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International Mountain Day 2021

Pema Gyamtsho

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This year, we celebrate the 18th International Mountain Day, with the theme ‘sustainable mountain tourism’. In the Hindu Kush Himalaya (HKH), mountain tourism is linked with the health of landscapes, ecosystems, communities, and the economy. Mountain tourism supports industries, businesses, and communities, and contributes to a wide range of jobs for a skilled and semi-skilled workforce, especially women. But above all, it supports the growth of small businesses, in particular the micro-small-medium enterprises (MSMEs) that are a lifeline for mountain communities.


Mountain tourism and vulnerabilities

Mountain tourism operates in a complex landscape and is vulnerable to external shocks, particularly those brought on by the climate crisis and, as we have experienced recently, the COVID-19 pandemic. Within a span of six months, our Regional Member Countries (RMCs) witnessed extreme climate events of biblical scale and impacts. We are witnessing a new climate regime, where extremes have become the new normal – record and monsoon like rainfall in Delhi India in Maydeadly flash floods in Melamchi; Nepal in June; heavy rainfall and flash flood in Henan Province, China and in Maharashtra India in July; typhoon In-Fa in Zhejiang Province, China in late July; and the unusual extreme rainfall in Nepal and heavy rainfall and deadly floods in South India, in October. Our flagship report, the Hindu Kush Himalaya Assessment suggests that we are heading to a warming world. For our region, even 1.5°C will be too hot since elevation dependent warming will mean higher temperatures for the higher elevations. In the HKH, the cost of adapting to climate shocks is huge and could range between USD 3.2-4.6 billion per year by 2030 and USD 5.5-7.8 billion by 2050.

The pandemic further exposed how dependent mountain economies are on tourism. The nation-wide lockdowns and restrictions on travel resulted in plummeted tourist numbers and disrupted supply chains, economies, and businesses, especially in our mountain regions. The combined shocks of climate change and the pandemic have shaken mountain tourism. Not only must the tourism stakeholders now protect the health of employees and customers, but they must also navigate the disruptions to their operations, plan for revival and recovery, and prepare to reimagine businesses and services for the next normal. Given this, safeguarding mountain tourism, particularly the MSMEs and tourism-dependent communities, becomes critically important.


Green recovery and resilient mountain tourism

At ICIMOD, we view the climate crisis and the pandemic as opportunities for mountain tourism stakeholders to place climate resilience and green recovery at the heart of building back. We have learned that climate-resilient green recovery of mountain tourism should focus on three important areas: innovation, entrepreneurship, and investment. As part of the revival and green recovery process, the stakeholders – government, industry, businesses, financial institutions, research and academic entities, and the local community – must come together to reimagine post-pandemic mountain tourism into one that promotes green, resilient, and inclusive development and conservation.

Furthermore, through the development of bankable business models, tourism entrepreneurs can redefine business resilience and sustainability fit for a low-carbon tourism economy and guide mountain tourism to greener pathways through green job creation. Policy innovation, especially the development of return-on-investment frameworks (informed by environment, social and governance factors) can help leverage financial investment and improve transparency and accountability of finance to enterprises promoting green, resilient, and inclusive economy.

The key to the sustainable future of mountain tourism in the region therefore lies in a low-carbon tourism economy. MSMEs are critical stakeholders in the regional and local mountain tourism economy of the region, and clean energy can assist them in building resilience against climate change and contribute to more sustainable mountain tourism. The goal of a net zero carbon world in 2050 is expected to shift the entire nature of the economy. Given this, a low-carbon tourism economy provides our RMCs with the opportunity to achieve their targets while ensuring a green, resilient, and inclusive mountain tourism. Our priorities under green recovery of mountain tourism must include: i) reducing GHG emissions, ii) reaching the targets set under the Paris Agreement, iii) maximizing sustainability outcomes and achieving HKH specific SDGs, iv) prioritizing climate actions, and v) promoting carbon neutrality

As we celebrate the 18th International Mountain Day, I would like to reiterate ICIMOD’s commitment to promoting a climate-resilient, sustainable mountain tourism agenda for a low-carbon tourism economy. We cannot predict when and where the next climate disaster or pandemic outbreak will strike, but our experience tells us that these extreme events and shocks are likely to be the new normal. Hence, we need to focus on building a green, resilient, and inclusive economy as a part of the recovery process for sustainable mountain tourism in the region.

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