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Experts gather to forge common voice ahead of key meeting on mountains at SBSTA60

250 delegates from the worlds of diplomacy, development, academia, policy, civil society and media attended […]
Published: 27 May, 2024
⏲ 6 minutes Read

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.

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