… climate finance not reaching front-line communities

YK Poudel

Dubai, UAE—Experts at the climate summit in Dubai, UAE highlighted the alarming glacial retreat in Bhutan and the Hindu Kush Himalayan regions at the Bhutan Pavilion on December 4. 

During the session, “Disappearing Ice Worlds: witness to warming” at the 28th Conference of Parties (COP28), in Dubai, climate experts said that as the high snow peaks are melting at an alarming rate impacting the region with challenges never seen before, infrastructure and communities are enduring risks of extreme weather like floods, landslides, and avalanches.

Countries like Bhutan and Nepal, India, Bangladesh, Malaysia and Sri Lanka are bearing the brunt of melting glaciers in the Himalayas.

Chief Glaciologist, National Centre for Hydrology and Meteorology (NCHM), Karma, said that glaciers in Bhutan are melting at a rapid pace of 16 metres annually. “Glaciers are inevitable to our river systems due to their contribution from melt water. If all glaciers melt, that is how much the water flow will reduce. Glaciers are very important to the country’s water resources,” Karma said.

Mountain countries across the globe, he said, should come together and form an alliance to push the mountains and climate change agenda to the forefront of global discussions.

He insisted that, with climate change-induced damages occurring frequently, nations are bound to adapt to it. “For adaptation, just having money is not enough. We need scientific backing and support in terms of equipment. If all these can be included in the mountains and climate change agenda, the mountain countries will benefit from it,” he said.

The Deputy Director General, International Centre for Integrated Mountain Development (ICIMOD), Izabella Koziell, informed the gathering that various investments and flows of finance associated with climate change are simply not reaching the front-line communities. “Frontline communities are suffering the most from climate change despite them contributing least to the crises,” she said. 

“We still need to lobby and advocate harder for increased financing, particularly for finance to flow to countries such as Bhutan, who are already doing all they can to be carbon neutral, to be nature positive, and yet continue to face these risks and hazards. The second important area is to really work out how we get this finance to flow to these communities,” she said.

Sharing his experience of cycling through Bhutan, Nepal, India, and Pakistan and witnessing the change, Jamyang Jamtsho Wangchuk, an advocate, said that the peril of plastic pollution has reached the snow-capped mountains as well. “The campaign and the needs are clear on three key messages: planting and nurturing trees, making an immediate transition to renewable energy sources, and integrating climate studies into school curricula.”

Jamyang’s “The Messenger-Ride for Action” amplifies the collective voice of about two billion people residing in Himalayan communities, who heavily rely on glacial water and bear the brunt of climate change-induced challenges.

Among Jamyang’s stories was the people in the villages of Sindh Province in Pakistan still living in tents, a year after last year’s devastating floods. The floods were attributed to climate change and melting glaciers.

Glaciers in the Himalayan regions are losing billions of gallons of glacial water annually from climate change. The Hindu Kush Himalayan mountains hold the world’s third-largest volume of frozen water after the Arctic and Antarctic, for which it is the world’s third pole.

This year, climate disasters have hit the HKH region hard, and the cryosphere – Earth’s ice sheets, sea ice, permafrost, polar oceans, glaciers, and snow-are at ground zero.

An ICIMOD study published earlier on November 16, warned that all of the earth’s frozen parts will experience irreversible damage at 2°C of global warming, with disastrous consequences for millions of people, societies and nature.

According to the NCHM report on extreme meteorological events from 2016 to July 2022, Bhutan experienced over 32 extreme weather events including flash floods, landslides, snowfall, and pre-and post-monsoon disturbances claiming lives and destroying crops and properties.

Reports from the NCHM reveal that the glaciers in Bhutan are more sensitive to climate change. The study also states that, even if global warming is limited to 1.5 degree Celsius, warming will be at least 0.3 degree higher in Hindu Kush Himalayan regions.

According to Bhutan Glacial Lake Inventory 2021, Bhutan records 567 glaciers covering 55.04Km square—Phochhu has the maximum.