Sikkim University Foundation Day 11th Lecture – Climate Change in the Hindu Kush Himalaya: Developing Solutions for Complex Challenges at the Intersection of Environment and Development

Sikkim University Foundation Day 11th Lecture – Climate Change in the Hindu Kush Himalaya: Developing Solutions for Complex Challenges at the Intersection of Environment and Development



FNA, FNASc, Deputy Director General, International Centre for Integrated Mountain Development, Kathmandu, Nepal

(P.S. The following is the Summary of the lecture delivered on the 20th of July 2018 at Gangtok, Sikkim)

Mountains occupy 22% of the world’s land surface area and 915 million people live in mountains. Half o fht ehumanity directly depends on mountain resources, particularly for water and biodiversity. The huge water storage capacity of mountains provides a lifeline for millions, in the form of snow, glaciers, permafrost, snow-packs, soil, or groundwater, wetlands, and rivers as well as well as through wathershed functions increasing ground water recharge. This attribution often refers mountains as “water towers” specially for contributions that they provide for densely populated downstream. Ethnic diversity i shigher in mountains than other regions of the owrld. Poverty and vulnerability reamin with roughtly 39% of mountain populations in devleoping countries who are also considered vulnerable to food insecurity.

The Hindu Kush Himalaya (HKH) is well known for its cultural, biological, aesthetic, and geo-hydrological value. Its vast complex of hills, valleys, plateaus and mountains contain some of the world’s tallest peaks and more than 60,000 km square of glaciers and 760,000 km square of snow cover. These snow and ice reserves represent a massive store of freshwater that provides resources for energy, river basins the Amu Darya, Brahmaputra, Ganges, Indus, Irrawaddy, Mekong, Salween, Tarim, Yangtze and Yellow connect upstream and downstream areas in terms of trade, culture, commerce, communication and resource management and provides (directly and indirectly) goods and services to 1.9 billion people in Asia, including 240 million who live in the HKH region.

Four of the 36 global biodiversity hot-spot sit in the HKH region. Thirty-nine percent of the region is covered with protected areas that harbour a wide range of ecosystems and provide numerous services in terms of food, water, and climate regulation. Most ecosystems in the region are subject to climatic and non-climatic changes impacting their function and sustainability, thereby affecting livelihoods and community resilience in the region as well as downstream.

Eigth countries Afghanistan, Bangladesh, Bhutan, China, India, Myanmar, Nepal and Pakistan share the HKH. We know that better development outcomes could be achieved with shared management of HKH resources. For example, improved cooperation could enable better cross-border flood preparation, ecosystem management and water and energy sharing to optimize resource use in the region. However, shared management of the resources remains a challenge. Four out of eight countries in the HKH are categorized as ‘Least Developed Countries’ in the Human Development Index; five of the eight countries are rated in “alert status” in the ‘Fragile States Index’; and the “Peace Index” shows four countries of the HKH ranging from low to very low. Therefore the region’s fragility vulnerability and poverty have become a most critical issue.

Climate change plus a range of social changes such as rapid population growth, urbanization, migration, feminization of rural labour and economic development are major drivers of rapid transformation in the HKH region. Mountain people and ecosystems are hihgly vulnerable to climate change. Temperature rise amplifies with elevation with predictions that temperatures could increase 3 to 4 degrees at high elevation in a 2 degree C world. The ecoological stability of the region faces multiple threats with vast ice researves and glaciers melting, putting at risk the role of this mountain region as a water reservoir. The frequency of floods and droughts has increased. Degradation of forests, wetlands, range-lands and decline of biodiversity imperil livelihoods.

While all of these impacts pose challenges to traditional livelihood strategies and ecological stability, they also provide opportunities where mountain people can adapt, build resilience and move forward in an equitable manner. To do so will require knowledge about the impacts of these various changes, tapping into the innovative capacity of poeple in the region, and organizing the strongest capabilities in science and development from around the world, as well as tailoring potential solutions and innovations to the needs of the region.

ICIMOD facilitated the HKH Monitoring and Assessment Programme (HIMAP) aiming to establish the global significance of the HKH reducing scientific uncertainty on various mountain issues, laying out practical solutions, valuing and conserving ecosystems, cultures, societies, knowledge and distinctive HKH solutions, addressing contemporary policy questions and influencing policy processes with robust evidence for sustainable mountain development. More than 300 scientists and plicy makers contributed to the first compressive assessment. The results shall feed into the ‘HKH Science-Policy forum’.

To address complex climate plus change challenges in mountains and downstream, ICIMOD develops solutions at the intersection of environment and development of the HKH by facilitating knowledge generation and exchange, trans-boundary cooperation and science-policy dialogues on water resources and river basin management, biodiversity conservation and use, landscape management and resilience building. ICIMOD aims to achieve resilient outcomes including (i) enhanced adaption capacities, (ii) recovery from shocks and stresses, and (iii) transformative change or “bouncing forward”.

ICIMOD engages in community to regional solutions through its regional programmes on adaption and resilience building, trans-boundary landscape management, river basin and cryosphere, atmosphere, regional information system, and mountain knowledge and action networks. In addressing issues related to poverty reduction, enhancing resilience by reducing physical and social vulnerabilities, and enhancing the ecosystem services, we realize that the solutions acceptable to mountain communities are extremely crucial.

The mountains such as the HKH region provide enormous good and services, however they have not received enough attention in global, regional and national policies for more investment in research and development. This paradigm has to change if impacts of climate change are to be reduced for people both in mountains and those living in downstream regions, and also in achieving sustainable development goals by 2030. The increasing awareness of the impacts of climate change on mountains, mountain ecosystems, and mountain communities, and the consequences these poses for the rest of the world, mountains need to be at the center of international debate on good science, policies and sustainable development.

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