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The third Upper Indus Basin Network (UIBN) Regional Strategic Committee (RSC) meeting, held virtually on 25 June 2020, brought together members, advisors, and special invitees to reflect on the progress of the network’s country chapters, share recent updates on scientific findings related to the upper Indus basin (UIB) in the context of the COVID-19 pandemic, and discuss future strategic guidelines for the network.
The UIBN was established formally in 2014 as a neutral and voluntary network to foster coordination between national and international researchers on issues of climate, cryosphere, and water-related hazards and adaptability in the UIB. After adoption of the governance framework in 2018, the UIBN has established country chapters in the four basin countries (Afghanistan, China, India, and Pakistan), with the RSC as a governing body.
Support from the basin countries and international partners and advisors is one of the key pillars in the network’s functioning. In his opening remarks during the RSC meeting, HE Peter Budd, Australian Ambassador to Nepal, highlighted the UIBN’s role as an important platform to discuss transboundary climate issues and exchange ongoing shared lessons not only for a sustained ownership of the network but also for strengthened regional cooperation. He commended the network’s efforts in sustaining the central focus of the collaboration and knowledge exchange despite restrictions posed by the COVID-19 pandemic.
Considering the ongoing health crisis, the group also reflected on how climatic factors have played a part in triggering the spread of the virus across different regions of the world. Amid all the challenges posed by COVID-19, there are also some positive impacts. Improvements in air quality during the crisis and its possible impacts on the cryosphere in the UIB were also discussed. While a significant reduction in black carbon and particulate matter was observed during the lockdown period in the study area of Kashmir, it is equally important to focus on sustaining such climate-friendly actions over a longer term.
Another key discussion revolved around the progress made by the country chapters in the areas of climate change research, government collaboration, and coordination among different TWGs. For the Afghanistan Chapter, the Afghanistan National Water and Environment Research Center’s (ANWERC) commitment to facilitate the Technical Working Group (TWG) meetings and the country chapter meetings stood out as an important example of government support for the network. This is also an opportunity for closer engagement with ANWERC for collaborative work on issues of climate change and water management. In addition, the China Chapter’s ongoing review of glacier hazards and mapping debris cover of glaciers in the Hunza Valley of Pakistan calls for a bilateral research opportunity between the two country chapters.
Moreover, the India Chapter’s efforts in collaborating with a journal on an Indus basin-focused special issue opens doors for the visibility of climate change issues in the UIB with a wider reach of audience. In the Pakistan Chapter, the newly formed Gender Resource Group (GRG) and its integration in the chapter has paved a path towards reducing gender gaps in science and policy, and a strong inclusion of gender perspectives in climate change research. Not only that, in the most recent Pakistan Chapter meeting, the chairman of the Federal Flood Commission (FFC) voiced the country chapter’s potential to act as an advisory forum in the national water policy implementation framework. Such support is a step closer towards the network’s vision of country chapters serving as think tanks for relevant government bodies to contribute on national strategies and policies.
Moving forward, the network will be working further on a joint research on the impact of climate change on water resources. With conceptualization at its initial phases, the project aims to collate experience and expertise from various TWGs in the country chapters and offer a shared space for cross-learning and collaboration.
In addition to the joint research, the country chapters, particularly India and Pakistan, will be continuing the research on the comparative study on climate change impacts on the livelihoods of UIB communities in Ladakh and Gigit-Baltistan. By studying the main livelihood sources, climate-change induced water hazards, and ongoing local practices and adaptation in the mountain communities, the study aims to provide learning opportunities on good practices in these regions. Moreover, the study will offer a replication of similar methodologies to understand climate change adaptation in communities with similar geo-social contexts in the basin.
Further discussing on inter-chapter collaborations, the members offered to host students and early career researchers in host institutions within the basin countries. To start with, the India and Afghanistan chapters would work further in recognizing young scientists and researchers and linking them to relevant institutions within the chapters.
Wrapping up, the members stressed their commitment on the UIBN’s strategic actions and sustainability through the endorsement of the regional theory of change framework. Further, the country chapters agreed to develop a country-level theory of change framework. With vast knowledge being generated in diverse research topics across the country chapters, the participants also stressed on the need for knowledge consolidation for stronger policy influence. They suggested periodic review of ongoing research related to the Indus basin and mapping policy and knowledge needs of stakeholders and decision makers. Moving forward, the UIBN will focus on strengthening mechanisms for knowledge consolidation, including developing a climate profile of the Indus with standard indicators, with inputs from the country chapters.
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