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4 Feb 2019 | HIMAP

#HKHAssessment

David James Molden

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On 4 February 2019, we officially launched the Hindu Kush Himalaya Assessment report, which is undoubtedly a major milestone for ICIMOD. This first-of-its-kind comprehensive assessment report of the Hindu Kush Himalayan (HKH) region has been more than five years in the making and involved over 350 scientists and researchers from within the region and beyond. Spread over 16 chapters, this assessment report looks into everything from the current impact and drivers of climate change to the issues surrounding food, water, energy, biodiversity, poverty, gender, and migration experienced in the HKH region as a whole.

A number of the findings emanating from this assessment report are worrisome. For example, it is now clear that the warming experienced in mountain environments is greater and increases more rapidly as compared with global averages. This means that even if we were to take action such that we could reduce overall global warming to achieve the highly ambitious +1.5 °C global target set in the Paris Agreement in 2015, the warming in the mountains would be closer to +2 °C by 2100.

This is already too much. The impact of a 2 °C increase in the HKH would have significant spillover effects. The first and foremost would be on our glaciers, which are essential water towers for close to 1.65 billion people living downstream. Even in the most optimistic scenario of +1.5 °C globally, we are likely to see a third of the glaciers disappear. What is worse is that our monsoon patterns are also likely to change, with increased rainfall in shorter periods of time on the one hand and prolonged droughts on the other. This in turn would have implications for potential hazards and disasters like landslides and flashfloods. Already, mountain people, who have shown incredible adaptability, are highly vulnerable – in the mountains, the poverty rate is a full one-third of the mountain population, and among those people, 50% experience malnourishment. There are also much higher levels of outmigration from the mountains.

The Hindu Kush Himalaya Assessment report – backed by strong science – has established some of the challenges we are likely to face in the 21st century. But it also gives hope and opportunity for the HKH region to start working on solutions. These will have to happen on multiple levels. For example, at the community level, solutions like the Flood Early Warning System will play a critical role in preventing loss of lives and livelihoods, and there are opportunities to build resilience through high-value mountain products. At the national level, governments and policymakers will need to focus and invest in tackling air pollution and biodiversity loss. At the regional level, HKH member countries have to band together to cooperate with one another as many of the impacts and opportunities highlighted by the assessment report are shared between countries and are transboundary in nature. In fact, we have already noted increasing cooperation around ecosystem management and the science of climate change. And at the global level, the message from the mountains and the realities here will need to be clear and loud such that the voices of the people here do not go unnoticed.

A number of the findings emanating from this assessment report are worrisome. For example, it is now clear that the warming experienced in mountain environments is greater and increases more rapidly as compared with global averages. This means that even if we were to take action such that we could reduce overall global warming to achieve the highly ambitious +1.5 °C global target set in the Paris Agreement in 2015, the warming in the mountains would be closer to +2 °C by 2100.

This is already too much. The impact of a 2 °C increase in the HKH would have significant spillover effects. The first and foremost would be on our glaciers, which are essential water towers for close to 1.65 billion people living downstream. Even in the most optimistic scenario of +1.5 °C globally, we are likely to see a third of the glaciers disappear. What is worse is that our monsoon patterns are also likely to change, with increased rainfall in shorter periods of time on the one hand and prolonged droughts on the other. This in turn would have implications for potential hazards and disasters like landslides and flashfloods. Already, mountain people, who have shown incredible adaptability, are highly vulnerable – in the mountains, the poverty rate is a full one-third of the mountain population, and among those people, 50% experience malnourishment. There are also much higher levels of outmigration from the mountains.

The Hindu Kush Himalaya Assessment report – backed by strong science – has established some of the challenges we are likely to face in the 21st century. But it also gives hope and opportunity for the HKH region to start working on solutions. These will have to happen on multiple levels. For example, at the community level, solutions like the Flood Early Warning System will play a critical role in preventing loss of lives and livelihoods, and there are opportunities to build resilience through high-value mountain products. At the national level, governments and policymakers will need to focus and invest in tackling air pollution and biodiversity loss. At the regional level, HKH member countries have to band together to cooperate with one another as many of the impacts and opportunities highlighted by the assessment report are shared between countries and are transboundary in nature. In fact, we have already noted increasing cooperation around ecosystem management and the science of climate change. And at the global level, the message from the mountains and the realities here will need to be clear and loud such that the voices of the people here do not go unnoticed.

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