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250 delegates from the worlds of diplomacy, development, academia, policy, civil society and media attended an International Expert Dialogue on Mountains, Climate, and People in Kathmandu on May 22-23. 

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Prime Minister of Nepal addressing audiences during the opening ceremony of the dialogue, Wednesday, in Kathmandu.

The event, opened by Prime Minister of Nepal, Pushpa Kamal Dahal and organized by Nepal's Ministry of Forests and Environment, was held to inform the upcoming Expert Dialogue on Mountains and Climate Change which will take place on June at the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change Subsidiary Body on Scientific and Technological Advice (SBSTA).

It sought to forge a collective voice to advocate for faster climate action and climate finance in the teeth of the unprecedented threats facing mountains and the huge populations that inhabit or rely on their water resources. 

The dialogue was attended by large numbers of Nepali parliamentarians; Harry Vreuls, the Chair of SBSTA; Younten Phuntsho, Minister for Agriculture and Livestock, the Royal Government of Bhutan; and Saber Hussain Chowdhury, Minister for Environment, Forests & Climate Change, Bangladesh, alongside experts from ICIMOD, UNDP, FAO, Asian Development Bank, IMWI, Climate Analytics, the International Cryosphere Climate Initiative (ICCI) and Mountain Partnership.  

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Anjali Chalise, Chair of Nepal's NYCA alongside Aisha Khan, chief executive of Pakistan's Civil Society for Coalition for Climate Change on the session on Climate Justice, Equity and Local Voices on the second day of the conference.

Diverse stakeholders—from ministers, and donors, to youth activists—testified as to the scale and irreversibility of the impacts of global temperature rise—from forest fires, and growing food and water insecurity, to devastating floods and sea-level rise and salinity.

“In Bangladesh it’s existential,” said Chowdhury. “We are squeezed between sea level rise, floods, and [disappearing cryosphere]. How will we survive?”

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Chowdhury told the event: "It's existential for Bangladesh."

“As a country with over 98% of our land covered by mountainous terrain, the alarming annual retreat of our glaciers, by 13 to 23 metres, poses significant risks to our nation,” echoed Phuntsho. 

“The effects [of climate change] on mountains are severe and critical,” said Secretary of Nepal’s Ministry of Forest and Environment Govinda Prasad Sharma.

“Our glaciers are melting our biodiversity is under threat, and our people are facing unprecedented challenges. The need for adaptation, and implementation, is increasingly urgent,” Nurlan Aitmurzaev, formerly Special Representative of the President on Mountain Issues, Kyrgyz Republic. Nurlan’s successor, Ambassador Dinara Kemelova was also at the event.  

Many speakers at the event emphasised that the 1.5ºC target enshrined in the Paris Agreement (in 2015 at COP21) should be an upper limit, with Chowdhury saying: “Why can’t 1 be possible? Even at 1.1ºC look at the damage and destruction and heat waves. Even one tenth of a degree makes a difference.”

Audiences were reminded that to reach 1.5ºC emissions need to peak next year and fall by 47% by 2030; and renewables treble and energy efficiency double by 2030: and many urged a ruthless focus on the emissions of G20 economies.  

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Bhutan's Minister for Agriculture and Livestock Phuntsho at the event.

“While Bhutan is proud to be the world’s first carbon-negative country,” said Phuntsho, “achieving this status entailed difficult choices, forgoing numerous economic opportunities. 

“However as we live in an interdependent world, the efforts and sacrifices of a single country or group will not be able to drive significant impacts.”

“[Developing countries] are having to choose between fighting climate change and fighting poverty. Bangladesh has allocated $3.5bn a year to adaptation. This is money that could have been spent building roads, schools, hospitals; empowering youth and women,” Chowdhury pointed out.

In a video address Special Adviser to the United Nations Secretary General on Climate Action and Just Transition Selwin Hart said: “Mountains provide a vital source of freshwater for a majority of the world’s population. [And] we are already witnessing massive disruptions to drinking water, food security, and energy production affecting billions of people globally. 

“You have the moral authority to speak truth to power on the consequences of continued inaction and backsliding on climate ambition especially by the G20 and other significant emitters,” Hart continued. 

“These countries must lead by example and create 1.5ºC aligned Nationally Determined Contributions that clearly define how they intend to phase out fossil fuels, the root cause of the climate crisis.”

A focus on Climate Finance

A recurring theme throughout the conference was the need for the faster mobilization of climate finance—to accelerate just transitions and support communities already reaching the hard limits to adaptation and suffering loss and damages. The processes must be simplified, with mechanisms developed to allow greater amounts to go direct to communities, an outcome text stated.  

The high borrowing and transaction costs already indebted countries face when securing finance must also be reflected in new funding arrangements.

“Developing countries must not be forced to choose between climate action and poverty eradification”, read a closing statement. 

Vreuls, chair of SBSTA urged mountain countries to find common cause with small island and coastal countries, saying yoking these issues together was key to progress. “Climate change knows no border,” he said. “We must work together across national and regional boundaries.”

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SBSTA Chair Harry Vreuls (right) with Minister Chowdhury, Bangladesh (left) and Felicity Volk, Australia Ambassador to Nepal (far left).

Many underscored the need to tap the voices and knowledge of Indigenous Peoples and youth. “We must scale up solutions, especially those of Indigenous peoples and locals that are the stewards of mountain ecosystems,” said Vreuls. 

Also crucial, pointed out Pam Pearson of ICCI, was ensuring local communities were equipped with the best available science. “If you are dependent on a specific glacier and a specific snowpack it’s very important you plan for these outcomes, and advocate for the one that is more favourable. We’ve also seen that Arctic Indigenous People have been very powerful in global forums. We would like to bring mountain Indigenous Peoples into climate fora, to have a voice.” 

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International Cryosphere Climate Initiative's Pam Pearson.

On the margins of the event, three ministers from Bangladesh, Bhutan, and Nepal met to discuss shared challenges, opportunities and scope for collaboration on mountain impacts.

Given the pace, impacts, and irreversibility of glacial melt and sea level rise and the urgency of limiting temperature rise well below the 1.5ºC threshold, and of mobilizing climate finance for adaptation and loss and damage, the ministers expressed their strong support for regional cooperation in addressing climate change.

Others repeatedly emphasised the need to focus on publics, with Vreuls saying: “If people start changing, governments will change.”

The SBSTA Experts Dialogue on Mountains and Climate Change will take place in Bonn on 5 June. Deputy Director General Izabella Koziell will lead the ICIMOD delegation to the event.

An edited transcript of the remarks delivered given at the International Experts Dialogue on Mountains, People, and Climate, Kathmandu on 22 May 2024

This is ground zero for climate change.  

If you want to understand what will happen to the world, mountains are the canary in the coalmine.  

This is where the discourse must start.  

We don’t need experts to tell us what is happening. These are facts we already know. Why are things not changing when the science is so clear the science is so conclusive?  

If you only talk about the effects, we become part of the problem. Where does the solution lie? Unless we decarbonise whatever we do in terms of adaption and resilience will never be enough.  

There are limits to resilience and adaptation. We are asked to formulate adaptation plans, but all the while our carbon emissions rise. How can you solve a problem by making the problem worst?  

This discourse needs to change. It doesn’t matter if Bangladesh and Nepal achieve net zero tomorrow, [when] G20 countries account for 81% of global emissions.  

We have the moral voice. I want to talk about three elements of climate justice:  

  1. those that have least caused problem are the most impacted.  
  1. those with least capacity to adapt and being asked to adapt beyond their capacity.  
  1. Governments are having to choose between fighting climate change and fighting poverty. No country should have to choose between fulfilling development aspirations and climate change. Between 25 ministers in our government in Bangladesh we have allocated $3.5bn yearly to adaptation. This is money that could have been spent building roads, schools, hospitals, empowering youth and women.  

Why is there a lack of political will? Why do countries commit time and again and not deliver? We’re talking about raising trillions of dollars to fund adaptation under the new finance goal. But still, billions have not been delivered.  

We can subsidize fossil fuels to the extent of $7 trillion a year. But not adaptation funds. This double standard has to stop. 

What will you do when all the glacier goes? When all melts? For us in Bangladesh it’s existential. How will we survive? Bangladesh is squeezed: between sea level rise and the disappearance of ice sheets, of the snow, of the permafrost.  

And how do we globalise the mountain agenda? We’re not just talking about Bangladesh and rising sea levels. The eastern seaboard of the US from Boston to Miami to Louisiana: these places will be underwater if seas continue to rise.  

We appreciate development partners’ help but the biggest help you can do is to stop the emissions. That is the help we need. That may sound uncomfortable but that’s the reality.  

We’re on a path to 2.6º celsius based on current pledges. If 100% of pledges are met. What will be left of Himalayas at that level of temperature rise?  

Even at 1.1ºC look at the damage and destruction and heat waves. Even one tenth of a degree makes a difference. We are double where we should be. It’s all very well us being supported but the support we need is decarbonisation.  

Some damage is irreversible. The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change says that. But what we can do now is to limit the future damage.  

Still at 1.5ºC, 30% of ice will be lost in Himalayas. And it will take thousands of years if at all for it to come back.  

Time is running out. Action needs to be delivered now. Tomorrow will be too late.  

This is not just a problem for the mountains it’s a problem for the world. And if we get it right here we get it right for the rest of the world.  

The political will to act is something we cannot generate here it must be generated in the capitals of the world.  

Bangladesh stands in strong solidarity with other nations.  

We will lose 18% of our land area. Millions will be displaced. Salinity intrusion is impacting food security. We have drought. Even in just one country we have this full spectrum of climate change impacts. It is happening now.  

So yes: we must have a strong voice.  

Also, the world is now waking up to the imperatives of adaption they’ll want to know how Nepal and Bangladesh have coped. Let’s not look to others to fix this, but look to how much we can fix by our own initiatives and creativity.  

Look at what is happening today in the world, and yet we’re talking about 1.5 and calling it an ambition: even when the science tells us that 1.5ºC is the absolute upper limit we can afford.  

The best available science says [warming] is happening much faster than we expected: the parts per million of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere is already at 428. We’re in uncharted waters.  

It is absolutely imperative that we cap temperatures. We need global leadership.  

But is it a majority of countries whose leadership which need, or that of a few countries that control the UN process?  

If for some reason, if by accident it was the Alliance of Small Island States, the Least Developed Countries, the Small Island Developing States, that were responsible for climate change today, you would have an avalanche of sanctions, you’d see visa restrictions. These countries would not be able to do any business.  

But the leadership will not change because of people like us. It will change when the people want change.  

When an event happens on climate change in other countries, like wildfires and floods, we feel empathy because climate change is a lived reality for us every day.  

But it’s also true that it is only when people of those countries realise that their governments have to take action that change will happen.  

Because while it is the responsibility of leadership to take people along with them, in fact most leaders operate on 4 to 5 years election cycles, what determines their actions is what will get them elected in the next session, not what will be the state of the country in 15 or 20 years time.  

So while politicians may not understand many things, one thing they do understand is their own self-interest. They want to continue to remain relevant. If they realize that people want change they will be the first to make change. What’s missing is not solidarity among government but solidarity among people. That’s what we need to do. 

What is happening in Nepal today will happen in all other countries of the world. It's at the local level and in our youth that there is a voice for change and it is that that will allow politicians to take action at global level. 

#SaveOurSnow

1.5 DEGREES IS TOO HOT

World Bee Day is observed on 20 May each year to draw attention to the essential role bees and other pollinators play in keeping people and the planet healthy. It provides an opportunity for governments, civil society organisations, and concerned communities to promote actions that protect and enhance pollinators and their habitats and contribute to meeting the UN’s sustainable development goals.

Honeybees and other pollinators contribute significantly to enabling global food production and halting the further loss of biodiversity and degradation of ecosystems. Viewed in economic terms, the value of services such as crop pollination, carbon sequestration, and water purification is estimated at USD 125–140 trillion, even more than the global GDP (USD 105 trillion in 2023). Yet, pollination and other ecosystem services are generally undervalued.

Bee species in the HKH, their roles, and challenges

The Hindu Kush Himalaya (HKH) is one of the world’s richest regions in terms of honeybee species diversity. Six of the nine known species of honeybee worldwide are found in the region; five of these the Apis dorsata, Apis florea, Apis laboriosa, Apis cerana, and Apis andreniformis– are indigenous to the HKH. Bees – in particular the honeybee – benefit numerous mountain households and agriculture in the region. By providing pollination services, honeybees enhance crop productivity, which sustain farm economies and improve food security. More pollination leads to greater fruit/seed setting and regeneration, underscoring the vital role of honeybees in environmental protection and biodiversity.

Multiple studies estimate that 75 per cent of Nepal’s food crops and nearly 90 per cent of its wild flowering plants depend on animal pollination. However, pollinators’ population is on the decline worldwide. Among the key factors for their decline in the HKH are climate change and loss in habitats. The reduced pollination that ensues has already had alarming economic consequences. One study found that the annual loss from reduced pollination across all agricultural commodities for Nepal amounted to as much as USD 250 dollars (over NPR 33,000) per capita.

Honey’s remarkable benefits

Honeybees produce honey mainly from the nectar of plants or from secretions of living parts of plants, which they collect and transform in honeycombs. Varied types of honey and a range of other bee products – honey, beeswax, pollen, royal jelly, bee brood, propolis, and bee venom – are produced in the HKH, thanks to the richness of honeybee species and the region’s floral diversity.

The application of honey and other bee products as medicine, called apitherapy, is gaining scientific recognition. Honey is rich in carbohydrates and contains numerous trace elements, vitamins, minerals, amino acids, and enzymes. Many scientific publications state that honey has antiviral, antibacterial, and anti-fungal qualities. It is effective in treating ulcers, sores, and surface infections from burns and wounds. It increases one’s appetite, helps control gastritis, and offers relief from allergies, sinusitis, arthritis, and asthma.

Nepal produces many kinds of honey, such as high-altitude Himalayan honey, indigenous hive bee honey, unifloral honey, and honeydew honey. These can be sold as specialised products, and have considerable income- and employment-generating potential; yet, honey production and beekeeping do not attract young entrepreneurs. Further, very little effort is being made to harness the potential of bee products other than honey. 

Harnessing the potential of honeybee products for economic resilience

Given the importance of honeybee products and the crucial role honeybees play in improving crop productivity and maintaining biodiversity, efforts are needed to promote honeybee species and add value to bee products. A few policy suggestions follow.

One, there is the need to establish and operationalise a business model that focuses on the diversification of bee products and a better positioning of value-added products in domestic and international markets via branding, labelling, advertisements, and quality control. Two, there is a need to build trust among value chain actors. At present, beekeepers find it difficult to sell their honey, end consumers lack trust in its quality, and honey suppliers/traders and distributors face challenges in fetching a good value for the produce.

To harness opportunities, we need to strengthen supply chain linkages with honey hunters and beekeepers by ensuring timely delivery of produce. Incentivising start-ups and small businesses to add value to bee products, reducing production costs, and generating more demand for Nepali honey and other value-added bee products in domestic and international markets is essential.

The increased demand for honey and other value-added bee products will motivate farmers/beekeepers to expand their beekeeping operations, while stronger supply chain linkages will lead to collaboration and trust among suppliers and buyers, contributing to gains all around. Young entrepreneurs will be encouraged to replicate this model in different provinces of Nepal. All this would benefit innumerable rural communities, in terms of both income and employment, across Nepal.


Surendra Raj Joshi (surendra.joshi@icimod.org) is Coordinator of ICIMOD’s HI–REAP programme, and specializes in honeybee and livelihood diversification.


Related publications

  1. Agroforestry Systems as Adaptation Measures for Sustainable Livelihoods and Socio-economic Development in the Sikkim Himalaya
  2. Pro-Poor Value Chain Development for Apis cerana Honey: Potential Benefits to Smallholder Apis cerana Beekeepers in the Hindu Kush Himalaya; ICIMOD Research Report 2017/3
  3. Impact of Apiculture on the Household Income of Rural Poor in Mountains of Chitral District in Pakistan
  4. Honeybee Pollination and Apple Yields in Chitral, Pakistan; ICIMOD Working Paper 2017/19
  5. The Indigenous Honeybee, Apis cerana – A Pollen Robber or Pollinator of Large Cardamom?; ICIMOD Working Paper 2017/8
  6. Strengthening Horizontal and Vertical Linkages for Honey Value Chain Development in the Hindu Kush Himalayan Region
  7. Beekeeping Training for Farmers in the Himalayas: Resource Manual for Trainers
  8. آموزش زنبورداری برای دهاقين در افغانستان کتاب رهنمای آموزگاران [Beekeeping Training for Farmers in Afghanistan: Resource Manual for Trainers]
  9. Beekeeping Training for Farmers in the Himalayas: Resource Manual for Trainers
  10. Beekeeping Training for Farmers in the Himalaya: Resource Manual for Trainers
  11. आधारभूत मौरीपालन तालिम प्रशिक्षक स्रोत पुस्तिका [Beekeeping Training for Farmers in the Himalayas : Resource Manual for Trainers]
  12. Improving Livelihoods through Community-Based Beekeeping in Nepal
  13. The Human Pollinators of Fruit Crops in Maoxian County, Sichuan, China: A Case Study of the Failure of Pollination Services and Farmers' Adaptation Strategies
  14. Developing Resource Manual for Trainers on Beekeeping Training for Farmers through Participatory Approach
  15. Quality Assurance for the Honey Trade in the Hindu Kush Himalayan Region
  16. Beekeeping livelihoods in the Himalayas
  17. Promoting Livelihoods through Income and Employment Generation in Chittagong Hill Tracts
  18. Mountain Development Resource Book for Afghanistan
  19. Beekeeping and Rural Development
  20. ICIMOD; Achievements, Challenges, and Lessons Learned
  21. Women, Energy and Water in the Himalayas: Project Learning
  22. Queen Rearing in Apis Cerana:Training Resource Book
  23. Warning Signals from the Apple Valleys of the Hindu Kush-Himalayas: Productivity Concerns and Pollination Problems
  24. Beekeeping Trainers' Resource Book
  25. Asian Bees and Beekeeping; Progress of Research and Development
  26. Pollination Management of Mountain Crops through Beekeeping - Trainers' Resource Book
  27. Pollination Management of Mountain Crops through Beekeeping: Trainers' Resource Book
  28. Pollination Management of Mountain Crops through Beekeeping - Trainers' Resource Book
  29. Appropriate Farm Technologies for Cold and Dry Zones of the Hindu Kush-Himalayas
  30. The Asian Hive Bee, Apis cerana, as a Pollinator in Vegetable Seed Production; An Awareness Handbook
  31. Dictionary of Beekeeping Terms: Volume 11 English-Hindi-Chinese
  32. Honeybees In Mountain Agriculture
  33. Beekeeping; In Integrated Mountain Development: Economic And Scientific Perspectives

ICIMOD Senior Biodiversity Specialist Nakul Chettri is among 2,000 delegates from governments, observers, and civil society, in Nairobi, Kenya, this week for the Subsidiary Body on Scientific, Technical and Technological Advice (SBSTTA).

SBSTTA, as the official intergovernmental and multidisciplinary scientific advisory body to the Convention on Biological Diversity Conference of the Parties (COP), is the key meeting for the building of consensus and recommendations ahead of CBD COP which takes place every two years, and this year falls in October in Cali, Colombia.

At the last CBD COP, in 2022, parties made a historic agreement on biodiversity – the Kunming-Montreal Global Biodiversity Framework (GBF).

The GBF includes ambitious commitments to halt and reverse biodiversity loss by 2030 and sets out a pathway to reach the global vision of a world living in harmony with nature by 2050 via four goals and 23 targets.

It emphasises action‐ and results‐oriented implementation by revisiting the nation state’s National Biodiversity Strategies and Action Plans (NBSAPs), and to facilitate the monitoring and review of progress at all levels in a more transparent and responsible manner.

Although Afghanistan, Bangladesh, Bhutan, China, India, Myanmar, Nepal, and Pakistan are all parties to the convention, mountains are yet to be prioritised.

ICIMOD, with partners, is arguing for greater focus to be given to mountain specificities within the HKH and other mountain regions by:

a) adding more mountain specific indicators during the revision of monitoring framework of the GBF and NBSAPs.

b) reviving the Programme of Work on Mountain Biological Diversity (PoWMB): a dormant framework for collaboration among mountain countries whose reactivation can support implementation of the GBF

On the eve of SBSTTA 26, ICIMOD convened regional member countries for a Virtual Regional Dialogue on preparation for SBSTTA 26: A roadmap to CoP16 at which the GBF, NBSAPs and PoWMB were discussed.

Key take-aways were:

As a collaborator in ICIMOD’s unique mandate to bring together the people of this beautiful but fragile region, overcoming geopolitics to address larger shared problems, the Himalayan University Consortium is working closely with university leaders to build partnerships to tackle some of the largest problems that unite us in the Hindu Kush Himalayan region.

Even if the world miraculously manages to stabilize the global average temperature at 1.5 degrees above preindustrial, we will still face an onslaught of climate change driven changes, the likes of which we have only had small glimpses of so far.

Retreating glaciers will create fast-growing glacial lakes, many of which will burst their dams and flood the valleys below. Many of our glaciers will disappear completely, taking with them our dry-season water supply. Places high above the tree line that used to only get snow, will get rain instead, triggering debris flows into the valleys below.

Cloudbursts and other extreme weather events will increase, taking out our infrastructure and inundating our lowlands. Low-lying areas will face more and more life-threatening heat waves. We will also see increasing numbers of cascading disasters such as what the Melamchi Valley in Nepal faced in 2021, or what took out the Chungthang dam in Sikkim in 2023.

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We need and deserve decision-making that fully takes into account the future climate risks that we will face across our region

Quite simply the past is no longer an indication of the future. Places that were safe for centuries will no longer be safe in the coming years. So, it is not just the role, but the responsibility of higher education to prepare future leaders and the future public, so that they will make rational informed decisions in a world with a rapidly changing climate.

This responsibility has five parts:

1. MAKE THE RIGHT RESEARCH

The first is to make sure that the required knowledge is generated. That priority is given to research about climate change and its impacts, along with adaptation and mitigation solutions. This includes fighting for and allocating sufficient funding for relevant research. It also includes building research infrastructure and collaborations, often beyond national borders, to jointly publish papers with researchers from elsewhere in the region and beyond working towards building a regional scientific consensus on key issues.

2. ATTRACT THE RIGHT TALENT

The second part of the responsibility of higher education in addressing climate change is making sure that the next generations of researchers are trained who will be capable of taking forward cutting-edge research. Not just monitoring of the physical climate, but also its impacts on societies and ecosystems, and the documentation and evaluation of relevant indigenous knowledge. There may be sexier fields of study with promises of high paying jobs, but please create conditions to attract bright students into climate related research.

3. BUILD CLIMATE INTO EVERY SYLLABUS

The third part is making sure that there is an informed public. This means integrating basic knowledge about climate change into EVERY university student’s curriculum, whether a business student or a medical student. An understanding of the basic climate system, but also the literacy to read a landscape: To look at a river bend, and know on which side future erosion will take place. To stand on a river bank, and see the marks that tell you how high monsoon floods go. To look at an alluvial fan, and visualize the risks if a debris flow were to come down the tributary channel. Also, to understand one’s own role in changing the climate, and how personal decisions to use fossil fuels or emit black carbon affect the regional and global climate.

4. USE MEDIA, AND DITCH JARGON AND UNCERTAINTY, TO REACH LEADERS

The fourth role of higher education is to make sure that leaders are well informed. Political leaders, but also business leaders, investors, insurance executives, engineers, and everyone else who cannot afford to rely solely on past experience, or on instinct based on past experience, but need nuanced knowledge about how the world is changing. Doing research, writing journal papers full of jargon, and training students is not enough. Our professors need to come out and speak more to the media, to attend more public hearings, to make sure their own and their colleagues’ research results are communicated in ways that make sense to the public. This may need some training that needs to be facilitated by the university administration. 

And there is also a need to be mindful about how to talk about uncertainty. In academia it is the unknown that sells. What we don’t know, what is just beyond the edge of what we know…that is where future thesis topics reside. That is where research funding may be available. And that is what we spend much of our time talking about. But it is not just the role, but the responsibility of higher education to prepare future leaders and the future public, so that they will make rational informed decisions in a world with a rapidly changing climate. And that uncertainty is not what the decision-makers care about. They need to know what we know sufficiently to make informed decisions.

I recall, a decade ago, refusing to go public with the results from an air pollution research project that I was involved in, which found that somewhere between 22% and 29% of winter-time air pollution in the Kathmandu Valley was from garbage burning.

I worried whether the real number was closer to 22 or closer to 29%.

I worried about how representative our site in the eastern valley was.

And I stayed silent.

In retrospect I could have gone public saying “one quarter” of winter-time air pollution was from garbage burning… and that may have been sufficient to motivate mayors to crack down on the open burning of garbage years sooner than they did.

So please bring together your professors from the physical and social sciences, and match them up with colleagues from journalism or media studies or with practicing journalists, and help them figure out what to present to the public, and how.

We need, and we deserve decision-making that fully takes into account the future climate risks that we will face across our region. Risks that vary greatly in time and place.

5. BUILD MORE PATHWAYS TO POWER

The fifth role for academic institutions in climate decision-making is in guiding the creation, the structures and the procedures of institutions and institutional arrangements that facilitate making decisions that are based on analysis and evidence, on weighing the full range of pros and cons, on an understanding of impacts on a wide range of diverse people and on the careful analysis of risks, not just on an individual leader’s emotional response to one small piece of evidence.

We saw during early days of COVID-19, before vaccines were developed and before the problem was fully understood… the difference in results between countries that were led by old men who thought they knew everything, and countries that were led by more humble leaders who were eager to learn and adjust, while communicating clearly with their public.

Climate change cuts across sectors and scales and involves a broad range of time frames. Decisions made today will have impacts far beyond any current leader’s terms in office. How do we ensure that advisory bodies are in place, that mechanisms are created, so that proper, well-informed, nuanced decisions take place? What decision frameworks are effective?

That, ladies and gentlemen, will be something where your schools of business, your political scientists, psychologists and management specialists can have major impact.

To summarize: I see five ways for higher education institutions to have a role in shaping climate decision making: 

For all five of these, there is significant learning that can be exchanged, and each HUC member will grow much faster working together than if had to create your own path forward.

The problems are described by science.

The solutions are decided by politics.

Please help build strong bridges between the two.

Mahottari District in south-central Nepal is a bustling centre that connects the country’s lowlands of the Terai to the hills.

Sitting within the lower area of the Koshi River Basin, it is also acutely vulnerable to a range of different disasters: running from floods to droughts.

This sweep of extremes is now a phenomenon so common throughout the Hindu Kush Himalayan region that it has earned its own acronym: TMTL – standing for ‘too much, too little’ water.

It is a phenomenon of which ICIMOD is working hard to raise awareness, and for which the organisation is also seeking to co-develop and scale solutions.

In transboundary Koshi, the stakes are high. Over 35 million people rely on the river for food, water, and other resources, and are potentially vulnerable to its vicissitudes.

In this region, ICIMOD has partnered with the Government of Australia to set out to safeguard local communities, establishing a four-year programme to build capabilities for green, climate-resilient, and inclusive development in the Lower Koshi River Basin (HI-GRID for short) which launched in 2023.

The project focuses on:

  1. Identifying and scaling adaptation solutions that protect wellbeing and develop livelihoods
  2. Decentralising governance
  3. Integration of gender equality, disability and social inclusion in local-level planning

Community Development and Advocacy Forum Nepal (CDAFN) is one of HI-GRID’s key partners in the region.

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Seepage water raising technology: Underground canal (At the left) to seepage the subsurface water from the Ratu River through the field canals (on the right) for irrigation. Photo: Jitendra Bajracharya, ICIMOD

The organisation works to address peak-summer water scarcity, deploying a technique called ‘seepage water raising’ – which channels water from under the Ratu riverbed through canals to agricultural fields in the nearby villages.

At the same location, embankments are being strengthened with the help of bioengineering measures like the planting of trees. This has helped in defining river channels, and has reduced flood risk to nearby agricultural fields during the peak monsoon.

CDAFN president, Nagdev Yadav, says this Nature-based Solution to the challenges villages face has “Significantly enhanced the livelihoods of local communities, especially during seasons of drought.”

The project is also working with local communities to co-develop Nature-based Solutions and has supported villages to install a community-based flood early warning system (CBFEWS) at the nearby Ratu bridge in Lalgadh.

Local resident Mahendra Bikram Karki has championed the system within the community, acting as a caretaker to ensure it remains operational and relaying life-saving warnings to downstream villagers.

He takes obvious pride in his linchpin role, which has made him a celebrated figure within the district administration and local media, but it’s a serious undertaking.

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Mahendra Bikram Karki (far left) has been voluntarily looking after the CBFEWS installed Ratu River for over ten years and plays a critical role in sharing timely alert during flooding season. Photo: Jitendra Bajracharya, ICIMOD  

“The caretaker is a crucial role in the chain of information that needs to be passed during flood season,” he says. “When it rains heavily, I sometimes don’t sleep for a few nights so I can ensure that timely information is being sent to my friends downstream.”

In February 2024, Australian Ambassador to Nepal Her Excellency Felicity Volk travelled to the towns of Rajabas, Lalgadh and Bhanga in Mahottari to speak to local communities about ground realities, and witness the impact of HI-GRID’s nature-based interventions in its first year.  

Effective & scalable Nature-based Solutions (NbS) for DRR, are helping vulnerable communities address the growing challenges of climate change. Our partners ICIMOD & CDAFN are testing NbS that protect, manage & restore ecosystems & livelihoods.

As the project enters its second year, community interest and action will remain at the fore through collaboration with local partners: identifying solutions that are scalable and sustainable for villages that are already facing acute losses and damages at global temperatures rise.  

The mist rolled over the mountains as we approached Tsholukam Lake, hiding its pristine waters from view. We had completed a challenging four-hour uphill trek to reach the lake, located at an altitude of 4,300 metres above sea level (masl) in Naro Gewog, Thimpu district or dzongkhag in north-western Bhutan, where we met Dorje and Yangden, a local couple who were tending to the needs of their 80 yaks – a species of long-haired domesticated cattle found throughout the Himalayas.

Dual livelihoods

Yak herding in this region is an age-old practice, a traditional way of life deeply rooted in the culture and landscape of the highlands. One way the couple makes a living from their yaks is with their 19 milking cows, which provide 25 litres of milk daily, yielding 2.5 kgs of butter and 10 kgs of dried cheese.

The couple also collects and sells medicinal plants, herbs and species, including kutki/puti shing (Picrorhiza kurroa), jatamansi (Nardostachys jatamansi), and yartsa gunbu or caterpillar fungus (Ophiocordyceps sinensis) – all of which are used to treat a range of ailments, and command a high price in the market.

This is one of the many tales of yak herders we heard, as we ventured into the Jigme Dorji National Park (JDNP), the second-largest of Bhutan’s national parks, occupying the entire dzongkhag of Gasa, and the northern areas of the dzongkhags of Thimphu, Paro, Punakha, and Wangdue Phodrang.

Walk a mile in someone else’s shoes

This trek was part of the ‘Lingzhi – Laya Walkshop’ undertaken by a team from ICIMOD and partners from Bhutan in September 2023. The ‘walkshop’ is an initiative of ICIMOD to connect and interact with mountain communities to understand their urgent needs and issues from their perspective in the face of climate change.

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At Tsholukam Lake, 4300 masl: A joint team with diverse expertise from ICIMOD and representatives from different departments of the Royal Government of Bhutan including the Departments of Forest and Park Services, Livestock, Tourism, the National Centre for Hydrology and Meteorology, the National Land Commission, and Menjong Sorig Pharmaceutical Corporation Ltd. (Photo: Jitendra Raj Bajracharya)

Over this eleven-day expedition, I saw majestic yaks grazing in the highlands for the very first time – an awe-inspiring sight I will always cherish. Yet, what fascinated me most was the interplay of various elements within the ecosystem that together shape the lives of yak herders like Dorje and Yangden. This extends to medicinal plant collection, a vital seasonal pursuit of many yak herders.

At Tshering Yangu (4220 masl), three women yak herders also shared with us how they had each earned over USD 1000 in one year through the sale of yak products and medicinal species and plants including yartsa gunbu, puti shing, and jatamansi. This income represents a substantial boost to the livelihoods and resilience of the highland herders, considering that the economic landscape in the high-altitude region is often subsistence-based and can be quite challenging due to limited access to markets and harsh environmental conditions.

The looming threat of climate change

However, the herders’ dual sources of income face pressing challenges. The encroachment of shrubs and plant species, exacerbated by climate change, has caused significant alterations to the ecosystem, depleting grazing lands and diminishing the availability of medicinal plants. The challenges brought on by changes in the ecosystem impact both their yak herding and herb collection endeavours.

“In the winter, we face the challenge of collecting feed and fodder amidst the snow, and during the summer, our pastureland is degraded by erratic rainfall, spread of shrubs, and invasive species. This is the major challenge for yak herders,” said Sonam Tshering, a local yak herder and Chairperson of the Naro Lanor Yak Cooperative at Barshong. These concerns were echoed by several yak herders we met as we journeyed through JDNP.

Impacts – happening now

The impact of climate change on yak herders and their way of life is not only significant but also clearly visible. The locals of Tshering Yangu (4220 masl) and Barshong (3800 masl) witnessed the most intense rainfall in 2023, and we too encountered unpredictable rain that resulted in several landslides along our journey. The shifting snowfall patterns and shorter snow seasons, as described by the locals, have led to the deterioration of grazing areas.

Similarly, we observed the changing pasture conditions and noted the colonisation of grazing pastures by invasive species and shrubs, such as Rumex obtusifolius, and rhododendron shrubberies. Pasang Om, a 60-year-old yak herder, also mentioned that one of the significant changes she has observed in her decades of yak herding is the growing presence of shrubs on the rangeland, which has had an impact on yak grazing. At times, when I stood atop the vast rangelands, I couldn’t help but notice how they were completely covered in shrubs, greatly restricting the available grazing areas. This illustrated the significant decrease in accessible grazing pastures, compelling herders to search for alternative areas for their yak herds.

The invasive species have not only affected yak herding but also the harvesting of medicinal plants and ‘bioprospecting’, which describes the act of searching for plant and animal species from which medicinal drugs and other commercially valuable compounds can be obtained.

Growing shrubs and invasive species have encroached upon the areas where medicinal plants and herbs grow, and climate change has added further challenges to the collection of these plants.

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The once-rich grazing grounds and medicinal herb collection areas have been impacted by the encroachment of shrubs and plant species such as rhododendron, leading to a decline in yak pasture and medicinal herbs. (Photo: Jitendra Raj Bajracharya)

“The availability of medicinal herbs is declining due to changes in climate. Due to shifts in weather patterns, medicinal herbs are not growing as timely as they used to, resulting in reduced numbers and availability for collection affecting local livelihoods,” shared Thinley Norbu, Senior Pharmaceutical Technician from Menjog Sorig Pharmaceutical Cooperation, a company based in Thimpu, Bhutan, specialising in traditional medicines and health supplements. He also shared how the changing rainfall patterns and erratic weather have caused landslides and soil erosion, which are becoming more common due to climate change, further endangering the medicinal herb harvest.

From conflict to coexistence: humans and wildlife in the highlands

Additionally, the JDNP team stressed that there is an alteration in the habitats of wildlife such as tiger and snow leopard, posing the risk of human–wildlife conflict, a term which encapsulates negative interactions between humans and wild animals, with undesirable consequences for people, their resources, and wildlife and their habitats. Human-wildlife conflict was the most common issue shared by most yak herders, which they said was threatening the lives of yaks and the livelihoods of herders.

This year, Dorje and Yangden lost five yak calves to snow leopards and four adult yaks to tigers. Some herders have begun to construct fences or corrals to protect their animals from such attacks.

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Ugyen Penjor, 32 years old, yak herder stands before a fenced corral which helps protect yaks and calves from snow leopards and tiger attack. (Photo: Jitendra Raj Bajracharya)

While the challenges are immense, the need to adapt to the consequences of climate change is more urgent than ever. As the world grapples with the repercussions of a warming planet, it is the mountain communities, such as the yak herders in JDNP, who bear the brunt of these impacts. It is important to emphasise here that, although these mountain communities make minimal contributions to climate change, they find themselves disproportionately affected by its adverse consequences. This disparity becomes most evident in the emerging threats to the livelihoods of these herders and the wellbeing of their yaks, as their traditional way of life continually hangs in the balance.

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With a yak herding couple at Tshering Yangu (4220 masl). (Photo: Jitendra Raj Bajracharya)

David Breashears in 1985 became the first climber from the USA to reach the summit of Everest more than once; in 1987 led the first guided commercial expedition to the mountain and he summitted the mountain overall five times. But it was not until 2007, when he started to chronicle the impact of temperature rise on Earth’s mountains, that he found his true calling – the work for which he would most like to be remembered, according to his sister. 

It was that year that, shooting a film in Solukhumbhu for US network broadcaster PBS, Breashears first took a photograph of the North Face of Everest in the exact spot, at the exact time of day, and in the exact same season, that British explorer George Mallory had taken the first ever photograph of glacier and mountain 90 years before.  

Overlaying his own exact replica of that first image over the original revealed the true extent of the ice that had already been lost over the past century. Even all those years ago, much of Everest’s own ice cap was already gone, and the main glacier had shrunk dramatically. 

“This was when I understood the actual magnitude of what climate change was doing to the mountains, and I wanted to start a dialogue about what is happening in the Himalaya,” he told the Nepali Times in 2013.  

He started to dedicate his life to chronicling these changes using photography: not just those photos based on Mallory’s collection from the Royal Geographical Society in London, but also using Erwin Schneiders’s images from the 1950s, of Imja Glacier.  

“Deep in my heart when I see this landscape I think there is a problem, and I think people should know about it,” he’d told author, editor and personal friend, Lisa Choegyal, who served on the board of GlacierWorks, Breashears's climate communications organisation.  

“His powerful, pioneering shrinking glacier images and touch-screen innovations were way ahead of their time in calling the world’s attention to the threatened state of our planet,” she said at a tribute in Kathmandu last month.  

Breashears was one of a number of climbers whose careers in the mountains have given them a front-row eyewitness view of the shocking extent of ice and snow losses in Earth’s frozen zones.

“Those of us who have climbed Everest for the past 33 years have seen the changes taking place under our own feet," he told the Nepali Times in 2013. "The traverse to the Hillary Step from the South Summit were almost entirely snow climbs. Now our crampons scrape and scratch across exposed rock… the snow arête no longer exists.”  

The vast images he produced, which he worked with ICIMOD to create and exhibit, had an extraordinary impact on general publics, and are still considered the organisation’s communications high-water mark.

Dr Joseph Shea, an ICIMOD alumnus who is now an associate professor at the University of Northern British Columbia said, “Everyone who walked into the room was blown away.” Crucially, the show cut through to an extraordinarily diverse cross-section of society: from schoolchild, to rickshaw-driver, to ambassador.  

These included those that had never seen mountain snow, and who were able to see with their own eyes the changes in the cryosphere through his images, and to join the dots between those losses and water availability for crops, or hazards downstream.  

Amy Sellmyer, senior editor at ICIMOD at the time of the exhibition, said Breashears understood how important it was to make people fall in love with the mountains first – and so always led with their sheer spellbinding beauty. She said he also grasped “before most of us did how important it was for people to be able to see the changes with their own eyes.”  

David Molden, then ICIMOD Director General, said the show also gave people a space to come together and talk about other environmental issues beyond the cryosphere too – about air pollution, plastic waste, the Bagmati river. It sparked a national conversation. 

The project also transformed his collaborators' notion of what they were capable of achieving.

As Sellmyer said: “He pushed us to go way beyond what any of us really thought was possible, truly expanded our sense of what we might do. He showed us a different way to tell our story, and the power of doing so.”  

“You’d talk to him and think, well, that’s an impossible task,” Molden continued. “But he’d keep pushing and pushing and gather enough allies and all of a sudden, the seemingly impossible had happened. It was so special to have had the opportunity to work with him. And I’m so very glad he chose to work with ICIMOD. He helped our work beyond measure.”  

Given how far off countries are from delivering rapid and deep emissions reductions, and how quickly now the cryosphere is disappearing, in the Hindu Kush Himalaya and around the world, his work takes on even greater poignancy.

Jakob Steiner, an ICIMOD alumnus who is now based in Pakistan as a fellow of the Himalaya Universities Consortium and an author of ICIMOD's landmark Water Ice Society and Ecosystems in the Hindu Kush Himalaya (2023) report, said: “Himalayan landscapes are changing so rapidly, we can hardly keep up documenting what we lose. David documented mountain vistas, of glaciers and snow that are already now gone, visualising this speed of loss. His work reminds us how important it is to capture this, so next generations can understand what could have been”, he said.  

Breashears’s work has earned its place within an invaluable visual archive – alongside photographers working before he was even born: an archive that scientists are using to build a timeline of change for tomorrow’s climbers, filmmakers, and activists. 

Bob Palais, Breashears’s friend and a research professor at the University of Utah in the USA said he and colleagues “shared our sense of loss and appreciation for someone who had worked so hard to advance awareness of the very present and even greater future harms that exceedingly rapid global climate change portends.”  

Palais went on to talk about what it was about the mountains, beyond David’s sheer mountaineering artistry, that he thought kept David coming back year after year after year, whether to the Himalayas or to Colorado. It was the mountain peoples, Palais thought, that kept him rapt – and his reverence for the cultures of reciprocity found among those who lived in such proximity to unique and fragile lifeforms created through thousands of years of complex processes in these steep, remote zones.  

“I think all of us working in the mountains should strive to have that same passion about what’s happening in the Himalaya as David had,” Molden said. “His dedication to this region provides inspiration and guidance and leadership on how to do that.”  

While Breashears was clearly a completely unique, idiosyncratic, indefatigable one-off, for more of us to pick up his work, or to carry even just a shred of his ambition, vision, determination and urgency – and scientific rigour – forward into our own spheres of work, using our own individual talents, is, of course, more urgent now than ever.

#SaveOurSnow

1.5 DEGREES IS TOO HOT

With the impact of temperature rise on water availability set to compound already high levels of food insecurity in the region, ICIMOD has partnered with the World Food Programme (WFP) to protect vulnerable communities in the region.

A Memorandum of Understanding signed by both organisations on April 26 outlines areas for cooperation, including:

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Dr Pema Gyamtsho, Director General of ICIMOD, and Mr. Robert Kasca, WFP Representative and Country Director to Nepal signed the MoU, which marks a pivotal step towards addressing challenges confronting the HKH region. Photo: Jitendra Raj Bajracharya/ICIMOD

ICIMOD’s 2023 HI-WISE report found that around one-third of people in the Hindu Kush Himalaya are food insecure, with half suffering from malnutrition. Children (under 5 years of age) and women are among the most nutrition-insecure groups.

WFP is the United Nations’ frontline agency in the global fight against hunger. It is mandated to provide emergency and development assistance to eradicate hunger and poverty amongst the poorest and most food-insecure countries and populations.  

significant milestone

Director General of ICIMOD Dr Pema Gyamtsho called the signing a “significant milestone”, saying, "It is imperative that we strengthen the resilience of the agriculture sector: through predictive tools like geospatial and earth observation technologies and the scaling of innovative approaches to mitigate risks, such as those from wildlife and pests. We are grateful for WFP's partnership, and we are committed to enhancing food production in mountain communities for a more secure future." 

Mr Robert Kasca

"WFP brings a vital social dimension to our collaboration, by identifying vulnerabilities within communities and empowering them”, said WFP Representative and Country Director to Nepal Mr. Robert Kasca. “Through a series of update reports, we are supporting the Government and partners in tracking food security and market trends to generate evidence for effective data-driven solutions to tackle hunger and malnutrition across the country. Leveraging ICIMOD's expertise in earth observation tools, we are trying to ensure nobody goes to bed hungry,” he added.

The Hindu Kush Himalaya is one of the most populous places in the planet. Water variability prompted by glacier melt and changes in snowfall is one of the most serious and immediate consequences of global temperature rise in the region, where 240 million live, and on whose waters billions more depend. 

Communities in the mountains and plains are already seeing falls in crop diversity, productivity and food security – declines which will be compounded in the coming decades by increasingly unpredictable water availability: due to shifts in precipitation, delayed or early snowfall or glacier and snowpack melt, erratic rain and snowfall, rising numbers of floods and droughts, and the drying up of springs.

ICIMOD has published landmark scientific assessments that provide evidence on the scale of the region’s vulnerability to these risks and works globally for a faster transition from dirty energy and for the scaling up and more rapid delivery of adaptation funding.

The centre also works with communities on the ground to co-design and scale up solutions to water challenges including protocols to revive springs; climate-smart water-management; novel, renewables-powered irrigation systems to ‘lift’ water up hillsides, and community-based early warning systems to reduce flood-damage.

The centre’s foresight experts, meanwhile, are analysing trends to support governments and communities to anticipate and adapt to rapid changes in water and food systems. 

Detailed areas of Collaboration

  1. Food Security Information and Monitoring: ICIMOD and WFP will collaborate to generate crucial data on agriculture and food security in Nepal, focusing on areas such as crop area and yield estimations. Tools developed through this partnership will facilitate the dissemination of data for informed decision-making.
  2. Climate Change and Risk Analysis: The partnership aims to analyze the impact of climate change-induced risks on agriculture, leveraging Earth Observation tools to assess climate and natural hazards' effects. This analysis will enable stakeholders to develop adaptive strategies to mitigate risks.
  3. Capacity Strengthening: Both organizations will support stakeholders through capacity-building initiatives, bridging gaps in scientific evidence, policies, and institutional capabilities. Strengthening capacities will enhance the region's resilience to environmental and socio-economic challenges.
  4. Policy Advocacy: ICIMOD and WFP will engage in joint science-based policy advocacy, focusing on climate change, agriculture, food security, nutrition, and emergency preparedness. This collaborative effort aims to influence policies for sustainable development and resilience-building.
  5. Research and Assessment: Collaborative research will be conducted on key areas such as weather forecast-based emergency preparedness and the linkages between indigenous crop production and school feeding programs. These insights will inform evidence-based interventions to address food security challenges.
ICIMOD and WFP

Looking Ahead

As the collaboration between ICIMOD and WFP unfolds, it holds the promise of fostering sustainable solutions and collective efforts to ensure food security in Nepal, especially in the face of evolving global food security challenges. By combining expertise, resources, and a shared commitment to resilience-building, this partnership intends to make a meaningful impact on the lives of mountain communities, paving the way for a more sustainable and food-secure future.

Through concerted efforts and collaborative endeavors, ICIMOD and WFP are demonstrating the power of partnership in addressing complex challenges and advancing sustainable development goals. As we embark on this journey together, the focus remains steadfast on building resilience, ensuring food security, and empowering communities for a brighter tomorrow.

Ground realities 

The agriculture sector in the Hindu Kush Himalaya is currently deprived of one main vehicle for growth: energy. 

To take Nepal as an example: the use of energy in Nepali farming is just 1-2% of the national total. In stark contrast, in Norway and other developed countries, the use of energy penetrates the entire agriculture and food security value chain. 

While much of Norway’s energy for agriculture currently comes from fossil-fuel sources, a major shift is underway, with more and more farmers embracing renewables.  

Upping Nepal’s use of energy in farming has the potential to be a game-changer. 

Excitingly, the country has an opportunity to do this without resorting to fossil fuels.  

Renewables: a Vital Solution  

While 90% of current energy in agriculture in Nepal is sourced from diesel, the rapid increase in the production of renewable energy from primarily hydroelectric production means it’s completely possible for fossil fuel sources to take up an ever lessening proportion of the agriculture energy mix.  

This work is urgent. In many hills and mountain districts, villages are emptying as inhabitants leave due to lack of water. Young men in particular are migrating, leaving the burden of agricultural production to women and the elderly.  

While deploying renewables in agriculture will lighten farmers' loads both today and in the long-run, use of fossil fuels in farming will only exacerbate the temperature rise that is already making water sources and their livelihoods less secure.  

The laws of gravity 

Communities in the mountains have traditionally tended to live higher up – a rational choice when rainfall and snowmelt were plentiful and predictable.  

But with rain and snow more erratic, community water sources are disappearing fast.  

These communities living in places higher up where they can grow food need access to water from the bottom of valleys – and fast.   

Well-planned renewable-powered water lifting systems can and must bridge this gap. 

Nepal and Norway: 60 years of Collaboration Continues 

Supported by the Norwegian Embassy, UNDP, World Food Programme and ICIMOD, last year launched a new initiative called “Energy for Food”.  

This project, which focuses on the hill and mountain districts in the provinces of Karnali and Sudurpaschim in Nepal, enables communities to take advantage of local energy sources to lift water for irrigation and other vital uses. 

This exemplary project is a beacon for the meaningful use of renewable energy for agriculture - with a huge opportunity to be scaled out across the Hindu Kush Himalaya. 

Find out more about ICIMOD and partners’ work across the region: https://www.icimod.org/renewable-energy-agriculture/ 

Forests in Nepal’s southern and eastern districts are ablaze this spring. The Government of Nepal’s Forest Fire Detection and Monitoring System, developed with technical support from ICIMOD, recorded 466 forest fires in March rising to 1,174 in the first two weeks of April alone.

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Plumes of smoke rise from a raging forest fire captured in late March in Kahun Dada, Pokhara. Photo credit: Dipendra Shrestha, Everest FM, Pokhara

Drier winters, with as many as 12 out of Nepal’s last 18 winters receiving lower than usual levels of precipitation, are sparking the higher numbers of pre-monsoon forest fires. Within Nepal, annual losses are put at NRS 2 billion. India, where forest fires are also on the rise, made headlines this year when little to no snowfall fell in high mountain areas, including the famous ski resort Gulmarg in Kashmir.

Forest fires, as well as crop burning and open burning of waste, are responsible for toxic pollutants that are hugely harmful to human health: carbon monoxide (CO), nitrogen oxides, volatile organic compounds, fine particulate matter (PM2.5), and black carbon. Given regional weather patterns, particulate matter from forest fires in the region is being carried by winds directly towards Kathmandu.

ICIMOD data captured at the Khumaltar Air Quality Monitoring station (see below) shows that the daily average of PM2.5 particles between 1-10 April measured at 48 µg/m3 to 131 µg/m3. The World Health Organisation ranks any measurement above 5 micrograms per cubic meter (µg/m3) as hazardous. Similarly, the US Embassy station in Maharajgunj recorded a daily average PM 2.5 concentration ranging from 42 µg/m3 to 137 µg/m3 between 1-9 April.

Air Quality Analysis 2024
Analysis of PM2.5 levels as observed by ICIMOD’s Khumaltar station between April 1-April 10 and the U.S. Embassy Station in Maharajgunj between April 1-April 9.

The rising numbers of forest fires are not just due to drier winters – but also inadequate levels of forest or field management, plantations of monocultures of pine, and rising quantities of biomass from invasive species and historical efforts at suppressing fires. These factors increase fire risk.

There is no magic bullet to solve the issues of air pollution in the HKH, but a focus on forest fires would make a sizeable contribution not just to human health but also to halting and reversing biodiversity loss.

While climate change continues to influence longer term meteorological patterns, reviving traditional forest management practices would mitigate risks. These could consist of prescribed burns or early season litter fires to prevent fuel build-up that lead to uncontrollable forest fires.

In addition, Government of Nepal’s forest fire monitoring system provides near real-time mapping of fire incidents and fire outlooks for two days in advance: helping authorities understand patterns, assess severity, and take anticipatory action to prevent incidents and spread.

The accurate nationwide assessment tool is open-access to all, with ICIMOD’s SERVIR-HKH delivering training programmes to community representative and local authority stakeholders to build their capacity to collect information, assess risks, and protect at-risk communities with sharing of warning messages.

Related publications

  1. Himalayan Resilience Enabling Action Programme: Building resilience in the Himalaya
  2. Nitrogen Aerosols in New Delhi, India: Speciation, Formation, and Sources
  3. Air Pollution and Migration Decision of Migrants in Low-Carbon Society
  4. Can environmental information disclosure reduce air pollution? Evidence from China
  5. Air Quality Life Index (AQLI): Annual update 2023
  6. Differential effects of urbanization on air pollution: Evidences from six air pollutants in mainland China
  7. Air quality and health in cities: a state of global air report 2022
  8. Striving for clean air: Air pollution and public health in South Asia
  9. Clean heating and air pollution: Evidence from Northern China
  10. Response of water quality to climate warming and atmospheric deposition in an alpine lake of Tianshan Mountains, Central Asia
  11. Analysis of Air Quality Evolution Trends in the Chinese Air Pollution Transmission Channel Cities under Socioeconomic Development Scenarios
  12. Air Pollution, Environmental Protection Tax and Well-Being
  13. Carbohydrate intake quality and gestational diabetes mellitus, and the modifying effect of air pollution
  14. Deep Learning-Based PM2.5 Long Time-Series Prediction by Fusing Multisource Data—A Case Study of Beijing
  15. Contributions of various driving factors to air pollution events: Interpretability analysis from Machine learning perspective
  16. Inequality in air pollution mortality from power generation in India
  17. Distance and similarity measures of intuitionistic fuzzy hypersoft sets with application: Evaluation of air pollution in cities based on air quality index
  18. Air pollution mitigation in North China through flexible heating policies
  19. Global EV Outlook 2023: Catching up with climate ambitions
  20. Pollution and health: A progress update

In September, I set off on a fortnight long field survey to the remote and picturesque far west region of Dailekh, to Dullu and Naumule – two centres for the Green Resilient Agriculture Productive Ecosystems (GRAPE) project, which aims to foster climate resilient and green economic growth of Nepal’s Sudurpashchim and Karnali provinces. 

My research set out to assess the awareness and adoption of woman-friendly agriculture tools and technologies by local vegetable growers, and understand the challenges faced by female farmers, and how these are being exacerbated by climate change and outmigration of men. 

Dailekh province is breathtakingly beautiful, and I felt an immediate connection with its warm people. I split my time evenly between the two villages, engaging with women farmers through interviews and focus group discussions to learn about the challenges of their daily lives, their farming practices, and their use of women-friendly agricultural tools.  

I learned that these mountain women, despite being the backbone of agriculture here, grapple with limited access to resources ranging from land ownership and finance, to water, education, and decision-making processes.  

Narma Jaishi, in Dullu, was one who ticked off a shopping list of obstacles: from the lack of land to insufficient finance, to incursions by wild boar, and scarcity of water.  

Despite the challenges, Narma was adamant to improve her situation, and she had already adopted drip irrigation to mitigate the lack of water. Her resilience and courage were inspiring.  

A woman's quest for change  

On my journey, I found pockets of success: including places where woman-friendly tools and technologies were making a tangible difference to people’s crop yields, and lives.  

Sita Sharma Dhakal, a 29-year-old farmer from Naumule, acts as a local resource person at the community learning centre, which is an anchor for the implementation of ICIMOD’s GRAPE work.  

Sita’s family owns 20 ropanis of land (1.02 hectare), which serves as the entire family of five’s sole source of income. She says GRAPE has transformed how they farm, and her family’s fortunes. 

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Sita Sharma Dhakal working in her farm

She is now able to augment her traditional farming skills with vegetable farming, nursery preparation, bio-fertilizer preparation (jholmal), and has a much greater understanding of climate change and organic farming practices.  

She is also now president of the Bhursu Aayarjan Farmers Group , alongside her role as local resource person at the community learning centre, and she also oversees six agriculture cooperative farmers groups within the VDC. 

Sita has embraced climate-resilient and woman-friendly tools and technologies, incorporating practices like Vermi Wash, Vermi Compost, polyhouse tunnel, water-can sprayer, drip irrigation, and integrated pest management techniques such as yellow sticky trap, water trap, funnel trap, delta trap, and jholmal.  

These techniques have allowed her to successfully cultivate seasonal and off-season vegetables like tomato, cabbage, cauliflower, brinjal, and chilies.  

This strategic shift in farming practices has not only led to a steady monthly income ranging from Nepalese Rupees 30,000 to 40,000 in the polyhouse tunnel but has also empowered her to cover the expenses related to her children and household. 

“Sharing knowledge I gained through training and workshops with fellow farmers, and especially communicating with women farmers gives me immense happiness,” she told me.  

The incorporation of woman-friendly tools and practices has not only elevated her vegetable productivity but also empowered her to assume leadership roles in her community.  

From theory to action 

As a young woman passionate about climate change and climate-resilient agriculture practices, I felt privileged and inspired to witness the proactive efforts of individuals like Sita, alongside many other women in the community.  

These women are learning, adapting, and implementing climate-resilient technologies on their farms, translating theory into practical action. 

Listening to the stories of women like Sita, Narma, and scores more like them, made me realize the power of translating theory into action.  

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Bidhya conducting survey in Dailekh

These women have become my role models, showing me that passion and dedication can drive positive change.  

And seeing these women in action has motivated me to translate my concerns about climate change into tangible actions.  

It's a shared commitment to creating a more sustainable and resilient future.  

And I hope that by highlighting their efforts, more people, especially young women like myself, will be inspired to join the movement for a better, climate-friendly world. 

As I conclude my on-site research, the pages of my notebook are rich with narratives of transformation and adaptation.  

This journey has given me more than just academic knowledge; it has provided a profound insight into the intricate connections between gender dynamics, farming practices, and community interactions.  

For me, these field visits were not just data collection points but windows into the lives of those whose stories often go unheard. 

Bidhya is an agriculture graduate, who strives to make a positive impact on the field of agriculture through her study and research. She is also the recipient of ICIMOD and GRAPE project’s Embrace Equity Grant.  

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