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Understanding the Health of the Himalayan Region with the 13 critical questions

One of the key objectives of CMS Vatavaran, this year is to start conversations that assess the key issues related to the health of the Himalayan ecosystem. 

This beautiful region is geologically fragile, with young and rising mountains, usually vulnerable to erosion and landslides, even without human interference.

The region is undergoing rapid change driven by stressors such as climate change and human conflicts, and factors like globalization, infrastructure development, migration, tourism and urbanization. The outcome of interplay of these complex drivers of change is challenging to predict but will have major consequences, not just in the region but globally.

There is a pressing need to assess these drivers’ potential cost to the Himalayan environment and human wellbeing as well as the opportunities they may present.

Though as per some estimates, the per capita fossil fuel CO2 emission from the Himalayan countries is one-sixth of the global average, even then region immensely suffers from the impact of climate change.

Climate change is further enhanced by short-lived climate pollutants such as black carbon, which is emitted in large quantities in regions upstream where dirty energy sources also have a large impact on health.

From a policy standpoint, achieving food, water, energy, and livelihood security in the region will require exploring scenarios based on different assumptions so that the scientific community, policy-makers, the private sector, and community stakeholders can come together and make optimal governance decisions to sustain this global asset.

In 2007, the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC’s) fourth assessment report (Pachauri and Reisinger 2007) predicted that climate change will be the most prominent driver of global change in the 21st century and pointed to the lack of consistent long-term monitoring in the Himalayan region.

The report called for national, regional, and global efforts to fill this data gap. Little progress was made in the HKH by the time of the IPCC’s fifth assessment report (Pachauri and Meyer 2014). While universities, nongovernmental organizations, and scientific organizations have made strides in assembling and consolidating data, information on environment, natural resources and social systems of the region collectively remains too fragmented and incomplete to derive any meaningful conclusions about trends and scenarios.

CMS Vatavarn this year, will try and give voice to some of the critical questions around the Himalayas.

 These are –

-    What are the most important drivers of change in the region, what is the role of climate change, and what are their potential impacts on biodiversity, livelihoods, and water resources?

-    What are the most important strategies, policies, and governance arrangements for enhancing community adaptation to drivers of change, including climate change; how can they be scaled and what are their impacts?

-    How do gender-equitable and inclusive approaches support sustainable mountain development, and how can these be realized?

-    What migration trends exist in the region, what are their present impacts on livelihoods and the environment, how climate change is inducing migration and should migration be taken as adaptive strategy, and what are the options for addressing migration and the likely con- sequences of those options?

-    What is the existing status of the cryosphere, what changes are likely, and what are the possible impacts of those changes?

-    What is the current and likely future quantity, variability, and quality of the water in the 10 major river basins of the region? What are the potential impacts of change on water availability; and how can negative impacts be mitigated?

-    What are the best means of reducing the risk of floods and droughts, and how can they be introduced at various scales?

-    Why is air pollution increasing in the region?

-    What are the energy needs and possibilities for the people of the region?

-    How can ecosystems be managed to support soil and biodiversity conservation, and improved livelihoods in the various contexts?

-    What ecosystem services do mountains provide, and how can management and supply of these services be compensated?

-    What watershed-, landscape-, and forestry based approaches will best support ecosystem services, food and water security, and community resilience?

-    How can the HKH develop a green economy? What technologies (modern, traditional, and indigenous) and approaches are best suited for sustainable mountain development in the region, and how can they be scaled?

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