International Conference on

Mountain People Adapting to Change

Solutions Beyond Boundaries Bridging 
Science, 
Policy, and Practice
Kathmandu, Nepal
9 - 12 November 2014

Director General's speech

9 November 2014

  • Rt. Honourable Prime Minister, Sushil Koirala
  • Members of Parliament from Regional Member Countries
  • Vice Chair of the National Planning Commission of Nepal, and ICIMOD Board Member Govind Raj Pokharel
  • Ambassadors
  • Our Co-Organiser, Secretary of the Ministry of Science, Technology and Environment, Nepal, Krishna Chandra Paudel
  • Representatives of the government of Nepal and other government officials
  • Local and international participants from 22 countries from around the world, including the  8 ICIMOD Regional countries,
  • ICIMOD Colleagues and Friends 

Welcome all of you to ICIMOD.  Thank you all for joining us, and spending your time and energy focusing on the topic of Mountains and People, and adaptation.

Why mountains? The Hindu Kush Himalayan region stretches from the Hindu Kush mountains in Afghanistan, to the Karakorum, to the Himalayan arch stretching from Pakistan, India, Nepal, Bhutan, clear to Myanmar. It includes the Tibetan Plateau covering vast lands in China and other countries. It embraces the associated hills, including the Chittagong Hill Tracts in Bangladesh. These countries make up the Regional Member Countries of ICIMOD.

The HKH Mountains are the resource base for the 210 million people of the mountains, and also provide services to the 1.3 billion people living downstream, in 10 major river basins. About 3 to 4 billion people indirectly rely on the food and energy produced from HKH resources. Mountains are a place of incredible diversity, with four of the world’s biodiversity hotspots. Our future food security will depend on the agricultural diversity hidden in mountain areas. There is also an incredible diversity of people with over 1000 living languages. Mountain people have developed a huge diversity of options to adapt to numerous different mountain environments. Indeed many of our solutions on how to adapt are already here in the mountains, and an easy win seems to be to re-discover these and share that knowledge.

The HKH region is known as the Third Pole or the Water towers of Asia. HKH Glaciers hold about 6,000 cubic kilometers of water, enough water reserves to irrigate the world for two years. There is huge energy potential of mountains, and also a tremendous desire to tap that potential to meet growing demand in the plains. 

Mountains are clearly a global resource. But we have inordinate expectations from the 210 million mountain and hill people who in essence are custodians of that resource. 

Mountain people are experiencing change at an unprecedented rate. Fragile mountain ecosystems, already with high rates of poverty, are highly vulnerable to climate change. We see and feel this impact on our ecosystems, glaciers, agricultural systems and livelihoods. Adding to climate change, air pollution contributes to glacier melt and negatively impacts human health and growth of crops. The hazards of floods and droughts increases with changing weather patterns. In addition to climate change, there are a range of socio-economic transformations including globalization, market forces and urbanization. One result is the large outmigration of mountain people, especially men, from their rural homes.  This conference deals with change, not just climate change, but all kinds of changes that mountain areas are witnessing. 

Change brings opportunities. If people are migrating they are also sending back money and bringing skills home. Could we better tap into those human and financial resources while reducing the negative impacts of migration? With urbanization there must be new and bigger markets for high valued mountain products, and is there a better way to link rural mountain people with markets for improved livelihoods?  If mountains provide ecosystems services, could the custodians of those resources be paid for their services?  Can we put to use our best brains and technologies to develop solutions?

Can we dare to cross boundaries – between disciplines, between policy and practice, and between countries to develop transformative knowledge?

In this conference, let us move beyond the description of the problem, to putting our heads together to find solutions that will bring about positive and transformative change. 

ICIMOD stands for mountains and people. Our vision is that men, women and children of the HKH enjoy improved well-being in a healthy mountain environment.  Essentially our mission is to contribute to that vision through knowledge and regional cooperation.  

It is through knowledge, ideas, innovation, partnerships, and sharing that we make a difference. We bring together diverse stakeholders, striving for more regional collaboration. 

Authors of the IPCC AR 5 recognize that this region is data deficient. The good news is that knowledge gaps are being filled, and I am pleased that people from this region are generating the good science to move forward, many of you who are in the audience today.

But there is a critical concern, and that is how to make sure the knowledge is useful and being used. Thus the sub-theme of the conference is bridging science with policy and practice.

A question I hope that this conference grapples with is how to move science-based evidence into policy, and how this knowledge can be made more useful for action.

Action has to happen at all scales. We have to deal across scale from communities to nations, to this region and the globe.  It is important to bring the message of the mountains to the global community. The results of this conference will feed into various global processes like the upcoming Climate Change convention (UNFCCC). 

So, what do we hope we gain from this conference?

First, from our interactions, we will develop new understandings and ideas that will help in the process of adapting to change.

Second, we will find ways to ensure that knowledge products are effectively used in policy and practice.

Third, this event will help to enhance networks and communities of practice. 

And finally, the messages we develop here, will also be the ones we can take to the global community.

Let me thank all of our Regional Member Country Governments and Sponsors for giving us the opportunity for this event. 

Thank you once again for coming, and I wish all of us a productive event.