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Passing the baton

David James Molden & Pema Gyamtsho

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As the tenure of Director General of ICIMOD shifts from one set of hands to another, we have written this piece together, as we reflect together on an historic milestone day for ICIMOD which took place on October 15th. Ministers from our eight HKH countries came together and signed a declaration agreeing to work together for mountains. That Ministerial Declaration recognizes and supports the HKH Call to Action, a biennial Ministerial Mountain Summit and regular Science Policy Forums to formulate evidence- based programmes and policies for sustainable mountain development. This will lay the foundation for much stronger collaboration between countries to address climate change and achieve the SDGs, and to jointly work on a call for action.

This was a milestone day for ICIMOD in another way, as the role of Director General was passed to one of us, Pema Gyamtsho, from the other, David Molden, during the event. Both of us feel that ICIMOD has tremendous momentum moving forward, and this is like passing a baton at a high speed relay race. During David’s tenure of nine years, significant progress was made in understanding climate change, the dynamics of glaciers and snow, air, water, and a greater appreciation of the rich biodiversity, and importantly integrating the social, gender and economic dimensions of mountain people and environment. Significantly, ICIMOD has been working together to develop solutions to new and different sets of problems – in mountain farming, in biodiversity conservation, and in empowerment of women and other marginalized groups. A highlight of David’s tenure was the comprehensive process in developing the HKH Assessment report. This first of its kind assessment for the HKH region synthesized work of over 350 researchers and practitioners from the region and the globe. On this basis, we worked within all of the eight countries to develop the HKH Call to Action which forms the basis of the Ministerial Declaration.

Moving forward the very significant work in response to the Call to Action will require strong partnerships. It has been deeply encouraging to experience the support of our eight HKH countries to ICIMOD’s mission, and how our Board of Governors works together to set the direction for ICIMOD. The HKH Call to Action drafting and the Ministerial Mountain Summit itself are wonderful examples of the depth and breadth of support from government partners for in-country as well as regional work across borders. We estimate that we have about 300 staff, and also about 300 partners with whom we work. We co-develop solutions with many on the ground partners, and work with others to reach out to regional and global policy makers. We feel that one avenue for impact will be engaging the many strong networks where we build a collaborative voice locally, regionally and globally to take more coordinated and stronger action. Our development partners play a critical role in providing the needed resources to this necessary work. We would like to express our gratitude to our partners for the work we’ve done together.

We’ve been further inspired that our partnerships will provide the solidarity required for our collective work by the decision of our ICIMOD regional member countries at the most recent meeting of our Board of Governors to increase their contributions to the institution. Four countries have made commitments to increase this commitment while four others are at different stages of fulfilling government formalities, which is a good indicator of the country ownership which was also consolidated when the declaration was signed at the Ministerial Summit. This provides us with the confidence that we can take this HKH Call to Action forward.

Our partners should also feel confident in the institution since there is a competent team of professionals working within ICIMOD who not only represent different countries and cultures but share the same passion for mountain development and mountain people. The challenges are indeed great, but we are confident that we will be able to address the challenges. It will remain important to continue to focus on issues of climate change since temperature rise and climate change impacts are more pronounced in the mountains than anywhere else. This will require our concerted effort to work with our RMCs and with partners on mitigation and adaptation measures. We’ll need to pay particular attention to reduce risk of disasters like glacial lake outburst floods, but there are also issues impacting the changing water regimes in rivers. Snow melt may be contributing to increasing flows in the short term, but we need to consider sustainability into the future. We also need to focus on sharing of knowledge and experiences across the region in key areas of concern – food, water, and energy security for people living in mountains. We need to build on what has already been achieved to bring appropriate knowledge and technologies to help improve livelihoods.

As the senior leadership at ICIMOD shifts from one set of hands to another, we both feel that the institution can move from strength to strength as it takes up the critically important work of strengthening regional cooperation across this majestic and challenging region.

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