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Loss and Damage - Adverse Impact of Climate Change

It has been already two months since the Rio +20. ‘Our common vision’, the Rio+20’s declaration adopted by heads of state and key representatives from around the world recognised the global benefits of mountain people and vulnerability of mountain ecosystems to climate change. This month, we hear the importance of mountain people and ecosystems from the Director General, Dr. David Molden of ICIMOD, which is the regional intergovernmental learning and knowledge sharing centre serving the eight regional member countries of the Hindu Kush Himalayas.
David James Molden
Director General, ICIMOD

Joined ICIMOD as Director General in December 2011. A development specialist with more than 30 years of experience in designing, planning, executing, and monitoring programmes on water management, livelihoods, environment, and ecosystem services. Worked in several Hindu Kush-Himalayan countries and has experience in projects in the Indus, Ganges, Yellow, Mekong, Yangtze, and Amu and Syr Darya river basins. Prior to joining ICIMOD, served as the Deputy Director General for Research at the International Water Management Institute where he also led the programme resulting in the book, "Water for Food, Water for Life".
Received many awards including the Outstanding Scientist Award of the Consultative Group on International Agricultural Research (CGIAR) in 2009.

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ICIMOD

August 2012

The Roof of Asia:
Mountain People and Ecosystem

- Rio+20 Outcome -


David James Molden
Director General,
The International Centre for Integrated Mountain Development (ICIMOD)

Reviewing Rio+20 Outcome

--The declaration at Rio+20, namely ‘Our common vision’, recognised the global benefits of mountain ecosystems and the vital contributions of mountain people to sustainable development.

Molden:
While we hear a lot about the shortcomings of the Rio +20 process and its outcome, ‘The Future We Want’, mountains have come out a winner. In three mountain-specific paragraphs, global attention has been turned towards the mountains and the important role that they, and the communities that live within them, play in sustaining human wellbeing for a large portion of the world’s population. It also recognises the vulnerability of mountain ecosystems to climate change as well as many other changes we are witnessing today.

Along with the chapter on mountains, several important issues that are also relevant to mountains and mountain communities appear throughout the document: 1)Food security and sustainable agricultural practices;2)water and the role of ecosystems in maintaining water quality and quantity; 3)promotion of conservation and the sustainable use of resources; 4)the importance of forest and land management; and 5)sustainable tourism, all playing a role in sustainable mountain development. The outcome document also includes points on 6)gender equality and empowerment; 7)effective governance representing the voices of all; and 8)the need for strengthened capacity, all of which directly apply to enhancing the sustainable livelihoods of mountain communities and their ability to effectively manage natural resources.

Now there is a need to channel this recognition into actions that address the issues facing mountains and mountain communities.

Poverty Eradication is the Key for the Sustainable Development in the Mountains

--What are the implications from Rio+20 on mountain sustainable development issues and what is the most urgent issue for those people who live in mountain areas in Asia?

Molden:
The most pressing issues in mountain regions are persistent poverty and inequality. This is especially true among the communities of the Hindu Kush Himalayas, where poverty rates are as high as 46 per cent and over 61 million people live below the poverty line. Mountain populations, especially the poor, are particularly vulnerable to environmental degradation, the effects of climate change, floods, and drought. Additional drivers of change in mountain communities like globalization, changes in land use and increasing outmigration - primarily of men - to urban areas and other countries in search of new income opportunities add additional dimensions to consider in mitigating the impacts of climate change and enhancing the capacity of mountain communities to adapt. It is important to manage these types of livelihood shifts to empower those who migrate through skilled-jobs training and ensuring fair treatment from agents, and also to ensure that remittances sent home are used to help local communities in a sustainable way.

Mt. Kailash in Tibet Autonomous Region
Without first addressing poverty in mountain communities, the conservation and sustainable development of mountains will not be possible. Finding new sources of income, increasing food security and empowering local communities are important ways to enhance their capacity to adapt. Women are particularly vulnerable to these changes, and at the same time play a vital role in the management of natural resources and the health and nutrition of communities, thus making the role of women essential in the development of adaptation strategies.

In addressing poverty and vulnerability in mountain areas, water must also be a key area of focus. Water regimes are changing with escalating temperatures, especially at higher elevations. The increased rate of melting of glaciers and snow is decreasing the store of water in Asia’s water towers, and mountain people are concerned that springs and other sources of water are drying up. In addition, the incidence of extreme climate events like floods and droughts appears to be on the rise. We need to devise adaptation strategies for communities to address water scarcity as well as reduce the risk associated with floods and droughts. Although water-related issues are creating many problems for mountain communities, water should also be seen as a source of opportunity. The sustainable use of water for energy production and productive agricultural use are potential engines of growth that could address poverty in mountain areas. Yet harnessing this potential will require greater collaboration across the national borders these sources of water cross.

The challenge now is to put these words into action. This will require better communication of the issues facing mountains and mountain communities to the rest of the world in order to encourage greater cooperation and support for these globally important ecosystems.

Opportunities for the challenging life

--Climate change issues in mountain areas have been recognised important, but what kind of actions need to be taken?

Molden:
There are many efforts that can be made by local communities, but some actions require responses at national, regional and global levels. Regardless of the level of response, the key to sustainable development and enhancing adaptation is addressing rural poverty. Impacts from climate change affect mountain communities in several ways, but most prominent among them are changes to traditional sources of livelihoods and an increased vulnerability to the apparent rise in extreme climate events like droughts and floods. However, with the changes these communities are facing some new opportunities. In growing cities, there is an increasing market for niche mountain products like honey, medicinal and aromatic plants, and high-value agricultural products. These represent new income opportunities for rural mountain people. However there are still many challenges in getting these products to the market, even for those who already have the tools and know-how to cultivate and harvest such products. There is a need to build value chains that link producers to markets and consumers, and to do this in an equitable way that benefits poor producers.

Bee Keeper
In this regard, the International Centre for Integrated Mountain Development (ICIMOD) has been involved in a comprehensive honeybee project since 1991. Through the project, resource-poor farmers have been provided with training in modern approaches to bee management, and improved value chains have increased linkages to markets. Stakeholders have been brought together to form honeybee cooperatives and develop measures, like national quality assurance systems, that could expand the potential market for honey producers in developing countries to Western countries, where demand is on the rise. Already, this project has encouraged a large increase in honey production in the region, which has brought substantial benefits to local producers. And in addition to providing a new source of livelihood to individuals in rural communities, the project supports the protection and promotion of indigenous bees, the pollination services of which support the conservation of indigenous flora and aid agricultural production, especially the cultivation of fruit plants.

Unfortunately, raising income does not always guarantee that natural resources are sustainably used. Innovative income opportunities must go hand in hand with the sustainable management of natural resources including land, forests, water, and biodiversity. Activities stemming from the international REDD+ (Reducing Emissions from Deforestation and Forest Degradation) programme are a good example of this. When successfully implemented, REDD+ activities enhance forest cover and encourage conservation while providing participating communities with an alternative income source. Since 2010, ICIMOD has been involved in successful REDD+ pilot projects in three watersheds in Nepal. The project, which is funded by NORAD, has established a finance mechanism to make carbon payments to groups that have successfully reduced carbon emissions and increased carbon sequestration through the proper management of community forests. So far, US$ 95,000 has been paid to communities. But a more important aspect is how the money has been distributed and used within these communities. The community is ultimately responsible for allocating the money, and so far the equitable sharing of benefits between women and men as well as among different socio-demographic and socioeconomic groups has been promising. Beyond income generating activities, there is also an urgent need for action to reduce disaster-associated risks in mountain areas as the frequency and intensity of climate-induced natural hazards is expected to rise.

When disaster strikes livelihoods are devastated. There is an urgent need to help mountain communities prevent, prepare and mitigate the risks associated with climate-induced natural hazards. With increased glacial melt, more and more glacier lakes are forming and growing, with the potential threat of a glacial lake outburst flood (GLOF(*1)) looming over villages downstream. ICIMOD has been involved in setting up a regional flood information system in several countries in the Hindu Kush Himalayan region. When fully implemented, the system will provide early warnings to users downstream and across borders so that communities can prepare themselves and mitigate the devastating and fatal effects of flash floods.

Training Carbon Monitoring REDD+
Multilateral Cooperation and Communication are Key

Molden:
Within the extreme diversity found in the Himalayan region, knowledge must be shared across borders in order to quickly develop solutions in a rapidly changing world. While this information may not always be universal, with some facilitation, ideas can be readily transported and adapted for application under local conditions. One good example of this is the work ICIMOD is doing with IGES to develop a version of the Local Adaptation Index (LaIN) that is applicable for assessing agricultural adaptation practices at the local level. Working across borders, either by sharing knowledge or jointly addressing transboundary issues, is also an important way of building confidence and cooperation in this region.

Science and the sharing of scientific knowledge will continue to play an important role in the sustainable development of the region. While some solutions are straightforward - just a matter of implementation on the ground - other issues are much more complex and require scientific backing to support informed decision-making at all levels. Until recently, there has been an extreme gap in data on the Himalayan region that has made the development of appropriate plans and policies difficult in this complex region. ICIMOD is working to fill some of these gaps: establishing a baseline on the status of snow and glaciers, collecting data about the region’s biodiversity, and increasing the understanding of poverty and vulnerability and their drivers.

Many solutions, especially those that involve transitioning pilot projects into a widespread reality, require action beyond the implementation of physical works including improved communication and capacity building. We must think beyond the generation of knowledge in order to make sure that ideas can be carried into action. Communication and knowledge management are key to ensuring that the benefits of adaptation and mitigation activities reach the largest number of people and have the greatest impact - and that is the biggest challenge for ICIMOD.


--Thank you very much.


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*1:A glacial lake outburst flood


About "Monthly Asian Focus: Observations on Sustainability"

Until 2010, IGES released "Top News on the Environment in Asia" on a yearly basis. For over 12 years since its establishment of IGES in 1998, "Top News" collected and organised information about environmental issues and policy trends in the region.

In January 2011, IGES launched the new web-based series "Monthly Asian Focus: Observations on Sustainability" in which leading environmental experts deliver their take on latest trends of sustainable Asia.

 

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