Kathmandu, Nepal: The warnings were dire but the response was heartening. Government representatives, policymakers and scientists from the eight Hindu Kush Himalayan (HKH) countries have responded to the findings of the first comprehensive Hindu-Kush Himalaya Assessment Report (to be released on 11 December) by committing to greater regional cooperation to tackle climate change and the risks it poses to mountain environments and people.
Stressing the urgency in preserving the Hindu Kush Himalaya from further degradation and negative impacts, representatives of the eight HKH countries (Afghanistan, Bangladesh, Bhutan, China, India, Myanmar, Nepal and Pakistan) made a resounding call for an alliance and greater transboundary cooperation to work on HKH related issues collectively. They were responding to the “Call to Action” presented at the First Hindu Kush Himalaya Science-Policy Forum held in Kathmandu on 13–14 November at the International Centre for Integrated Mountain Development (ICIMOD).
Speaking at the event, Nepal’s Minister of Forests and Environment, Shakti Bahadur Basnet said, “The Government of Nepal will be happy to take the lead role in forging a regional alliance of the HKH countries to initiate a political dialogue for greater recognition of the vulnerabilities of mountain communities and to raise mountain voices and agendas at the regional and international levels.” Similar thoughts were also echoed by other representatives from the region, who reiterated the need for immediate action on halting and potentially reversing the impacts of climate change and related developmental challenges in the HKH region.
“[Our] development planning processes need to take into account both mitigation and adaptation approaches. Government of Myanmar is ready to support regional cooperation for sustainable regional development”, said Dr San Oo, Deputy Director General, Environmental Conservation Department, Ministry of Environmental Conservation and Forestry, Myanmar.
The key messages to emerge out of the event were, to substantially increase investments for realizing the SDGs in the mountains; immediate global, regional and national action to limit global warming to 1.5 degrees by 2100; and, for much greater regional collaboration and cooperation on HKH related issues.
Following the Call to Action, representatives from governments, the business sector, scientists and civil society continued to share experiences and deliberate on mechanisms to facilitate greater regional collaboration and cooperation during the International Consultative Workshop on Transboundary Landscapes and River Basins. While there are already good examples of transboundary cooperation happening in the region, there is scope and need for greater collaboration on numerous issues including joint management of landscapes, river basins and floodplains, biodiversity conservation, and disaster risk reduction. This will require greater investments in both science and implementation from all stakeholders.
Participants identified environmental governance as one of the key challenges for the region and transboundary cooperation as an imperative to stop further deterioration of the HKH. Such regional collaborations are inherently a long-term process and it is important to get started immediately but in the long run to use science as the basis for engagement: science-policy, science-business, and science-community.
“When we are talking about transboundary cooperation it is a long term process, and we need a vision that looks beyond 5 to 10 years. We need to have a common understanding and shared values to address our common problems, otherwise the risks will be much higher in the future”, said Mohammad Rafi Qazizada, Director General, Natural Resource Management; Ministry of Agriculture, Irrigation & Livestock, Government of Afghanistan.
Participants in the two-day consultative workshop also discussed the lack of national narratives promoting regional cooperation. Development of such narratives at the national level would ensure that more national policies reflect a commitment to and investments in transboundary cooperation. There are also a number of examples from other parts of the world on regional cooperation, including the Arctic Council and the Alpine Convention, which provide much experience and learning that can be relevant for the HKH.
Expressing support for work towards a non-binding institutional structure like a Hindu-Kush Himalayan Council to start with, Dr VK Saraswat, Member of NITI Aayog, the policy think tank of the Government of India , said, “We have to tell everyone the risks of not acting today and we are running out of time”.