Evidence shows that existing tropical Andean glaciers in Bolivia, Ecuador, and Peru are retreating at an accelerated rate; and, should this continue, all glaciers below 5,000 meters above sea level will be drastically reduced or lost by 2030 or 2040. This retreat has resulted in alterations to the regional water cycle, adversely affecting water supply for human consumption, agriculture, and hydro-electric generation.
Intense rainfall and glacial melt will likely increase soil erosion and sedimentation rates and cause severe floods, glacial lake outbursts, or landslides. These challenges pose a major obstacle to development in high-mountain areas. While the three countries were taking steps to address these climate change issues, they did not share much information with each other. Climate change adaptation communities of practice were well established, for example, but few opportunities existed to exchange information between countries.
Conscious of these challenges, GEF funded the Adaptation to the Impact of Rapid Glacier Retreat in the Tropical Andes Project covering the three countries. The project aimed to integrate considerations related to the retreat of glaciers into regional and local planning processes and into local adaptation projects. From 2008 to 2014, the project also designed and implemented specific pilot adaptation activities to learn about the costs, results, and benefits of adaptation in order to design larger scale interventions. As a key component of this regional project, relevant institutions of participating countries met regularly to share experiences and knowledge.
The project provided collaboration opportunities and dialogue through sharing database protocols, unifying their baseline information, and co-authoring publications. Six regional workshops helped to strengthen the capacity of senior officials from the environment ministries, scientists, and community beneficiaries in the three countries. Participants at the workshops also deepened relationships as they discussed climate change scenarios and estimated impacts in key sectors— high-mountain ecosystems, agriculture and water—based on information generated by the pilot projects. In Bolivia, Ecuador, and Peru, highland glacier monitoring stations were established.
The objective was to provide information for (a) guiding the preparation of policy instruments and (b) supporting decision-making by the respective environment ministries and other stakeholder institutions. This information was also shared among the countries.
The project strengthened the capacity of national meteorological institutions to identify protocols for information sharing and contributed to knowledge transfer among scientists on glacier dynamics. The communities of practice now share more information than before, and there is increased regional integration at the scientific, decision-making, and beneficiary levels. The ministries of environment and related agencies now have staff capable of replicating the project’s activities elsewhere in their countries.
The knowledge gained from the project's pilots enabled each country to prepare investment plans, integrated watershed management plans, and strategic development plans; all informed by climate change considerations.
Sharing the results and knowledge garnered through the process beyond the project’s three countries helped to generate more attention and interest in climate change adaptation. For example, in January 2014, a delegation of government officials and practitioners from Afghanistan, China, India, and Pakistan—all with glaciated regions—visited Ecuador to gain insights and ideas applicable to their specific contexts.
For issues of international concern, the cost of translating documents should be factored into project documentation. The inter-cultural visit in January 2014 highlighted the need to translate key publications from Spanish into English to promote the project and its technical findings.