Hindu Kush Himalayan region to raise unified voice for mountains at COP26

The Hindu Kush Himalayan (HKH) region — Afghanistan, Bangladesh, Bhutan, China, India, Myanmar, Nepal, and Pakistan — have articulated a stronger mountain voice for a more ambitious climate action in the region ahead of the UN’s annual climate change summit in Glasgow this November.

A consultative meeting launched the HKH2Glasgow campaign that will amplify mountain voices at COP26 to promote ambitious climate action for the HKH and to scale-up investment in mountain specific climate priorities. Around 3 billion people – or almost 1/3 of humanity — benefit from the food produced in the HKH river basins.

Called the Third Pole, as it has largest reserves of ice outside the Polar Regions, or the Pulse of the Planet, the HKH region is spread across these eight countries, has four global biodiversity hotspots, has 20 per cent of its land mass under snow, and contains the headwaters of 10 major Asian river system, supports 240 million people directly who live in the mountains, and 1.65 billion people living downstream.

The HKH is at the frontline of the climate emergency and even in a 1.5-degree Celsius world (the degree to which global temperature may rise compared to the pre-industrialisation times), glaciers in this region are projected to lose a third of their volume by the end of this century.

In view of this, delegates from the eight countries including respective UNFCC national focal points, HKH High Level Task Force Member and representatives from the COP26 Presidency met on July 15 to articulate the collective mountain voice for more ambitious climate action in the HKH, a statement from ICIMOD said from Kathmandu.

ICIMOD or the International Centre for Integrated Mountain Development, is a regional inter-governmental learning and knowledge sharing centre serving these eight countries.

An increase in temperature and changes in precipitation have already impacted mountain communities negatively and the impact of Covid-19 has further exacerbated the vulnerability of the mountain communities, were some of the main concerns raised by delegates from the HKH countries.

The consultative meeting that launched the HKH2Glasgow campaign to amplify mountain voices at the COP26 to promote ambitious climate action for the HKH and to scale-up investment in mountain specific climate priorities, will develop a common position paper over the next few months.

“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,” said Joint Secretary at India’s Ministry of Environment, Forests and Climate Change, Jigmet Takpa.

“I appreciate the efforts of ICIMOD to bring the regional member countries together on a common platform to send a strong message to the global community at COP26. Most HKH countries have contributed the least to global warming but are the most vulnerable to its impacts. They have developed their climate change policies intelligently, but the lack of financial and technological resources and capacity constraints don’t allow them to implement their mitigation and adaptation policies,” said Ministry of Climate Change, Pakistan’s Director General, Muhammad Irfan Tariq.

“Bhutan, along with other countries in the HKH, 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,” said Bhutan’s Climate Change division, National Environment Commission (NEC)’s chief, Tshering Tashi.

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 the mountain communities to transition into resilient and carbon neutral societies by 2030, the statement said, adding, some countries are already taking steps in this regard.

Participants also recognised 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.

“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,” summarised ICIMOD Director General Pema Gyamtsho.