A call to action for South Asia

Rafiqul Islam back from Kathmandu
Wednesday, April 19th, 2017

Damage on the water flow can be experienced if the current rate of the glacial retreat continues. Worsening effect on the Hindu Kush Himalayan Region will impact Its water supply; 1.5 billion people In jeopardy (Photo: ICIMOD/YouTube Screenshot)


Experts, policymakers seek cooperation for climate action at IPCC outreach event


Climate change is posing a serious threat to the Hindu Kush Himalaya (HKH) region – ranging from upper Himalayan belt to the lower riparian plains and coastal region in South Asia.


Temperature rise contributes to rapid melting of glaciers in the Himalayas, and increasing sea level in coastal area, affect the livelihoods of millions of people in the region, experts and scientists observed at IPCC outreach event in Kathmandu during April 10-13.


This international conference was jointly organised by the Ministry of Population and Environment (MoPE) of Nepal and the International Centre for Integrated Mountain Development (ICIMOD), in collaboration with the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC).


Around 250 experts, policymakers, government officials, journalists and youth attended the conference to discuss climate change in the Hindu Kush Himalaya. After sharing studies and experiences about climate change in the region, they discussed ways to combine their efforts to create meaningful action against the impacts of rising temperatures and other climate change effects.


The participants explored a range of topics from climate financing and mountain communities to the social and business implications of climate change. Scientists said Himalayan glaciers are melting fast in recent years due to climate change affecting the mountainous people.


“The thickness of Himalaya glaciers is decreasing day by day,” said Dr Walter Immerzeel, an associate professor of geosciences at Utrecht University.


Lakma Dolma Sherpa, vice chairperson (Sagarmatha chapter) of Climate Alliance of Himalayan Communities (CAHC), said Sherpa community people generally work as guides while climbers go to climb Everest and other peaks of Himalaya, but her husband along with others was killed in helicopter crash due to adverse weather in the mountain while guiding mountaineer last year.


Noting that the Himalaya is experiencing lack snowfall in recent years putting the lives of Sherpas, who guide mountaineers, at risk, she said that is why Sherpa community people are trying to change their long-practicing occupation to lead a safe life.


ICIMOD deputy director general  Dr Eklabya Sharma said the Himalaya high land has started becoming a cold desert due to climate change since the process of desertification is very high there.


Climate change is also forcing mountain people to change their food habit. Hilly people generally cultivate high-value mountainous food items, but now they are adopting plain land crops like paddy and wheat.


“Local traditional food cultivation is declining in mountainous areas. Now they are adopting plain land crops like paddy and wheat and taking those food items, putting them at risk of diabetics,” said ICIMOD livelihood theme leader Golam Rasul.


About impacts on lower riparian countries, assistant director of Bangladesh’s Department of Environment (DoE) Mes-babul Alam said if sea level rises by one metre in Bangladesh by 2050, about 18 percent of its coastal land will go under seawater displacing a huge number of coastal people.


Scientists observe that temperatures in the HKH have increased significantly faster than the global average, and are projected to increase by 1–2°C on average by 2050. Monsoon is expected to become longer and more erratic, and extreme rainfall events will likely increase in intensity. Glaciers found in the mountains are projected to lose substantial mass by 2050.


Over the same period, total river flow is not projected to decrease on average in volume, but spatial variability in volumes of water may become substantial. These climate variables do not only impact mountain communities, but also those downstream, as they are at greater risk of floods and other hazards.


Furthermore, local water sources can become less reliable, and water scarcity will be felt in some localities, potentially influencing local water management practices. The incidence of natural hazards such as floods, landslides, and dry spells is projected to increase, which will pose a threat to agricultural production, food security, and the safety of human lives and household assets.


Data the key


The conference was the first IPCC outreach event in Nepal, and featured a special youth-focused workshop on the first day in collaboration with the Himalayan Climate Initiative (HCI) and the Climate Alliance of Himalayan Communities (CAHC) as well as a media workshop. It brought together participants from all ICIMOD Regional Member countries.


During the four-day conference, opinions differed among participants about what courses of action to take. But there was wide consensus about the need for regional cooperation, multi-stakeholder partnership, and scientific data to generate consequential, evidenced-based policy and climate action at all levels of government in the HKH.


IPCC scientists presented data and answered questions related to the 5th Assessment Report cycle. This report presented compelling and comprehensive evidence that human influence on the climate system is clear and the more we disrupt our climate, the more we risk severe, pervasive and irreversible impacts. Despite this grim outlook, the IPCC also concludes that we have the means to limit climate change and build a more prosperous, sustainable future. The International Conference provided pathways for the 6th Assessment Report process and established linkages between the HKH and the IPCC bringing science into policy and practice.


IPCC scientists – Co-Chair of Working Group-I Dr Panmao Zhai, Vice-Chair of Working Group-II Dr Joy Jacqueline Pereira, Co-Chair of Working Group-III Prof Dr Priyadarshi R. Shukla, Coordinating Lead Author of AR5 Prof Joyashree Roy and others – presented different aspects of IPCC’s assessment during the conference.


Fu Fei of Chinese Academy of Meteorological Science said enhancing scientific cooperation and coordination is a must to generate more scientific data aiming to cope with adverse impacts of climate change in the HKH region.


Population and Environment Secretary  Dr Bishwa Nath Oli of Nepal emphasised the country’s efforts to promote climate-smart development, focusing on adaptation and mitigation efforts.


Vice-Chairman of Nepal’s National Planning Commission Dr Min Bahadur Shrestha said sustainable mountain development should be high on the development agenda for countries in the region.


ICIMOD’s Strategic Cooperation director Basanta Shrestha noted the importance of communicating and promoting the mountain agenda for the IPCC’s 6th Assessment Report cycle and highlighted the role of the mountain youth.


“Since youth are our future, they need to be involved in the debates so they can be well informed about climate science and fully engage as change agents at the local, national and international levels,” he said.


As the IPCC enters its 6th Assessment Report cycle, it is critically important that national and regional assessment and reporting contribute to the reporting process.


ICIMOD director general Dr David Molden focused on the potential for HKH countries to pool their resources and efforts to create a larger singular voice for mountain people.


“Mountain countries, like island states,” Molden told the audience, “can create a shared voice in climate negotiations to influence others to work together to reduce emissions.”


Positioned to contribute directly to the IPCC’s 6th Assessment Report cycle, ICIMOD has led the Hindu Kush Himalayan Monitoring and Assessment Programme (HIMAP) which brings together hundreds of scientists and policy experts from the region and around the world to address knowledge gaps in the HKH and chart a way forward.


HIMAP Coordinator Dr Philippus Wester explains that the HIMAP comprehensive assessment goes beyond climate change to assist with efforts to address threats, act on opportunities, and scale up cutting-edge approaches.

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