The Hindu Kush Himalaya Science-Policy Forum unites scientists, policymakers, development practitioners, and young researchers from across the High Mountain Asia region to discuss critical transboundary issues and collaborative solutions.
Between 12 and 20th September, I had the honour of leading a high-level delegation to China. While China has been a founding member of ICIMOD, with the Vice President of the Chinese Academy of Sciences represented on our Board of Governors, this trip marked a significant step forward in our relations, including ICIMOD’s first in-person meeting with officials in Beijing.
Our formal programme began at the University of Chinese Academy of Sciences (UCAS) headquarters in Beijing on September 14, 2023. In the subsequent days, we engaged in cordial meetings with key institutions and ministries, including the National Natural Science Foundation of China (NSFC), the Forestry & Grassland Administration, the Ministry of Ecology and Environment (MEE), and the National Centre for Climate Strategy Research and International Cooperation.
China has been a proactive supporter of ICIMOD’s mission and goals since our foundation in 1983, and we are proud that our partnership with our diverse array of partners in China is more powerful than ever, as we look to our 40th anniversary in December.
Together, we are advancing our joint efforts towards greater regional collaboration and promoting regional agenda at global forums to address regional and global issues, working alongside our nodal agency, the Chinese Academy of Sciences (CAS), government agencies, development agencies, academic institutions, NGOs, and the private sector. We look forward to working with ICIMOD-China collaborations of mutual interest in the decades ahead.
Unveiling Collaborative Horizons – Dialogues with CAS Headquarter and Key Ministries in China
Embarking on our China trip, we had the privilege of inaugurating our journey with a significant high-level meeting on ICIMOD-Chinese Academy of Sciences (CAS) cooperation. This pivotal event took place at the University of Chinese Academy of Sciences (UCAS) in Beijing on September 14, 2023.
Despite the challenges posed by the COVID-19 pandemic, convening for this face-to-face meeting marked a truly momentous occasion. The privilege of meeting Prof. Yaping Zhang, the Vice President of the Chinese Academy of Sciences and the CNICIMOD President, alongside distinguished CAS officials from various entities including the Bureau of International Cooperation, Chengdu Institute of Mountain Disasters and Environment (IMDE), Xishuangbanna Tropical Botanical Garden (XTBG), UCAS, and representatives of the Alliance of International Science Organization (ANSO) in person, was indeed an honor. I firmly believe that this in-person interaction added substantial value to our engagements.
Prof. Zhang emphasized our successful collaboration in research and capacity-building, addressing challenges like climate change, biodiversity conservation, and mountain disasters. The Chinese Academy of Sciences is eager to deepen practical cooperation with ICIMOD, contributing significantly to sustainable development in the Hindu Kush Himalayan (HKH) region.
I reiterated our commitment to expanding collaboration on sustainable mountain development to address regional and global challenges. China's continued contributions and the sharing of advanced technology affirm a shared dedication to regional cooperation. ICIMOD remains steadfast in reinforcing collaboration with Chinese counterparts, aligning with China's national priorities for sustainable development. Our goal is to make ICIMOD an effective platform for facilitating China's collaborations with neighbouring HKH countries.
Our meeting was marked by substantive discussions on a range of critical topics, and I am delighted to learn that both of us found our exchange to be productive and insightful.
In the subsequent days, we engaged in cordial meetings with key institutions and ministries, including the National Natural Science Foundation of China (NSFC), the National Forestry & Grassland Administration, the Ministry of Ecology and Environment (MEE)of the People’s Republic of China, and the National Centre for Climate Strategy Research and International Cooperation (NCSC). Notably, this marked our first official in-person meeting with Chinese officials in Beijing to date.
The NSFC, demonstrated its commitment to collaboration by presenting funding options and joint research initiatives. This marks a significant step forward after the pandemic, especially in the context of codeveloping and co-planning joint activities for ICIMOD’s MTAP V. The willingness to invest in joint projects underscores the mutual interest in addressing pressing challenges through scientific research and innovation.
Meetings with the National Forestry & Grassland Administration and the Ministry of Ecology and Environment (MEE)of the People’s Republic of China revealed the clear priorities of Chinese partners in the areas of environmental protection and administration. In-depth discussions on climate change, conservation, and sustainable development shed light on shared goals and potential avenues for collaboration. The distinct positions of these ministries underscore their crucial roles in shaping China's environmental policies and practices. I appreciate their direct appreciation of our work over the past 40 years.
The series of meetings with CAS headquarter and institutes, and key ministries in China have fortified the foundation for a robust partnership between ICIMOD and its Chinese partners. The shared commitment to addressing common challenges set a positive trajectory for the future. As ICIMOD continues to strengthen its collaboration with China, the shared vision of sustainable development in the Hindu Kush Himalayan (HKH) region takes a significant step forward, promising positive outcomes for the global community.
Moving forward, we commit to sustaining consistent communication, particularly in anticipation of significant upcoming events. This includes the celebrations marking ICIMOD's 40th Anniversary in Kathmandu and the International Mountain Forum scheduled for December 2023 in Chengdu.
Prof. Wang Yanfen and Prof. Yao Tandong （Honorary Director of Institute of Tibetan Plateau Research, ITP, CAS）are not just esteemed colleagues; they're old friends who share a deep connection with ICIMOD.
Dive into the profound connections and contributions of Prof. Wang Yanfen, Vice President of the University of Chinese Academy of Sciences since 2008. As an independent board member at ICIMOD from 2014-2023, her leadership extended beyond academia, holding key positions respectively in the China Ecological Society and China Natural Resources Society.
In recognition of her exceptional efforts for ICIMOD, we conveyed our gratitude by presenting her with a well-deserved medal of thanks during the first-day meeting.
Following this successful meeting, I had the honour of addressing UCAS students in a guest lecture. This interaction aimed to cultivate a culture of knowledge sharing and interdisciplinary cooperation. Connecting with the next generation of scholars was not only invigorating but also highlighted the crucial need for nurturing fresh talent in our field. Through such engagements, we lay the foundation for a shared future marked by collaboration and innovation in the region.
Prof. Wang's enthusiastic lead through various colleges on the campus added a personal touch to the journey, complemented by the thoughtful gift of Chinese calligraphy and cultural shirts.
On a welcoming Saturday after several days, we had the pleasure of being received by Prof. Yao Tandong in his esteemed office at the well-known Third Pole, and the Institute of Tibetan Plateau Research.
Prof. Yao is not only a distinguished scientist and researcher but also a figure recognized for his profound contributions to glaciology and climate studies. As a prominent academician of the Chinese Academy of Sciences (CAS), Prof. Yao has consistently led the way in unravelling the complexities of the Third Pole's environment. During our visit, he graciously introduced us to the cutting-edge instruments and talented researchers housed in the State Key Laboratory of Tibetan Plateau Earth Systems, Environment, and Resources.
His involvement as the second Vice-President of the Chinese Committee on ICIMOD (CNICIMOD) underscores his commitment to collaborative efforts between China and ICIMOD. Furthermore, his contributions include serving on the steering committee of "The Hindu Kush Himalaya assessment: Mountains, climate change, sustainability and people."; played a pivotal role as one of the two lead authors in producing the report titled "A Scientific Assessment of the Third Pole Environment." Additionally, Prof. Yao delivered a keynote speech virtually during the ICIMOD’s 2023 Science Policy Forum's opening ceremony.
This underlines his commitment to advancing scientific discourse and sharing insights, enriching our comprehension of the dynamic environment of the Third Pole, and fostering cooperation with ICIMOD. These collaborative endeavours stand as a testament to the fruitful partnership between the institute and ICIMOD.
International forum in Urumqi
This time in 2023, I embarked on my fourth journey to China, returning to Urumqi after a two-decade hiatus. After a nearly 5-hour flight to the geographical centre of the Asian continent and the capital of the Xinjiang Uygur Autonomous Region, my team and I participated in the “2023 International Forum on Sustainable Development of Ecology and Environment in the Silk Road Economic Belt" held from September 17th to 19th. The event, jointly hosted by the Xinjiang Institute of Ecology and Geography (XIEG) and the Xinjiang Association for Science and Technology (XAST), was co-organized by ICIMOD and several other esteemed organizations.
In this momentous gathering, facing scholars and officials from China, Central Asia, and beyond, I had the privilege of delivering a keynote speech titled "Regional Cooperation in Addressing the Climate Crisis in the Hindu Kush Himalayan Region." With more than 300 participants representing 17 countries and international organizations, the speech underscored the urgent need for collaborative efforts to address the climate crisis in this ecologically sensitive area.
Adding to the significance of the event, I had the great honor of witnessing the signing of an MoU between the Forestry Administration of Gilgit, Pakistan, and the Xinjiang Institute of Ecology and Geography (XIEG). This MoU was facilitated by the previous ICIMOD transboundary initiative of Hindu Kush Pamir Landscape Initiative (HKPL).
Furthermore, my esteemed colleague, Ms. Sunita Chaudhary, an Ecosystem Services Specialist at ICIMOD, played a crucial role. In a parallel session of the forum, she presented on "Regional Cooperation for Conservation: Analysing Opportunities and Gaps for Transboundary Conservation Between China and Its Neighbouring Countries in the Hindu Kush Himalaya." Her insights shed light on vital opportunities and obstacles in transboundary conservation collaboration.
Certain regions in Afghanistan, Pakistan, and China overlap between the HKH and Silk Road Economic Belt. Common concerns, stemming from human and climate change perspectives, align with the expertise and interests of experts and governments. Specialized discussions on geological, hydrological, and climatic conditions emphasized the importance of regional cooperation, green development, sustainable management, and food and water security. These discussions closely aligned with the event’s primary objective of advancing science, resources, and regional and global cooperation.
Our visit to China was a testament to the ongoing strength of our partnership. The productive meetings and enriching engagements with government and academic organizations showcased the hospitality and warmth extended to us. As we return to Kathmandu after this hectic but fruitful trip, the shared vision of sustainable development in the Hindu Kush Himalayan region takes a significant step forward on the regional collaboration and promote regional agenda at global forum.
Special thanks to the CNICIMOD and all individuals involved in the excellent organization of our journey, including Su Lijun, Lu Xuyang, Gan Lu, Yi Shaoliang, and Feng Yuan.