Massive meltdownThe Himalayan region is overlooked in climate change narratives
Nepal’s Hindu Kush Himalayan Region, home to many of the world’s highest peaks, has long been celebrated as a source of national pride. But efforts to address the region’s catastrophic vulnerabilities to climate change have long been neglected.
A comprehensive study of the region by the International Centre for Integrated Mountain Development (ICIMOD) entitled Hindu Kush Himalaya Assessment: Mountains, Climate Change, Sustainability, and People, warns that if global climate efforts fail, and if current emissions persist, two-thirds of the region’s glaciers could melt by 2100. The report, the first large-scale and peer-reviewed study to detail the region’s alarming vulnerabilities, points to a looming reality: Even if the Paris Agreement goal of limiting global warming to 1.5 degrees Celsius by the end of the century is met, nearly half of the glaciers in the Hindu Kush Himalayan Region will still melt due to an inevitable 2-degree Celsius spike in temperature.
The landmark report’s detailed findings, a product of five years’ worth of research and collaboration between 350 researchers and policy experts, highlight the necessity for the government to approach climate change through a multi-sectoral, multi-national and cross-scalar lens. The effects of glacial melting, in a region that is home to more than a quarter of the world’s glaciers, will be far-reaching—from destabilising some of the world’s most significant rivers including the Ganges and the Mekong to severely depleting the food supply, energy and overall livelihood of billions of people across South Asia and Southeast Asia.
While the government has made several appeals to the international community for monetary support for its mitigation efforts, little has been done to develop regional policies and mechanisms for environmental governance to specifically address climate change in the Hindu Kush Himalayan Region. Though the government has placed particular emphasis on regional diplomacy, much of this discourse and action revolves around traditional notions of security, development and economic growth. As this report, and many others before, have highlighted, despite the fact that climate change (especially in the mountainous regions) invariably intersects with and poses threats to all three of these issues, it is continually overlooked in regional policy deliberations.
The report also highlights a fact that is continually overlooked in the government’s approach to climate change policy: The immediate effects of climate change particularly affect the region’s poor. The 250 million mountain dwellers, one-third of whom live on less than $1.90 a day, and the 1.65 billion others living downstream, whose needs are already neglected by the political strata, are the most vulnerable to the rapid glacial meltdown.
Just last week, the Ministry of Forests and Environment announced that it had begun drafting and amending a total of eight laws to specifically address climate change ‘to make the country’s environment laws more encompassing’. While this is an important step forward, the need to form and implement targeted, regional and achievable policies for the long-neglected Hindu Kush Himalayan Region and its vulnerable communities deserves due priority. There is also an urgent need to engage with these communities by forming community-government partnerships and ensuring that the resources for climate change mitigation are easily accessed by the most vulnerable.