Eight Hindu Kush Himalaya countries to raise unified voice. (Image courtesy: Business Standard)

Hindu Kush Himalaya countries to raise a unified voice for mountains at COP26

By Mohd Imran Khan

Patna: With climate change is a reality, Hindu Kush Himalay’s eight countries have come together to raise a unified voice for mountains at Twenty Sixth Conference of Parties (COP26) to the United Nations Framework Convention for Climate Change (UNFCCC) in Glasgow, UK. This move is a part of HKH2 Glasgow” campaign which aims to amplify mountain voices at COP26 to promote ambitious climate action for the HKH and to scale-up investment in mountain specific climate priorities.

Delegates from the eight HKH countries including Afghanistan, Bangladesh, Bhutan, China, India, Myanmar, Nepal, Pakistan, respective UNFCCC national focal points and HKH High-Level Task Force members – along with representatives from the COP26 Presidency – met recently to articulate a collective mountain voice for more ambitious climate action in the HKH in the run, according to an official release of Kathmandu-based International Centre for Integrated Mountain Development (ICIMOD) said.

The HKH is the Pulse of the Planet. The region, which covers 4 million sq. km and is spread across eight countries is home to four global biodiversity hotspots. With almost 20 percent of its landmass under snow cover, it has the largest reserves of ice outside the Polar Regions and contains the headwaters of 10 major Asian river systems. The region supports the livelihoods of 240 million people living in the mountains, and 1.65 billion people living downstream. Around 3 billion people – or almost 1/3 of humanity – benefit from the food produced in the HKH river basins.

However, the HKH is at the frontline of the climate emergency. Even in a 1.5 degree Celsius world, glaciers in this region are projected to lose a third of their volume by the end of this century. An increase in temperature and changes in precipitation have already impacted mountain communities negatively. The impact of COVID-19 has further exacerbated the vulnerability of mountain communities. These concerns were raised by delegates from the HKH countries.

“Afghanistan is already experiencing the impacts of climate change. The mean annual temperature in Afghanistan has seen a significant and pronounced increase of 1.8°C since 1950, while the corresponding average for the Hindu Kush Himalaya is 1°C. Mean annual rainfall has decreased at an average of 2% per decade for the same period.” – Rohullah Amin, Director for Climate Change, Climate Change Division, National Environmental Protection Agency (NEPA), Afghanistan

Communities in the Hindu Kush Himalaya, especially women, indigenous peoples and socially disadvantaged groups, are impacted severely by climate change due to their low adaptive capacity. Climate change also impacts food security and economic growth in the region. Nepal is likely to lose 13 percent of its GDP to climate change by 2100 in extreme scenario”- Radha Wagle, Joint secretary/Chief, Climate Change Management Division, Ministry of Forests and Environment, Nepal.

“Bhutan along with other countries in the Hindu Kush Himalaya is located in the fragile mountainous ecosystem making us highly vulnerable to the impacts of climate change. Our economy is totally dependent on the climate sensitive sectors – agriculture being one example.” – Tshering Tashi, chief of Climate Change division, National Environment Commission (NEC), Bhutan

There is an urgent need to strengthen the resilience of mountain ecosystems and the people who rely on them. A collective mountain voice at COP26 will help highlight the need for ambitious climate action for the region.

“Current national, regional and global policies have a limited focus on addressing the impacts of climate change in mountain regions. To address this gap, the eight countries should together promote an inclusive and whole of society approach and a collective voice for the mountains at COP26. If we are able to make them understand the urgency of taking climate action in the mountains, it will be a great success for the wellbeing of mountain people.” – Md. Huzur Ali, Joint Secretary, Ministry of Chittagong Hill Tracts Affairs, Bangladesh.

“In this decade of climate action and ecosystem restoration – the eight HKH countries, which share a common mountain ecosystem, can cooperate and set an example for others to follow. COP26 is a big opportunity for the HKH community to bounce back and move forward into a resilient, sustainable and inclusive world.” – Jigmet Takpa, Joint Secretary, Ministry of Environment, Forests and Climate Change, India.

For the three billion people that rely on the Hindu Kush Himalaya Mountains for their lives and livelihoods, climate change is a very real threat. Regional cooperation and mountain-specific investment solutions are critical to help protect vulnerable communities from climate impacts.

“As COP26 Presidents, the UK is committed to playing its part. We’ve doubled our International Climate Finance spend to £11.6bn between 2021 and 2025, and we’re working with partner governments and the private sector around the world, including in the Himalayan region, to drive action to help build local, national and global resilience.” – Anne-Marie Trevelyan, UK International Champion on Adaptation and Resilience for the COP26 Presidency.

Participants also underlined that aligning measures to address climate change and COVID will provide ‘mountains of opportunity’ to scale-up investment in green, resilient and inclusive development.

Investment in six aligned measures – nature-based solutions, resilient mountain infrastructure, resilient mountain enterprises, resilient labour markets, shock responsive social protection systems, and climate responsive financial systems – will enable mountain communities to transition into resilient and carbon neutral societies by 2030. Some countries are already taking steps in this regard.

“China’s stimulus packages for economic recovery from COVID 19 has been integrated into the 14th Five Year Plan. Climate change mitigation and adaptation is addressed through five areas: (1) Setting up mandatory targets to reduce carbon intensity of the economy; (2) Developing action plans for carbon peak; (3) Speeding up carbon trading mechanism; (4) Developing and implementing Climate Adaption Action Plan 2021-2035; (5) Strengthening international collaboration.” – Chen Huai, Professor and Deputy Director General, Chengdu Institute of Biology, Chinese Academy of Sciences, China.

“There is a deficit of resilient and high-value mountain products and services like dairy, meat, crops and horticulture. As we recover from COVID-19 and address climate change, we need new mechanisms for innovation, technology, knowledge exchange and communication to support green and resilient mountain value chains and enterprises.” – Muhammad Azeem Khan, Chairman, Pakistan Agricultural Research Council, Pakistan.

Participants also recognized that harnessing the Power of 8 countries will enhance regional and international cooperation for climate action. This includes cooperation to facilitate data sharing to address transboundary climate risks and cooperation to support regional and international learning and technology transfer for innovation, capacity building, and green infrastructure.

“Myanmar will continue to work with ICIMOD and regional member countries to mitigate and adapt to climate change. Scaled-up investment in mountain specific mountain priorities is essential to contribute to climate resilient mountain communities, carbon neutral mountain societies and climate-aligned financial flows for green, resilient and inclusive development in the region.” – Thaung Naing Oo, Deputy Director General, Forest Department, Ministry of Natural Resources and Environmental Conservation, Myanmar.

“By setting ambitious targets to adapt to climate change and limit carbon emissions, our region is intent on being part of the solution. The challenge ahead of us is that many of the issues are transboundary in nature. A regional approach, supported by international financial and technical support, is needed to complement local and national efforts. There are many things that a country can do better on its own, but there are also several areas where we can do better as a region and, I believe, addressing the challenges posed by climate change is one of them.” -Pema Gyamtsho, Director General, International Centre for Integrated Mountain Development.

(Md Imran Khan is a senior journalist based in Patna)

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