob Sandford sat around a table at the local dive bar and found common goals and foundations, Sandford said.

He had been working on a concept in his role at the United Nations in Iceland in 2013 to declare a year for snow and ice, but it had no legs.

Sandford holds the Global Water Futures Chair in Water and Climate Security at the United Nations University Institute for Water, Environment and Health.

Achieving goals on a global scale, Sandford joked, moves at an icy pace. Unfortunately, climate change does not progress slowly, especially in mountainous areas such as the Canadian Rocky Mountains.

“Climate change has now accelerated to the rate that is occurring in the Arctic, and that’s two to three times the global average,” Sandford said. “The changes in the high mountains of the world, including ours, are moving at a rate that is much, much greater and much faster than what is happening in the rest of the world.”

Both men took advantage of every opportunity they had at national and international meetings and opportunities hosted by the World Meteorological Organization, UNESCO – any chance to air the concept he hoped would help raise awareness and help nations on the around the world to invest in research.

Then the President of the Republic of Tajikistan championed this idea.

Two people stand next to each other in an ice field and look up.
Coldwater Labs is conducting fieldwork with monitoring stations to help create up-to-date climate change models. (Submitted by John Pomeroy)

“During the first meeting of the leaders of the Water and Climate Coalition, the leader of the nation, the President of the Republic of Tajikistan, HE Emomali Rahmon, spoke about the rapid melting of glaciers,” the republic’s press release said.

The resolution was unanimously adopted during the 77th session of the United Nations General Assembly on December 14, 2022.

And Canada, Sandford said, will play a key role in 2025 during the International Year of Glacier Conservation.

“Because of the … number of glaciers and the extent of the glaciation, we want to play a big role this UN year,” Sandford said. “It is a great opportunity for us to share our knowledge this year in this country and around the world.”

Pomeroy said Mother Nature has already begun to show the consequences of climate change.

He says leaders at the meetings leading up to the main session discussed water scarcity and drought in the Andes and Alps, the US Southwest and China, as well as the melting glaciers leading to floods in Pakistan in the summer of 2022 contributed.

He pointed out that the Netherlands, a country with no glaciers nearby, co-chaired World Water Week in Stockholm with Tajikistan.

“Countries have recognized this from the top of the watershed to sea level and to the bottom,” he said. “That’s what it takes to get things done in this world. So it’s good to see a little bit of hope that way.”

Of course, it won’t take a single year to undo the damage already done to the planet, glaciers, and mountainous snowpacks. Pomeroy hopes this year will mark the beginning of a push toward better research, monitoring, and funding.

A large glacier hugs the side of a mountain against a blue sky.
Crowfoot Glacier in Banff National Park in Alberta. (Axel Tardieu/CBC)

“If you don’t measure it, you don’t understand it,” Pomeroy said.

Even here in Canada, Pomeroy said, the density of high mountain surveillance is low. Peyto, a glacier north of the town of Banff, is one of the country’s only reference glaciers, he said.

“There’s one in the Coast Mountains, there’s one up north in the Northwest Territories,” he said. “That’s it.”

Still, information from 35 weather stations that make up the Canadian Rockies Hydrological Observatory, along with government stations in Alberta and BC, has helped the Coldwater Lab in Canmore develop flood, water supply forecast, snow cover and glacier models that Pomeroy says exist nowhere else.

And that’s the information he wants the world to see and act on.

For Sandford, it’s about changing politics. His main concern was to translate scientific research, like what the Coldwater Lab produces, into something that the average person can understand.

“My job is to make science understandable to as many people as possible. And then working with governments to accelerate climate action… we need a lot more push to do that.”

That, he hopes, will make a difference. Canada is a glacier-rich nation that will experience the greatest impact when these pieces of natural infrastructure disappear. Ice, Sandford said, is the thermal regulator for the entire western hemisphere.

Pomeroy says they are like naturally built dams that slowly feed streams and groundwater.

“Nature has done us a tremendous service in western Canada,” he said. “We’re losing that service right now, and I don’t think everyone realizes it.”

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