High-level meeting identifies five HKH priorities for COP28
The Hindu Kush Himalayan (HKH) region boasts breathtaking mountain ranges, rich cultural heritage, diverse wildlife, and vast natural resources – all of which are threatened by disproportionately heightened climate change impacts. The HKH region, being at the top of the world, acts as a barometer of the planet’s health, as changes happen here before they happen anywhere else. It is time we all came together to protect this vital region – the pulse of the planet.
Udayan Mishra & Kundan Shrestha
10 mins Read
Delegates from the HKH countries, including UNFCCC national focal points and HKH High-Level Task Force members – along with policy makers, scientists, development partners, and representatives from civil society, the private sector, and youth networks – met in March 2023 to articulate a collective mountain voice to highlight the deepening climate crisis in the HKH and the need for increased investment and a regional cooperation mechanism for the region.
The two-day consultation – held at the ICIMOD headquarters in Kathmandu, Nepal – led to an agreement on five priorities for unified messaging in the run-up to the UNFCCC’s COP28, taking place later this year in Dubai. These priorities will be reviewed and consulted with partners in the upcoming consultations, and refined with a more strategic focus to be taken to COP28.
The HKH region supports the livelihoods of 240 million people living in the mountains, and 1.65 billion people living downstream. This means that almost one-fourth of humanity benefits from the rivers emanating from the HKH and the resultant ecosystem services that give nourishment and life. The region is particularly vulnerable to the impacts of climate change, making it crucial for networks and alliances to work together – regionally and globally – to develop and promote solutions with tangible impacts.
The fast-changing climate is having devastating impacts on the region’s environmental and socioeconomic stability, resulting in catastrophic changes: water insecurity, food shortages, increased disasters, biodiversity loss, increasing shocks, rising poverty, among a host of other cascading issues.
“The HKH is a hotspot for climate change due to the region’s fragility and is facing a triple planetary crisis of climate change, biodiversity loss, and pollution. Now is the time for the HKH countries and global mountain regions to cooperate and collaborate to tackle these challenges.” – Min Bahadur Shrestha, Vice-Chair, National Planning Commission, Nepal
In a cruel irony, those who are most at risk from climate change impacts are generally those who have made the smallest contribution to the emissions and decisions driving climate change. For instance, air pollution – one of the myriad challenges confronting communities in the HKH – is worsening in South Asia (including the HKH region) but decreasing in many regions around the world. Further, given the linkages between climate change mitigation and air pollution abatement strategies, it is important to build stronger collaboration between climate change and air pollution initiatives. Developing airshed-focused activities (such as the recent Kathmandu Roadmap agreement, organised by ICIMOD and the World Bank) would enable stronger emission reductions and improved air quality as opposed to city- or state-centric approaches. We need to act on air pollution – and other pressing challenges in the HKH region – as transboundary issues requiring regional cooperation.
“Despite their negligible contribution to the climate crisis, countries from the HKH region face significant challenges. Nepal is committed to climate action.” – Rewati Raman Poudel, Acting Secretary, Ministry of Forest and Environment, Nepal
Effective transboundary information-sharing systems, regional knowledge hubs, joint technical working groups for collaboration, and investment in the HKH region are crucial for addressing transboundary challenges and highlighting the region’s importance in global discourses. The HKH countries must effectively and collaboratively contribute to UNFCCC processes to voice common concerns of mountains in the upcoming IPCC assessment reports.
ICIMOD recently reviewed the national climate and environment policies of the HKH region, taking into account the HKH Call to Action and the HKH countries’ obligations to international conventions. The implementation status of the UNFCCC and the Paris Agreement varies among the HKH countries, with some already achieving net zero targets. However, for others, most mitigation and adaptation targets are conditional to the availability of finance.
At the consultation in Kathmandu, the participants recommended action in the spheres of investment, policy, capacity, information, and communication to reduce climate risks and propel green, inclusive, and climate-resilient mountain economies.
“Our scientists and policymakers are already coming together to discuss climate change impacts in the HKH region. Let’s all come together to take a collective HKH voice to COP28.” – Pema Gyamtsho, Director General, ICIMOD
Regional cooperation drives coherent policy responses to regional issues and promotes a unified voice from the HKH region on global platforms. There is much to learn from ongoing multilateral cooperation mechanisms such as the Alpine Convention, Carpathian Convention, and the Arctic Council established by mountain countries in other parts of the world.
A proposed high-level institutional mechanism like the HKH Council would be an effective instrument to foster regional cooperation and collaboration among the HKH countries. The HKH Ministerial Mountain Summit, HKH Science-Policy Forum, and HKH High-Level Task Force (HLTF), aim to enhance the uptake of scientific evidence for informed decision making on local as well transboundary issues. The HKH HLTF members are working to submit their final draft Recommendation Report on the HKH Council to the second Ministerial Mountain Summit in October 2023.
The HKH region faces several disaster-related challenges such as multi-hazard environments, climate change, upstream–downstream linkages, connectivity, and governance. ICIMOD is working with stakeholders to develop a roadmap for regional cooperation on disaster risk reduction (DRR) to address these issues.
“ICIMOD’s institutional transition to align with global climate and biodiversity commitments is commendable. We need to work together for urgent climate action and climate finance, which are essential to delivering investment commitments in the HKH region.” – Nicola Pollitt, British Ambassador to Nepal
Mountain communities in the HKH face cascading natural disasters, and limited buy-in from basin countries towards upstream–downstream linkages is a challenge. The lack of scientific evidence and shared benefits hinders effective policies and decision making. Opportunities for improvement include recognising transboundary risks, promoting regional cooperation, and enhancing DRR efficiency.
“ICIMOD has been generating scientific knowledge to support policy making in the region and to lead the mountain agenda globally.” – Pem Kandel, Chief Policy Advisor, ICIMOD
According to the UN, ‘loss and damage’ refers to the negative impacts of climate change that occur despite, or in the absence of, mitigation and adaptation. To address this, affected countries need to prepare strategies and plans at regional and national levels and involve multiple stakeholders, including finance providers, civil society, and community members. Inclusivity, institutional mechanisms, coordination, and community awareness are important for long-term adaptation actions and effective disaster prevention.
Climate finance has become increasingly crucial. Despite this, the HKH countries have received only a small percentage of global climate funds.
In order to identify and propose target-bound investment opportunities in the HKH, ICIMOD is developing a framework for investments known as ‘Mountains of Opportunity Investment Framework’ (MOIF) to bring together experts and decision-makers to promote evidence-led investments.
The MOIF aims to build an alliance of knowledge, development, and investors to channel climate and environment investment towards mountain-specific climate priorities.
“Climate and environmental issues remain a top priority for the Government of the United Kingdom, which has mobilised funds for international climate finance, nature, and adaptation. The recently launched Climate Action for Resilient Asia (CARA) programme supports adaptation in the Indo-Pacific region, focusing on policy, solutions, and investment.” – John Warburton, Head of Climate Change and Environment at the Indo-Pacific Regional Department of the British High Commission, New Delhi, India
Representatives from the HKH countries, members of the HKH HLTF, the UNFCCC national focal points, and youth leaders also acknowledged ICIMOD’s efforts in bringing all stakeholders together in designing a roadmap to COP28.
“This consultation workshop organised by ICIMOD has been very useful in highlighting the climate challenges faced by the HKH region. We all need to come together to respond to these challenges by acting urgently with joint voices and by taking necessary actions against shocks of climate-induced disasters. The institutional mechanism recommended by the HLTF can be very effective in enhancing regional cooperation among the HKH countries.” – Sayed Ahmad Khalid Sahibzada, Director, Rangeland Management, General Directorate of Natural Resource Management, Ministry of Agriculture, Irrigation and Livestock, Afghanistan; and HKH HLTF member
“Climate change is a global and multisectoral issue. Bangladesh also understands the impacts of climate change on the mountains and peoples of the HKH region. We will join hands with ICIMOD and partners in taking a unified voice to global platforms.”– Syed Shahjahan Ahmed, Deputy Secretary, Ministry of Environment, Forest and Climate Change, Bangladesh
“The consultation has been very timely. The issue of loss and damage is an important area for our consideration. The Government of Pakistan ensures its full support to ICIMOD to furthering the agenda of mountain-specific climate action at COP28.” – Asif Sahibzada, Director General, Environment & Climate Change, Ministry of Climate change, Pakistan; and UNFCCC National Focal Point for Pakistan
“We can think of addressing the impacts of climate change in three specific areas: prevention, preparedness, and response. There is a need to co-invest in knowledge creation and dissemination and join hands with organisations like ICIMOD, enabling it to become a binding force in bringing all HKH countries together.” – Tashi Pem, Director General, Department of Environment and Climate Change, Ministry of Energy and Natural Resources, Bhutan; UNFCCC National Focal Point for Bhutan
“ICIMOD should continue to have conversations with relevant stakeholders in the eight HKH countries to consolidate a common message in the run up to COP28.” – Brij Mohan Singh Rathore ICIMOD Fellow-Policy Advisor, India
“Nepal is ready to work together with ICIMOD and partners in raising a unified voice in loss and damage, adaptation, mitigation, and youth engagement in our road to COP28.” – Buddi Poudel, Joint Secretary, Climate Change Management Division, Ministry of Forests and Environment, Nepal; and UNFCCC National Focal Point for Nepal
“This year, the UNFCCC will carry out the thematic work under the Nairobi Work Programme (NWP) on mountain and cryosphere, and we look forward to collaborating with ICIMOD and encourage parties to consider this as a focus for our focal point forum at COP28.” – Joanna Post, Programme Management Officer, UNFCCC Secretariat
“The HKH is the youngest mountain range, and the youth from this region call on all stakeholders to hear our voice and engage us as a catalyst to realise a greener and more resilient HKH.” – Jekulin Lipi, Regional Focal Point Asia Pacific for DRR Working Group, UN Major Group for Children and Youth
Highlighting the unique position of ICIMOD as a convener for discussions on mountain issues at the regional level, Izabella Koziell, ICIMOD’s Deputy Director General, stressed on the need to convey a unified message from the region to the global level, advocating the need for increased investment and action in the HKH.
“The problems hitting the HKH region from the triple planetary crisis are transboundary and are also common to the unique environment and socioeconomic ecosystem of the mountains. The only way to resolve these issues is through a regional approach with collective action and unified messaging.” – Izabella Koziell, Deputy Director General, ICIMOD
Suggested tweets to share with your networks:
‘1.5 °C is already too hot for the HKH. Join us in healing the mountains at @COP28_UAE! Let’s work together to create sustainable solutions and reduce the impact of cascading risks and disasters caused by climate change. #HealTheMountains #COP28’
“Practise sustainable actions for the mountains! At @COP28_UAE, we’ll be discussing climate actions and the need for enhancing regional cooperation to sustain our precious mountain ecosystems. Join us in making a difference. #HealTheMountains #COP28”
“Join us in advocating for mountain-specific impacts at @COP28_UAE and the need for increased investments for vulnerable countries. #HealTheMountains #COP28”
The consultation workshop was organised under the framework of the Himalayan Resilience Enabling Action Programme (HI-REAP), funded by the Government of the United Kingdom’s Foreign, Commonwealth & Development Office (FCDO). This activity was part of ICIMOD’s engagement planned in the lead up to COP28.
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