Director General's Speech

Indian Mountain Initiative

Sustainable Mountain Development Summit
Nainital 21 May 2011

Mr. Chairman, Honourable Governor, Ms. Margaret Alva

Honourable Members of Parliament


Esteemed Experts, Dear Friends, 

Ladies and Gentlemen 

I want to start by expressing my sincere thanks for inviting me to this important event. I accepted the invitation with joy, honour, and modesty. 

Joy to know that there is a strategic initiative like this starting in India that can act as a possible catalyst among all the people and institutions concerned with mountains in this changing world.

Honour, because I know the importance of the initiators, their integrity, and professionalism.

Modesty, as a simple mountain man, who has had the privilege to play a role in the promotion of the mountain world during the last four years and is now invited to India to share some of his thoughts -- India which for us is not just a country but a continent with an enormous wealth of important natural and human resources and an incredible cultural and environmental heritage.

Ladies and gentlemen, I come here as a friend, one who brings you all the sympathy and support from ICIMOD, and who will be very proud if we can be in a position to contribute to developing a common initiative for the mountains, our common heritage and future.

Let me start by thanking the conveners of the conference, the Central Himalayan Environment Association represented by Dr. Tolia, Chairman, and congratulating them on the Indian Himalaya Initiative. 

1. Outline: Climate change — New vulnerabilities and risks but also opportunities for the Himalayan region 

Excellencies, Ladies and Gentlemen, in the following minutes I would like to explain why I think the Indian Mountain Initiative is coming at a timely and auspicious moment, and why it presents a unique opportunity, not only for the Indian Himalayas, but also for mountains as a whole.

I will outline briefly what I think should be done at local, national, regional, and global level, and the role that ICIMOD could play. I will come then to the potential role that the Indian Mountain Initiative itself could play and conclude with a dream: the role that India could be playing at international level, as well as nationally.

While doing this I would like to emphasise the opportunities and challenges, and focus less on the risks and hazards that the mountain population faces.

2. We have a unique chance to present the Mountain Agenda.

What is the position of ‘mountains’ in the global arena? 

Professor Jodha has made a key contribution to the debate on sustainable mountain development. Already in the nineties, he identified the key characteristics of mountain systems, and especially the three key criteria of marginality, fragility, and inaccessibility and isolation. This helped draw attention to the need to consider mountain areas as a special case, where development required a special approach that took these characteristics into account. 

The Rio conference in 1992 successful introduced the principle that mountains were systems requiring particular attention. However, since then, the development agenda has become ever more global, favouring wall-to-wall carpet solutions for development. Structural adjustment, human rights, and MDGs have been the main flagships. The idea of developing ecosystem specific approaches and strategies was not a priority. The mountains that inspired Chapter 13 and the Mountain Conference of 2002 remained marginal in the international development agenda, and the advocates of sustainable mountain development remained a small group of specialists.

Now, since the early 21st century, we are experiencing a changing trend: mountains are again being seen as important and are gradually gaining more attention. There are a number of reasons.

Globalisation - Localisation: Globalisation is provoking migration and internationalisation of values and behaviour. However, at the same time we see a renaissance of local customs. The weakening nation state is opening the door for identification with local behaviour: cultural identity and religious values are gaining in importance. Favoured by remoteness and isolation, many mountains areas have developed and maintained to this day an extraordinary diversity of such cultures and traditions. 

Security and the war against terrorism: Mountain systems due to their relative isolation and marginality have also become areas of revolt and unrest. Some mountain regions have become a safe haven for terrorists.

Natural resources as a limiting factor: Economic growth and the increased consumption of natural resources are indicating that these commodities will become a limiting factor for development. Management of natural resources has become a top priority. Natural resources are becoming so scarce that their consumption should be factored into the national accounts! Water, for example, is now recognised to be a scarce resource, and disputes over water have the potential to lead not only to local problems but to armed conflicts. But the source of the great rivers of Asia, as in most continents, lies in the mountains. Similarly, one of the potential storehouses of treasures for the future lies within our biodiversity, this huge wealth of genetic resources that contain the key to maintenance of our natural systems and adaptation to change. Again, many of the most bio diverse hotspots in the world lie within the mountains. 

Climate change is an additional factor that is changing the balance substantially. Particularly in the Himalayan region, we can expect less rainy days but with the same total precipitation: more incidents of very heavy rainfall, and more and longer periods of drought. Biodiversity is coming under stress due to new invasive plants; soils are becoming more unstable due to increased instability of land cover. The Himalayan peaks deserve special attention: receding of glaciers, snow caps, and snow cover will influence the water discharge from the mountains and weaken the stabilising factors.

Taking these points together, it is clear that the resources of the mountains -- water, biodiversity, cultural diversity, mountains as the spiritual home of Gods -- are becoming more and more important.

This situation helps us to make two points for the way forward: the mountains are increasingly considered as a source of important and essential ecosystem services; and the development discussion internationally is focusing insistently on climate change.

The political environment is not propitious for sweeping international agreements aiming at reducing the causes of climate change -- reducing greenhouse gases or mitigation -- and places more weight on adaptation. This creates room for ecosystem specific strategies. Mountains need mountain specific adaptation strategies. Ladies and gentlemen, for the first time since Rio in 1992 we are in a situation where we are called upon to develop mountain specific policies, and there are fair chances that we can get financial support for their implementation! 

The IPCC Report No 4 of 2007 barely mentions the Himalayas, and what the report does say is not all very scientific. We have suffered the consequence in the controversy around the glaciers in 2009. Talking to the scientists, they complain about not having sufficient and reliable data. We have a deficit of robust scientific information about our mountain regions. This information is important for the design of investments in productive and economic infrastructure; it is important for the assessment of the availability of water for the planning of resources; it is essential for establishing a baseline for climate change; and finally, it is important for the international discussion. The towering Himalayas are a landmark in the climate change discussion and an excellent indicator for the effects of climate change and the relevance of atmospheric brown clouds and black carbon.

3. Revisiting sustainable mountain development

There is now a consensus that we need more research. However, I do not think that we can afford to wait for the results of science before becoming active. Adaptation has to start now!

But do we have the institutions and the policies in place to promote adaptation? It seems to me that we are assisting in a wide-scale rebranding of the programmes of rural development which we tend now to call adaptation to climate change. Those specialised in sustainable mountain development continue to be fascinated by the biophysical aspects of change. We are talking of mountain friendly technologies. But didn’t we develop green roads, micro hydro projects, and alternative technologies in the 70s? Do you remember ‘Small is beautiful’? What we need today are mountain friendly policies that will allow us to apply these mountain friendly technologies. 

We should not forget that the mountain agenda has evolved since Rio. We are facing problems of poverty and migration, as well as new perceptions of the rural urban continuum. Mountains have remained fragile and inaccessible. The mountain population is subjected to enormous changes and stress. The young, as far as they are still living in the mountains, are dreaming of becoming urban, in both mentality and expectations. Economic and technical innovation in the mountains is hindered by the absence of men at their most dynamic age.

Ladies and gentlemen, I see that both our knowledge and our institutions are ill prepared for the new challenges. In 1992 science preceded the politicians. Today we have the impression: that polices are preceding science.

4. How can we enhance the opportunities?

I see action required at local, national, regional, and global levels.

Locally, we have to understand the dynamics of change in rural mountain areas and see what adaptation to climate change means. We have to understand the links between poverty, livelihoods, the mountain environment, and global change. We need to be aware that local people traditionally read the landscape and understand the hazards. We must capture and learn, and even more important, associate ourselves with the forces strengthening local communities and supporting their livelihoods. But at local level we also need to be innovative and creative: the drivers of changes are creating stresses that can no longer be dealt with simply using local experience. We need to strengthen the interface between local competence and local knowledge, and invest in capacity development of local government and civil servants.

At the national level, the question is how we can convince the national authorities about the importance of mountains. Here again, we need knowledge. Happily the National Action Plan for Adaptation to Climate Change includes a chapter for the Himalayas. The mandate includes analysis and research into glaciers, the government has decided to create a centre for glaciology. But we need more: we have to show the importance of the mountains in the form of all the ecosystem services they deliver to the country as a whole. The information gathered and the knowledge acquired need to be converted into actionable measures and policies.

At the regional level, climate change has shown that regional transboundary cooperation is a must. All atmospheric pollution is by definition a transboundary issue. And the common heritage of the mountains does not stop at national borders either -- plants, animals, water, forests, even cultures, all extend across boundaries and are affected by the actions in neighbouring locations. Exchange of information and experience and knowledge platforms are essential. Regional cooperation has to overcome mistrust and sensitivities. While respecting sensitivities, we must also be able to show the advantages of regional cooperation.

At the global level, we might need to make a difference between mitigation and adaptation for climate change. For mitigation, India has a particular agenda at global level shared with the BLIC countries. However, we think that in adaptation, India may have a unique opportunity to become a world leader. In mitigation, India already has a leading programme for the observation of greenhouse gases and black carbon. India also has an exemplary policy concerning the Himalayan states and other hotspots of climate change, and is leading in aspects of biodiversity conservation and management. With the Green India Mission, the country is developing an autonomous experience of a green economy. We should also show and document what a green economy can mean specifically to the mountains. 

5. A common effort is needed by all stakeholders 

Sustainable mountain development is a concept which has to be considered in local, regional, and global terms. It is part of the global sustainable development agenda and has its particular relevance in the interdependence between the mountain situation and the downstream areas. 

The Hindu Kush-Himalayan mountain system is not only important for the 200 million mountain people, it is also essential for the reduction of vulnerabilities downstream. What happens in these mountains affects nearly 1.2 billion people -- one fifth of the world’s population -- living in the downstream river basins, and up to three billion indirectly in terms of food and energy production. The impact on climate and weather patterns is felt even further away. Securing food security in South Asia implies ensuring the availability of the water resources of the Hindu Kush-Himalayas!

Awareness creation and advocacy work is a precondition to having the Mountain Agenda heard. It is important that the political authorities recognise the importance of the Himalayan mountain system; this will require special advocacy work by civil society, and even more by the governments of the Himalayan States.

At the same time, we have to develop concrete solutions and ways forward. We must promote risk assessment and hazard mapping and new approaches to watershed development, intensify water harvesting, and use the wealth of biodiversity for the development of marketable attractive niche products. We need to develop creative new technologies for water harvesting and reduction of black carbon.

Concrete solutions and opportunities include approaches such as developing systems of compensation for maintaining mountain services, and helping mountain dwellers participate more equally in the global economy. The initiative of the CBD COP 10 in Nagoya included consideration of the use of natural resources. We should know the value of the ecosystem services provided by the Hindu Kush-Himalayas at both country and regional levels. The recognition of mountain biodiversity as a specific topic by the CBD in 2005 should be taken as an opportunity to develop a rationale for provision of compensation by the beneficiaries. Mountain people can be helped to profit more from their products and services through development and strengthening of mountain specific value chains for medicinal and aromatic herbs, non timber forest products, and others, and developing mountain specific high value crops and services; many of these can be enhanced by the demand of the growing urban market for healthy and organic food.

Climate change today is recognised as a global issue, a concern of humanity. International negotiations on the UN conventions on climate change, biodiversity, and desertification play a pivotal role in the allocation of global resources. However, in the UNFCCC process, mountains are still not considered to be an ecosystem requiring particular attention. In 2012, Rio +20 will be of strategic importance. In 1992, industrialised countries, particularly Switzerland, pushed for recognition of the mountain system (Chapter 13 of Agenda 21), but we cannot expect the same after 20 years. The industrialised countries tend to define their position differently. The countries of the Hindu Kush-Himalayas should take the initiative and join with the South American Andean countries to highlight the need to consider mountain systems with a differentiated approach. Here, national initiatives such as the Indian Himalayan initiative constitute a concrete element, which together with the Himalayan states will enrich the Indian political position.

The two key topics for the Rio +20 conference are the green economy and governance. If we want mountains to gain due attention in the future and play their essential part in sustainable development, then we have to show what the green economy can mean for mountain systems, and we must be able to show what mountains can contribute to making the global economy greener. 

6. Conclusions

Ladies and gentlemen, we have a unique chance for the promotion of sustainable mountain development -- the Mountain Agenda -- in India. We have a National Action Plan on Climate Change, we have the different missions which need t o be defined -- Green India Mission, India Water Mission -- we have the Indian Network for Atmospheric Pollution. Our task is to make sure that the mountains, and the Himalayas in particular, are duly reflected in these policies and strategies.

But we need more. While recognising that in mitigation India has to defend its position together with likeminded countries in the international agenda, we should help the Government of India to take the lead in terms of adaptation. We must make sure that the Indian mountains, as well as the whole Hindu Kush-Himalayan mountain system, are a cornerstone for making our economy greener. Sustainable mountain development, and ensuring that the green mountain economy remains green both for the benefit of the mountain people as well as for the city dwellers and for all of us, is the noble task we have.

India has its legitimate interests to defend. The Himalayas are an essential part of this. They can help India become a global champion for the mountains. I am confident that India will develop its version of a green economy which includes the mountains. The Indian Mountain Initiative has the opportunity to promote this. We in ICIMOD will be proud to be associated with this effort, and we are convinced that together we can achieve what we are gathering here for: the sustainable mountain development essential for the prosperous future of India. 

Jai Hind