China and Nepal agree on height increase for Mount Everest


China and Nepal have jointly announced a new official height for Mount Everest, ending a discrepancy between the two nations.

The new height of the world's highest peak is 8,848.86 metres (29,031.7ft), which is slightly more than Nepal's previous measurement and about four metres (13ft) higher than China's.

Chinese foreign minister Wang Yi and his Nepalese counterpart, Pradeep Gyawali, simultaneously pressed buttons during a virtual conference and the new height flashed on the screen.

A live telecast of the announcement
A live telecast of the announcement (Niranjan Shrestha/AP)

The height of Everest, which is on the border between China and Nepal, was agreed after surveyors from Nepal scaled the peak in 2019 and a Chinese team did the same this year.

There had been debate over the height of the peak and concern that it might have shrunk after a major earthquake in 2015, which killed 9,000 people, damaged about a million structures in Nepal and triggered an avalanche that killed 19 people at the base camp.

There was no doubt that Everest would remain the highest peak because the second highest, Mount K2, is only 8,611 metres (28,244ft).

Everest's height was first determined by a British team around 1856 as 8,842 metres (29,002ft).

But the most accepted height has been 8,848 metres (29,028ft), determined by the Survey of India in 1954.

Members of a Chinese surveying team head for the summit of Mount Everest (Tashi Tsering/Xinhua/AP)

In 1999, a National Geographic Society team using GPS technology came up with a height of 8,850 metres (29,035ft). A Chinese team in 2005 said it was 8,844.43 metres (29,009ft) because it did not include the snow cap.

A Nepal government team of climbers and surveyors scaled Everest in May 2019 and installed GPS and satellite equipment to measure the peak and snow depth on the summit.

Chinese President Xi Jinping visited Nepal later that year and the leaders of the two countries decided they should agree on a height.

A survey team from China conducted measurements in spring 2020 while all other expeditions were cancelled due to the coronavirus pandemic.

The team sets up survey equipment on the summit (Tashi Tsering/Xinhua/AP)

Nepal's climbing community welcomed the end of confusion over the mountain's height.

"This is a milestone in mountaineering history which will finally end the debate over the height and now the world will have one number," said Santa Bir Lama, president of the Nepal Mountaineering Association.

China's official Xinhua New Agency quoted Mr Xi as saying the two sides are committed to jointly protecting the environment around Everest and co-operating in scientific research.

For Beijing, the announcement appeared to be as much about politics as geography. China has drawn Nepal ever closer into its orbit with investments in its economy and the building of highways, dams, airports and other infrastructure in the impoverished nation.

That appears to serve China's interests in reducing the influence of rival India, with which it shares a disputed border, and Nepal's role as a destination for Tibetan refugees.