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Follow up on the HKH Ministerial Declaration
22 February 2021
Philippus Wester , Udayan Mishra & Bhawana Syangden
Urgent steps are required to sustain mountain environments and improve livelihoods in the Hindu Kush Himalaya (HKH). Extending 3,500 km over eight countries, from Afghanistan in the west to Myanmar in the east and crossing Pakistan, India, China, Nepal, Bhutan and Bangladesh, the HKH is one of the world’s greatest mountain systems: home to the world’s highest peaks, unique cultures, diverse flora and fauna, and a vast reserve of natural resources. The HKH directly supports the livelihoods of over 240 million people living in its hills and mountains, and it yields many benefits to the 1.65 billion people living downstream. As the source of 10 major Asian rivers, the HKH provides essential resources, especially water and biodiversity, to 1.9 billion people. Its waters irrigate the grain baskets of Asia.
The HKH is a vital regional lifeline, but human drivers and climate change pose grave and immediate threats to the region’s livelihoods, biodiversity, and ultimately sustainability. Changes on the rooftop of the world are having and will continue to have major consequences, not only for the region but globally. Local, national, regional, and global actions are urgently needed to sustain this global asset, focusing on substantially increased investments and more robust regional cooperation for sustaining mountain environments and improving livelihoods in the HKH and concerted action to limit global warming to 1.5°C by 2100.
The Hindu Kush Himalayan Monitoring and Assessment Programme (HIMAP) is a long-term, integrated science–policy initiative coordinated by the International Centre for Integrated Mountain Development (ICIMOD). Under HIMAP, more than 350 leading researchers, practitioners, and policy specialists working on the HKH, from 22 countries and 185 organizations, came together to develop the first HKH Assessment, published open access in early 2019 by Springer, to assess the state of the HKH and consider its future prospects. The common purpose of the assessment has been to collate and assess knowledge of the mountainous areas of the HKH, and to promote awareness and appreciation of the HKH as a global asset with unique human and economic value for both mountain and downstream communities.
The HKH Assessment reflects five years of research, review, and analysis. The assessment was drafted in response to requests from governments in the region – meeting a demand for a comprehensive assessment of the region’s mountains, environments and livelihoods, and their status and their future. While more information and data will lead to better decision making, the HKH Assessment concludes that we know enough to take action, and that action is urgently needed.
Based on the key findings of the HKH Assessment, the HKH Call to Action was developed as a roadmap for the future of the HKH region. Through a series of HKH Call to Action Consultations in ICIMOD’s regional member countries held from April to November 2019, the key findings and main messages of the HKH Assessment and the HKH Call to Action were shared with a larger audience with the aim of building momentum for more robust regional cooperation and a roadmap for achieving the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) in the HKH mountains. During these consultations, think tanks, senior experts, and high-level decision makers discussed the key findings of the HKH Assessment report, debated and validated its Call to Action, and charted a way forward for more robust regional cooperation around mountains to sustain this globally critical region.
The response to both the HKH Assessment and the HKH Call to Action has been very positive and has already led to the following results:
A decision was taken at the ICIMOD Board of Governors meeting in September 2019 to explore the possibilities of organizing an HKH Ministerial Mountain Summit in the first half of 2020. It was also decided to form an interim Task Force, consisting of representatives nominated by ICIMOD’s Regional Board Members, to prepare for the HKH Ministerial Mountain Summit. The first meeting of the interim task force was held on 29 November 2019 at Kathmandu, Nepal to discuss the HKH Call to Action, lay the groundwork for the proposed Summit, and prepare a draft declaration for the Summit for consideration in each of 8 HKH countries.
The HKH Ministerial Mountain Summit was scheduled on 28 April 2020. However due to the COVID-19 pandemic, this was postponed. Given the extended pandemic situation and lockdowns in the HKH countries, the HKH Ministerial Mountain Summit was held in virtual mode on 15 October 2020. The summit was attended by the ministers from all 8 countries who signed the Ministerial Declaration to provide a road map for taking forward the HKH Call to Action.
The Ministerial Declaration on the HKH Call to Action agreed
Based on the Ministerial Declaration, nominations to the Task Force have been received from the HKH countries and it can start its work. The first meeting of the Task Force therefore aims to provide (a) orientation and context to the Task Force members about the HKH Assessment, Call to Action, and the Ministerial Declaration, and (b) discuss the role, plan of work and key actions of the Task Force in 2021.