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The loss of Venezuela’s last glacier points to a future where loss as opposed to damage is the new reality

The Corona glacier in Venezuela. Photo.
The picture shows the glacier, also known as La Corona, in 2016, before it was reclassified as an ice field. Photo: Leonel Delgado.

Professor Emily Boyd has been researching loss and damage from climate change for more than 10 years. To her, the news that Venezuela’s last glacier, the Humboldt glacier, is being reclassified as an ice field, is extremely worrying.

The speed of change is crazy. When something so visible is lost, it also brings home the scale of global climate change, says Emily Boyd, professor at Lund University Centre for Sustainability Studies.

Emily and her colleagues at Lund University are working on impacts of intangible losses and damages resulting from socio-political, economic and climate drivers.

They look at the vanishing Humboldt glacier, also known as La Corona, located in the Sierra Nevada de Mérida Mountain range, as an example of cross-scale and transboundary impacts of climate change. Its loss will be felt in different realms, from potential loss of income, if tourism declines in the area, to loss of ecosystems services which glaciers provide, loss of  environments of cultural value, and so far, unforeseen changes in global climate change processes. While many thought the glacier would melt within the next decade, the process has gone remarkedly faster.

According to Emily Boyd,

– This event brings home too how losses in different places impact ecosystems and communities far away. It is also worrying that loss is being normalized.

She emphasizes how these events necessitate the need for research not only on ways to mitigate climate change, which is of key importance if temperatures are to stay below 1,5 degrees compared to preindustrial times, but also on questions of who experience loss, how, where and in what contexts, which are now brought even more to the fore.

– Loss will look different to different people, depending on their capabilities, existing vulnerabilities and previous experiences. We shouldn’t assume that the loss of this glacier will impact communities living close to it equally, says Emily Boyd.

– We need to ramp up how we prepare for a future under climate change. In this future, regardless if we are able to make drastic reductions in emissions, some losses will accrue. Therefore, we need knowledge, both on what loss can mean, and on how our communities can be supported to prepare, and above all, on how we can advance adaptation.

Loss of glacier can inform research in other places

She also highlights that accruing impacts in Venezuela can be used to inform work and research on glacier melt in other areas, for example in Nepal, where LUCSUS is researching retreating glaciers from a societal perspective, specifically looking at how ecosystem changes affect communities living beside the glaciers.

She ends by noting how just transformations remain hampered by the prevailing political imagination that technology and capital alone can solve, and halt, problems connected to climate change and biodiversity loss.

– It is quite well established that loss does not necessarily trigger action, however finding common ground on lived experiences of climate change is important. Adaptation needs to be just, effective and cross-scale. Exploring the issue of resistance will also be key: why do groups resist adaptation, and how can leaders design adaptation with communities?

A woman, Emily Boyd. Photo.

Emily Boyd

Emily Boyd is Professor in Sustainability Science at Lund University Centre for Sustainaibility Studies. She is a leading social scientist with a background in international development, environment and climate change, with focus on the interdisciplinary nexus of poverty, livelihoods and resilience in relation to global environmental change. Emily Boyd is currently leading work on undesirable resilience, politics of loss and damage and intersectionality in societal transitions, including on transformations under climate change. 

Emily Boyd  is an author for the IPCC, IPBES, and UKCCRA and a Earth System Governance Senior Fellow. 

Read more about Emily Boyd