INTERNATIONAL MOUNTAIN CONFERENCE An Uphill Task

Despite many commonalities in eco-system, resource sharing and livelihood issues, mountain countries around the world are yet to develop a mechanism to share these agenda among them. At a time when studies have shown that climate change is going to a

April 3, 2012, 5:45 p.m. Published in Magazine Issue: Vol. : 05 No.-18 Mar. 30 -2012 (Chaitra 17,2068)<br>

With rising temperatures and changing precipitation patterns, environment, eco-system and resources in the mountain countries have been facing a serious threat. Mountains cover wide areas or about 35 percent of the total land in all five continents but there is yet to have a common platform to raise the voices.


At a time when various groups have been formed to raise the issue of common interests at the UNFCCC negotiations, mountain countries need to have a group in the UNFCCC. Despite several commonalities and common interests, mountain countries are yet to have a common stand.


Nepal’s efforts to bring the agenda of mountain people date back to the 1950s. They continue even today as Nepal took a Mountain Initiative  in 2009 at COP 15. Then Nepal’s Prime Minister Madhav Kumar Nepal called all mountain countries and stakeholders to come together to form a common platform and make sure that mountain concerns get due attention in the international deliberations. He said that our interests are prominently represented in the future COP negotiations and our efforts towards adaptation get the required international support.


Mountains, which occupy over one third of the landmass of the globe and are home to over 13 percent of the people, provide essential eco-system, goods and services to the billions of people living in the downstream regions, including the plains. The ice of the Himalayas, the Alps and the Atlas plays a critical role in regulating the global climate system.


As the temperature rises and precipitation changes due to climate change, the environment and eco-system in the mountain countries are highly fragile and vulnerable, threatening the livelihood of poor people living in the mountains and low lands. 


With the low capacity to cope with the vulnerabilities and adapt to the unprecedented changes that have been taking place, mountain people face increasing poverty, natural and human induced hazards and socio-economic challenges.


“We have invited 55 countries and 25 institutions around the world. We have also invited 40 international experts. Out of them, over 14 countries have already confirmed their ministerial participation,” said Batu Krishan Uprety, joint secretary (Tech) at Ministry of Environment. One of the objectives of the conference is to provide a forum for the mountain countries to share knowledge and experiences on impact of climate change on the mountains and deliberate on associated common risks. Anther objective is to forge a common approach to deal with specific concerns relating to mountain eco-system and livelihood.


“The themes include state of mountain issues and climate negotiations, vulnerability and resilience  of mountain systems, opportunities for greater international cooperation, mountain ecosystem services and upstream-downstream linkages, strategic options for mountain climate adaptation and livelihood opportunities and climate financing,” Uprety said.


Nepal’s Importance

As soon as Nepal opened to the outside world in 1950s, Nepal’s mountain peaks became an inspiration for many. From Swiss Development expert late Tony Hagen, who covered  a distance of about 14,000 kilometer on foot, to several others, experts have made several studies on socio-economic, agricultural and environmental aspects of mountains. Nepal’s mountains attracted late Edmund Hillary so much that he spent his entire life championing the cause of mountains.


Nepal’s renowned personality late Dr. Harka Gurung had also made an equal contribution to bring the mountain agenda, particularly Nepal’s mountains, to forefront.


With support from International Center for Integrated Mountain Development ICIMOD, Integrated Development  Society Nepal (ISD-Nepal), Ministry of Environment has already held consultation meetings. ICIMOD will provide technical support and Nepal’s other development partners will provide financial support to Nepal to hold the conference.


“Mountains may be considered sacred, sublime and beautiful. They also happen to be marginal areas of human occupancy due to their high altitude and steep gradients. But the mountains are not an amorphous mass but a composite of elevation zones,” writes Nepal’s renowned geographer late Dr. Harka Gurung in his book Mountain of Asia: A Regional Inventory.



According to the book, it is estimated that some 40 million square kilometers or 27 percent of the total land area of the world lies above 1000 masl. The breakdown of this elevated land surface is as follows: 24 million square kilometers at 1000m -2000 m, 10 million sq.km. at 2,000-3000 m, 10 million sq. km. at 2,000-3000 m and six million square km above 3,000 m. Another earlier source put the total area worldwide, defined as mountain type to be 50 million sq kilometers. Accordingly, such areas account for 35 percent of the world’s total area. The mountain types defined by elevation range were hills 0-300 m, low mountains (300-900m) and high mountains above (900m).


Eurasia dominates all other continents in terms of low and high mountains. Aran geographers in the middle ages, in their imaginative way, regarded as a desirable woman clothed in nothing but a long chain girdle about her ample waist. This girdle was of mountains studied with snow peaks that stretched from the Pyrenees through the Alps, Balkans, Caucasus, and Elburz to the limits of the known world in the Hindu Kush and Himalayas. Most of the mountain areas of Eurasia are concentrated in the Asian region.


According to a study by Trewartha et al, 1968, high mountain 900 M + cover 4 percent in Africa, 1 percent in Australia, and Eurasia 23, North America 16 and South America 11 percent. In total, such percentages come to about 13 percent.  Low mountains cover 13 percent in Africa, 12 Australia, 21 Eurasia, North America 10 percent, South America 11 and world 4 percent. Hills (0-300m) covers 11 percent Africa, Australia 12, Eurasia 10, North America 18, South America 5 and world 8 percent.


The recognition of discrete ranges within each region is based mainly on their contiguity internally and the existence of major rivers and land depressions externally. However, two exceptions should be considered. These are the sub-division of Himalayas of South Asia into sections and the island individuality in South-East Asia. In the case of the former, a separate identity has been given with surrounding seas as their boundaries. Regional treatment is in a clock-wise sweep commencing from South Asia and ending with an outward loop towards Australia. The sequence of regional description, therefore, is as follows: South Asia, West Asia, Central Asia, North-East Asia, south-East Asia and Australia.


Rising vulnerability

A study just released by the Asian Development Bank (ADB) is warning that climate change could exacerbate environmental disasters in Asia and result in a surge of migration by people fleeing crises.


In its report, addressing Climate Change and Migration in Asia and the Pacific, the ADB observed that more than 42 million people in the region (more than twice the population of Sri Lanka) were displaced by extreme weather events in the past two years. Some were unable to return home or deliberately choose to relocate. Globally, Asia and the Pacific is the region most prone to natural disasters.


Six of the 10 countries most vulnerable to climate change are in Asia and the Pacific. Bangladesh tops the list, followed by India, Nepal, the Philippines, Afghanistan and Myanmar.


The combined population of these countries is approximately 1.6 billion people:
Bangladesh - 151 million
India - 1.2 billion
Nepal - 30.5 million
Philippines - 96 million
Afghanistan - 32 million
Myanmar - 54 million


All these are the countries having mountains.


The entire Asia-Pacific region is home to 4 billion people, or 60% of the world's population, and many live along the coasts and will be very vulnerable to rising sea levels. A majority of them are poor; almost 1.8 billion people live on less than $2 per day.


One of the main factors why Asia and the Pacific is so affected by environmental disasters is the large population, many of whom live in high risk and high population density areas, and as stated above, suffer from steep rates of inequality.


Climate change is expected to only worsen current environmental problems and poses many economic, social, and political challenges.


Climate policymakers and others should assess how demographic factors may affect climate-induced migration and devise responses that can best address unplanned, large-scale migration.


“This is going to be a great time for Nepal. I am very proud to say that the idea to hold the International Conference of Mountain Countries in Nepal was proposed  during COP 15 in Copenhagen. It was then prime minister Madhav Kumar Nepal who very courageously and boldly proposed this alliance during his address to COP 15. Although mountain countries have been voicing the problems faced by mountain countries in COP meetings independently, it was for the first time such an initiative was taken to raise the collective voice. Former prime minister Nepal needs to be thanked for his contribution.


“Mountain areas also provide essential eco-system goods and services to the billion of people living in the downstream. At a time when there is a severe lack of implementation of various international deliberations, including the UNFCCC and Rio + processes, this meeting will put pressure to raise a common voice. Besides, there are inadequate global efforts in addressing ongoing UNFCC processes on adaptation, mitigation, technology transfer, finance and capacity building,” said Dr. Dinesh Chandra Devkota, former vice chair of National Planning Commission.


Studies have already shown that global climate change poses a grave threat to the global mountain systems. The rate of warming on the mountains is faster than the plans due to GHG aerosols. Similarly, high elevation plants and animals are losing habitat areas as they move higher. Due to weather change, availability of fresh water for environment flows and for human uses is seriously affected.


The trans-boundary aspects of mountain eco-system services call for regional cooperation. The HKH mountains are important for their role as water towers of Asia, mountains are bio-diversity hotspots, and shelter for fragile fauna and flora species. China and India can play an important role in the regional cooperation in HKH region. China and India have 17 percent and 14 percent of the respective country’s areas in HKH region.


All this is important in the Nepalese context as well. According to climate change vulnerability assessments, more than 1.9 million people are highly climate vulnerable, with 10 million increasingly at risk, with higher temperatures rise, project to increase at an average of 1.2 degree Celsius by 2030.


Along with environmental issues, socio-cultural aspects of the mountains are also involved in this.


Nepal has been involved with the mountain agenda for quite a long time. The establishment of ICIMOD’s headquarters in Nepal was one of the most important aspects. Although ICIMOD covers eight countries of Hindukush Himalayan region, this gives Nepal an opportunity to engage with the mountain agenda.


“There are some major differences in International Conference of Mountain Countries  and Nepal’s past involvement in raising mountain agenda. Firstly, this is for the first time Nepal is holding such a big international gathering of  representatives of mountain countries. Our target is to make it a ministerial level meeting. Of course, all the invitees may not attend due to their own compulsions,” said Krishna Gyawali, secretary of the Ministry of Environment.


As the International Conference on mountain countries on climate change is approaching, hopes are high that it will provide a great opportunity for mountain countries to discuss their main issues and challenges.  All these are the countries having mountains.


The entire Asia-Pacific region is home to 4 billion people, or 60% of the world's population, and many live along the coasts and will be very vulnerable to rising sea levels. A majority of them are poor; almost 1.8 billion people live on less than $2 per day.


One of the main factors why Asia and the Pacific is so affected by environmental disasters is the large population, many of whom live in high risk and high population density areas, and as stated above, suffer from steep rates of inequality.


Climate change is expected to only worsen current environmental problems and poses many economic, social, and political challenges.


Climate policymakers and others should assess how demographic factors may affect climate-induced migration and devise responses that can best address unplanned, large-scale migration.


“This is going to be a great time for Nepal. I am very proud to say that the idea to hold the International Conference of Mountain Countries in Nepal was proposed  during COP 15 in Copenhagen. It was then prime minister Madhav Kumar Nepal who very courageously and boldly proposed this alliance during his address to COP 15. Although mountain countries have been voicing the problems faced by mountain countries in COP meetings independently, it was for the first time such an initiative was taken to raise the collective voice. Former prime minister Nepal needs to be thanked for his contribution.


“Mountain areas also provide essential eco-system goods and services to the billion of people living in the downstream. At a time when there is a severe lack of implementation of various international deliberations, including the UNFCCC and Rio + processes, this meeting will put pressure to raise a common voice. Besides, there are inadequate global efforts in addressing ongoing UNFCC processes on adaptation, mitigation, technology transfer, finance and capacity building,” said Dr. Dinesh Chandra Devkota, former vice chair of National Planning Commission.


Studies have already shown that global climate change poses a grave threat to the global mountain systems. The rate of warming on the mountains is faster than the plans due to GHG aerosols. Similarly, high elevation plants and animals are losing habitat areas as they move higher. Due to weather change, availability of fresh water for environment flows and for human uses is seriously affected.


The trans-boundary aspects of mountain eco-system services call for regional cooperation. The HKH mountains are important for their role as water towers of Asia, mountains are bio-diversity hotspots, and shelter for fragile fauna and flora species. China and India can play an important role in the regional cooperation in HKH region. China and India have 17 percent and 14 percent of the respective country’s areas in HKH region.


All this is important in the Nepalese context as well. According to climate change vulnerability assessments, more than 1.9 million people are highly climate vulnerable, with 10 million increasingly at risk, with higher temperatures rise, project to increase at an average of 1.2 degree Celsius by 2030.


Along with environmental issues, socio-cultural aspects of the mountains are also involved in this.


Nepal has been involved with the mountain agenda for quite a long time. The establishment of ICIMOD’s headquarters in Nepal was one of the most important aspects. Although ICIMOD covers eight countries of Hindukush Himalayan region, this gives Nepal an opportunity to engage with the mountain agenda.


“There are some major differences in International Conference of Mountain Countries  and Nepal’s past involvement in raising mountain agenda. Firstly, this is for the first time Nepal is holding such a big international gathering of  representatives of mountain countries. Our target is to make it a ministerial level meeting. Of course, all the invitees may not attend due to their own compulsions,” said Krishna Gyawali, secretary of the Ministry of Environment.


As the International Conference on mountain countries on climate change is approaching, hopes are high that it will provide a great opportunity for mountain countries to discuss their main issues and challenges. 

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