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Mountain vulnerabilities, benefits need attention - experts

Source: Thomson Reuters Foundation - Wed, 5 Dec 2012 15:03 GMT
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DOHA(AlertNet) The value of ecosystems services generated by mountain regions – such as supplies of water crucial for sustainable development - must be recognised and incentives to protect them created, experts told a mountain conference at the Doha climate talks.

Gyan Chandra Acharya, UN Under Secretary-General and High Representative for the Least Developed Countries, Landlocked Developing Countries and Small Island Developing States, said there was a need for mountain countries to come together to push forward progress on mountain-specific climate change issues and solutions.

The aim, he said, is “to ensure that mountains become a priority agenda in the global climate discourse.”

David Molden, director general of the International Centre for Integrated Mountain Development (ICIMOD), said that mountain areas had not been a priority at most climate negotiations, but were important on issues including energy, water and biodiversity.

“For instance, mountain ecosystems play very critical role in enhancing food security, livelihoods, and sustainable development; and provide huge goods and services, especially water and forests,” he told AlertNet on the sidelines of the Mountain Day event organized in Doha by ICIMOD.

He added that mountains are also under mounting pressure for many reasons, but climate change is a big reason.

There is a strong need to bring attention of the negotiators at the UN-led talks the vulnerability of mountain ecosystems and mountain people to climate change impacts and to discuss the options for adaptation and building resilience, he said. Better understanding of the role played by mountain ecosystems in providing and protecting resources such as water, food, energy and biodiversity is also key, he said.

 “To build up resilience in both upstream and downstream regions in mountain countries, the mountain countries have to work together at different levels boost trans-border cooperation for protection and conservation of mountain resources and promoting efficient, sustainable use of these national resources,” he said.

Karin Lexen, director the Stockholm International Water Institute in Sweden, said that in particular the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC) should establish a global water programme that would develop a long-term plan to use water sustainably.

Water supplies “are at risk due to changing weather patterns as reflected in rainfall variability.  Water development should also be made a priority area under the Green Climate Fund and other financial mechanisms,” she said.

Lexen said that there should be a focus area on water resources in a range of climate plans and mechanisms, from the Nairobi Work Programme on climate impacts, vulnerability and adaptation to individual country Nationally Appropriate Mitigation Action (NAMA) plans.

Water as a resource and a hazard also should be explicitly recognised in any progamme on loss and damage, she suggested.

Nand Kishor Agrawal, coordinator for ICIMOD’s Himalayan Climate Change Adaptation Programme, said the greater Himalayan region and the downstream areas that rely on it are particularly vulnerable to climate change.

The warming trend in the Himalayas is higher that the global average, which is a matter of serious concern, he said. The Himalayas, with the greatest concentration of ice outside the polar regions – and sometimes dubbed the world’s “third pole” – providing water to 1.3 billion people, a fifth of the world’s population.

To boost mitigation and adaptation and build the resilience capacity of communities in mountain areas of the world, there is an urgent need to increase understanding of the uncertainties influencing climate change scenarios and water availability in major river basins, Agrawal said.

Efforts should also be taken to enhance capacities to assess, monitor, communicate, prepare for and undertake actions to respond to the challenges and opportunities from impacts of climate change and other drivers of the change, Agrawal suggested.

Suman Bisht, a gender specialist at ICIMOD in Kathmandu, observed that women face the brunt of climate change impacts but are not made a high enough priority in the agendas of South Asian mountain countries.

“It has been observed, for instance in Bhutan, that more than a significant number of the 80 percent of women engaged in agriculture have never heard any message from extension services and they suffer the most because of poor access to basic amenities,” she said. 

Women need help, and to be recognized as agents of change and promotion of adaptation in mountain communities.

“While income from agriculture in mountain countries is falling due to crop failures as a result of unpredictable weather patterns, there is significant rise in men’s outward migration – most of whom fly to Gulf countries in search of labour, leaving their women behind at the mercy of climate change impacts,” she told AlertNet.

She said the situation demanded women-focused mitigation and adaptation interventions and promotion of alternative livelihoods to help women keep their lives going on without getting trapped into poverty.  

Saleem Shaikh and Sughra Tunio are climate change and development reporters based in Karachi, Pakistan.


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