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Effects of tourism in Nepal’s mountains and how to mitigate them

Astha Joshi

Astha Joshi

Effects of tourism in Nepal’s mountains and how to mitigate them

Photo: National Geographic

It’s no secret that global warming is having a huge impact on our world, especially in our wild and natural spaces. Given Nepal’s reliance on the Himalayan mountains for tourism and the spiritual importance that they hold, the impact that global warming is having on these mighty giants is alarming. With glaciers melting and retreating, the mountains are becoming increasingly dangerous and unstable. In fact, a warning has been issued that if action is not taken, there may be no snow on the Himalayas as soon as 2035. That’s how critical the situation is.

In recent years, the tourism industry in Nepal has taken a hit. Between poor Everest seasons, natural disasters and the pandemic, tourist arrival has been low. And what little tourism activity the country is seeing right now primarily revolves around Everest Base Camp treks and mountaineering, which account for around 75 percent of all Nepal tourism. Certainly, we’ve begun to see a considerable surge in tourist numbers post pandemic. But more tourists and travel costs also mean an increase in emissions from flights, impact on mountainous zones, and waste heaps left behind by visitors in wild spaces.

 

While travel and tourism is good for the economy, it also harms the environment. So how can we continue to explore and stimulate the Nepali tourist economy at the same time? One way of finding this delicate balance is opting for eco-travel and carbon offsetting practices, which are already being adopted by some Nepali tour companies.

 

With combined efforts from the expedition companies that rely on Everest for income and the Nepali government setting ambitious climate goals, there is a positive light on the horizon when it comes to ensuring sustainable travel policy in Nepal.

Currently, Nepal’s climate goal is to reach net zero greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions by 2050, alongside a range of specific goals including ensuring that 90 percent of private and 60 percent of public vehicle sales are electric by 2030. The majority of the country’s climate goals are focused on domestic policies and on citizen-level, rather than tourism. However, there have been deliberations about moving the Everest Base Camp to mitigate the impact of climate change on the Khumbu Glacier. The melting glacier poses sizable risks not just for the environment, but for the tourist industry that relies on Everest treks and expeditions.

Individually, there are many things that travelers can do to reduce their carbon footprint when traveling. One of the easiest ways to do this is to offset their carbon usage by adopting the plans set up by airlines and tour companies. Many airlines these days offer such plans at the point of flight purchase. You can also use third-party offsetting companies if your chosen airline does not offer the service. Also, a lot of tour companies provide carbon offsetting plans, or sustainable travel models that give back to the local community, environmental organizations, or social campaigns. This way, individuals can help mitigate their impact on the mountains and keep the economy going in a safe way.

They can also participate in actions that leave no trace of pollution. This is a familiar concept to many outdoor adventurers but is often ignored by wider tourists. It’s the idea that if you’re hiking or exploring, you take all your wastes home with you or dispose them of safely. You leave nothing on the mountains, trails, or anywhere else that may be harmful to locals or the environment.

Furthermore, online travel agencies, like Bookmundi, recognize that traveling is often at odds with environmental policy. Bookmundi calculates carbon emissions during a tour on the basis of four parameters: transport, accommodation, meals and activities. In addition, to ensure that every tour booked through the company, Nepal tours included, is 100 percent carbon neutral, they also offset carbon emissions that come from operating their website, servers and even using the website.

Like Bookmundi, different tour operators can offer carbon offsetting services as a part of their overall tour prices, absorbing the cost in order to give travelers peace of mind.

Another way to contribute towards preserving the environments of Nepal is to donate to Nepali charities and organizations while you’re traveling in the country. This way you know exactly where your money is going and the impact it can have. For example, if you’re climbing Everest or another mountain with Sherpa guides or porters, consider giving money to a charity or fund that supports Sherpas and their families. Although not directly an environmental impact, the increasingly melting glaciers are making Everest more dangerous to climb, with more treks being canceled every year, causing a lack of income.

Sustainable travel is the only viable option that will allow travelers to keep exploring Nepal, while maintaining its beautiful and pure landscapes for the posterity.