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A key global asset under threat: Experts highlight the biocultural diversity of the HKH, call for harmonizing conservation and development

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A key global asset under threat

 

The Hindu Kush Himalayan (HKH) region is threatened by climate and other changes, and coordinated action is needed to save it, warned experts from five mountain countries of Asia. They were speaking at a session on 29 October titled The Hindu Kush Himalayan Call for Action: Maintaining the ‘Pulse of the Planet’ at the GLF Biodiversity Digital Conference: One World – One Health organized by the Global Landscapes Forum (GLF).

The One World – One Health concept is of immense significance at this time, as it advocates the role of biodiversity in preventing future crises of global pandemics and climate change.

The Hindu Kush Himalaya is referred to as the pulse of the planet since changes to its cryosphere and biodiversity are a barometer of climate and environmental change across the world. It is a key global asset, sustaining the lives and livelihoods of nearly 2 billion people.

We hosted the session on the HKH Call to Action to highlight the links between biodiversity, landscapes, culture, and health in a post-COVID “new normal”. We also wanted to draw attention to the environmental, socio-cultural, and economic value of the HKH region and the challenges presented by climate and other changes.

The GLF is the world’s largest knowledge-led platform on sustainable landscapes. This year’s conference, which was digital owing to the COVID-19 pandemic, was held on 28 and 29 October and brought together top scientists, environmental practitioners, policymakers, banks, corporates, indigenous peoples, and local communities to discuss and showcase means to “build back better”. The conference hosted six plenaries, 23 sessions, and over 200 speakers this year to discuss global challenges related to biodiversity, ecosystem restoration, and public health.

Speaking at the session, Pema Gyamtsho, Director General, ICIMOD, highlighted the uniqueness of the HKH, particularly its rich biocultural diversity and the associated traditional and indigenous knowledge systems that continue to be practiced. Gyamtsho underlined ICIMOD’s commitment to improving the well-being of communities in the HKH through three strategic areas of impact: reducing poverty, enhancing resilience by reducing physical and social vulnerabilities, and enhancing ecosystem services.

Gyamtsho also touched upon the complex challenges facing the HKH especially population growth, unsustainable development, migration and climate change, with COVID-19 further compounding these challenges.

In his keynote presentation, Eklabya Sharma, Deputy Director General, highlighted the HKH Call to Action, which provides a roadmap for the region with six urgent actions as pathways to prosperity. These six urgent actions emphasize greater regional cooperation, recognizing and prioritizing the uniqueness of HKH mountain people, taking concerted action to keep global warming below 1.5°C, accelerated actions towards realizing the SDGs, enhancing ecosystem resilience, and facilitating greater data and information sharing. Sharma also shared ICIMOD’s ongoing efforts in four transboundary landscapes in the HKH, using a landscape approach across boundaries to manage biodiversity and ecosystems and achieve conservation at scale.

A panel of speakers from Bhutan, China, India, Nepal, and Pakistan addressed critical questions related to biodiversity conservation and sustainable development in the HKH. They highlighted the need for water conservation, reversing land degradation, ecosystem restoration involving local communities, documenting traditional knowledge systems, and strengthening scientific capacity in the HKH.

The panel included Mehjabeen Abidi-Habib, ecologist and writer from Pakistan; Sarala Khaling, Regional Director, Ashoka Trust for Research in Ecology and the Environment, Eastern Himalaya Programme, India; Fu Yao, Kunming Institute of Botany, China; Sonam Tashi Lama, Red Panda Network, Nepal; and Jamyang Dolkar, Sherubtse College, Royal University of Bhutan.

While summing up the discussions and presenting the way forward, Nakul Chettri, Regional Programme Manager – Transboundary Landscapes, ICIMOD, emphasized the need to strengthen relations between biodiversity, culture and health by linking science, policy, and practice, and by working at local, national, regional and global levels. He reiterated that such approach is important to ensure prosperity and wellbeing of the mountain communities.

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