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The escalating effects of climate change, water insecurity, increased disaster risk, biodiversity loss, and widespread socio-economic change all point to a critical need to support transformative action – at scale and with urgency to 2030 and beyond.
The Hindu Kush Himalaya (HKH) extends over 3,500 km, from Afghanistan in the west to Myanmar in the east and crossing Pakistan, India, China, Nepal, Bhutan, and Bangladesh. It is home to the world’s highest peaks, unique cultures, diverse flora and fauna, and a vast reserve of natural resources. As the source of ten major Asian river systems, the HKH provides essential resources, especially water and biodiversity, to nearly 2 billion people, a fourth of humanity. Its waters irrigate the food baskets of Asia.
However, the HKH has experienced rapid and extensive change over the last two decades, and the impacts are projected to only get worse.
The escalating effects of climate change, water insecurity, increased disaster risk, biodiversity loss, and widespread socio-economic change all point to a critical need to support transformative action – at scale and with urgency to 2030 and beyond.In this rapidly changing context, there has never been a more critical juncture to significantly increase support for the HKH. As ICIMOD hits its fortieth year, through this strategy we respond to this imperative, guided by the HKH Call to Action, to step up our engagement through to 2030.
The HKH is a critical global asset. Being on top of the world, changes happen here before they happen anywhere else.
Global warming at 2°C, and beyond, will result in the loss of half the volume of the region’s glaciers and destabilize Asia’s river systems, with enormous downstream consequences for billions of people. It will cause severe and irreversible losses of ecosystem services and biodiversity while leading to food and water insecurity. Even a 1.5°C world is too hot for the HKH because of elevation-dependent warming. A 1.5°C rise will increase the risks of extreme weather events, triggering flash floods, altering agriculture, and causing multiple long-term instabilities.
The HKH is also staring at a biodiversity crisis. Some 70–80% of the region’s original habitat has already been lost since 1500. A quarter of endemic species in the Indian Himalaya alone could be wiped out by the end of this century. Accompanying losses of watershed function will lead not only to more severe impacts on water security but also food insecurity due to agroecosystem instability, soil fertility loss, alterations to the nitrogen cycle, and extinctions of endemic and restricted-range species and loss of cultural values.
Air pollution has rapidly increased over the past decades, driven by unregulated development both from within and outside the region. This is one of the most polluted regions in the world, with far-reaching consequences for human and environmental health. Air pollution also affects the cryosphere (with black carbon and dust from the Indo-Gangetic Plain settling on glaciers and hastening their melting), changes the monsoon patterns and rainfall, and impacts agriculture.
The current pace, depth, and scope of adaptation is too slow, small scale, largely incremental, and based on approaches that are no longer effective. Hampered by policy and institutional inertia, it is – put simply – wholly insufficient to address future risks.
Given the deep interconnectedness of the region’s social, economic, and ecological systems, responses must be transformational to be truly successful. This means embracing system level change, for instance at regional and transboundary levels as well as innovation – not only technological but also policy and institutional innovation. Cooperation and collaboration across the HKH, and internationally, is key to making this happen. We must act decisively now to deliver timely and practical solutions.
Central to our response is to build on emerging opportunities. These include international and regional climate policy commitments, new climate and development finance flows, and green development interests. The updated Nationally Determined Contributions (NDCs) also commit HKH countries to substantially reduce air pollution, curb biodiversity loss and achieve carbon-neutral societies by 2035, if policies can be adjusted and finances can be mobilised. In the knowledge arena, new approaches to safeguard the HKH’s biodiversity and ecosystems are emerging, which also deliver mitigation and adaptation co-benefits. These include mountain-specific nature-based solutions and innovative uses of social and economic incentives. We have a unique opportunity to bring innovation together with the rich natural and cultural heritage of the HKH, to leverage the growth of women and youth-led enterprises for greener economies.
We see synergy in our ability to leverage these opportunities, strengthen regional cooperation among the eight countries to deliver action at scale and with speed, and increase investment in a greener, more inclusive and climate resilient HKH.