Kathmandu: Nepal`s coalition government Friday basked in global limelight and applause with Prime Minister Madhav Kumar Nepal leading a historic meeting of his cabinet in the shadow of Mt Everest, the highest peak in the world, to draw the attention of nations to the perils of climate change and the havoc they could wreak in Himalayan countries.
Twenty-three ministers, wearing down jackets, blue sashes that said "Save the Himalayas" and oxygen masks, trooped to Kala Pattar, a village at 5,542 m, more than half-way to the Everest peak, to hold the world`s highest cabinet meeting against a backdrop of towering mountains and raging winds.
"It is a significant and historic meet," Nepal said, signing a 10-point Everest Declaration. "The world should unite with the Himalayan nations to raise one voice. Now is the time to stop the negative effects of climate warming. Let`s start with sacrifices from our own countries."
As its own commitment, the world`s newest republic says it will increase the conservation areas in the country from 20 percent to 25 and expand forest cover to 40 percent of its territory. It will also seek international help to combat the fallouts of global warming and urge developed nations to contribute funds.
The Everest Declaration has pledged nearly 6,000 sq km in three different regions, rich in biodiversity, as conserved areas.
It will also stand behind 30 Everest summiters who will stage a rally in Copenhagen Dec 11, in the course of the UN global conference on climate changes in the European capital, to ask the world to save the Himalayas.
The usually deserted and freezing Kala Pattar, surrounded by towering snow-clad mountains and bereft of vegetation, became the cynosure of all eyes Friday as Nepal`s government began its cabinet meeting near the Everest base camp.
A sign propped up between two national flags declared a cabinet meeting was in session with chairs lined up before narrow long tables.
The meeting, delayed by more than two hours, was preceded by the prime minister and his cabinet colleagues first alighting in Syangboche, a village located below the plateau, for health checks.
Helicopters belonging to the army and private airline companies then ferried the ministers to Kala Pattar where chief secretary Madhav Ghimire called the meeting to order, wielding a megaphone to make himself heard above the strong wind that threatened to blow off the table cloths.
Though the much-awaited meeting lasted only 10 minutes, experts and travel entrepreneurs said it had succeeded in winning world recognition for Nepal, the Himalayas and the Sherpa community living in the Himalayan region.
The prime minister emphasised that Nepal, one of the least developed nations, was not guilty of carbon emissions that contribute to global warming.
Developed nations, he said, were responsible for the damage worldwide and therefore had a duty to come to the help of the victimised nations. Nepal contributes to only 0.019 percent of total world emission of harmful gases.
In Nepal, which boasts of eight of the 10 highest peaks in the world, including the Everest, there are nearly 2,000 mountain lakes, out of which 24 are in danger of bursting, experts say.
The global warming has been causing glaciers to retreat in the Himalayas and denuding the majestic peaks of their snow cover, making them look bare and smaller.
"When I climbed Mt Everest in 2007, I was shocked to see how bare it looked. There was little snow," said Sonam Sherpa, a summiter who was part of the welcoming groups in Kala Pattar.
"If the Himalayas die, all Nepalis will die," added Doti Sherpa, deputy chief of Nepal Sherpa Sangh. "It will devastate entire South Asia, not just Nepal."
Inspired by the Maldives government holding a cabinet meeting underwater in October, Nepal`s Forest Minister Deepak Bohra conceived the idea of an "Everest" meet.
After criticising it as a gimmick, there was grudging public admiration Friday due to the immense world interest the meeting generated in Nepal.
Nepal`s cash-strapped government, accused of frittering away tax payers` money, spent only Nepali Re.1 though the expedition cost over Rs.6 million.
The entire expenses were borne by the private sector related to travel tourism.
Veteran journalist Kanak Mani Dixit welcomed the Everest meet cautiously.
"It is right to capitalise on the Himalayas," he said. "But to ensure that it is not a mere gimmick, there should be follow-up action."
Dixit, editor of Himal magazine, said that while the government was drawing attention to the adverse effects of global warming with the Everest meet, forests were being hacked down in Nepal`s Terai plains.
The cabinet meeting ended quickly after Deputy Prime MInister Sujata Koirala, who is also the foreign minister, showed signs of breathing difficulties.
The prime minister and his cabinet were then flown back to Syangboche, where he held a press conference for nearly 80 journalists who had come from Nepal and abroad to cover the incident.