Environment: In a bid to mobilise support and commitment to regional cooperation for sustainable mountain development, the Hindu Kush Himalayan (HKH) Partnership for Sustainable Mountain Development was endorsed by ministers and high-level government representatives from Afghanistan, Bangladesh, Bhutan, Myanmar, Nepal, and Pakistan and delegates from the United Nations Environment Assembly (UNEA) and the International Centre for Integrated Mountain Development (ICIMOD).

The declaration – “Healthy Mountains, Healthy Planet: The Hindu Kush Himalayan Partnership for Sustainable Mountain Development” – recognises the importance of the HKH region as a global asset providing goods and services to almost one-fifth of the global population.

The HKH Partnership was launched during a ministerial-level panel discussion organised on May 24 on the sidelines of UNEA 2 in Nairobi, Kenya, in collaboration with the United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP) and GRID-Arendal.

The HKH partnership will forge a regional alliance among HKH countries to mobilise investment in the mountains and promote the Mountain Agenda in the context of the UNFCCC Paris Agreement and the UN 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development, particularly Sustainable Development Goal 17 aimed at revitalising global partnerships for sustainable development. The partnership also aims to provide a mountain platform to bring together HKH countries and relevant stakeholders from UNFCCC and other global forums.

Chair of the event, Elfriede-Anna More, who is also the director of International Environmental Affairs for the Austrian Federal Ministry of Agriculture, Forestry, Environment and Water Management highlighted the past year’s milestones in global deliberations, including the UN Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs), UNFCCC Paris Agreement, and Sendai Framework for Disaster Risk Reduction. She further noted the important role that mountains play globally and the need to mainstream the Mountain Agenda.

“The Hindu Kush Himalayas are a shared resource, and countries in the region face similar challenges in the face of climate change”, said ICIMOD director general Dr David Molden. “The solutions that work for the plains or coasts do not necessarily work for the mountains. By working together, nations in the Hindu Kush Himalayan region can find solutions to these challenges.”

Mr Keith Alverson of UNEP, stressed the need to look at SDGs with an environmental lens and the importance of mountain issues for global sustainability, reaffirming UNEP’s continued support for including the mountain voice in future resolutions.

Prince Mostapha Zaher, who is the director general of the National Environmental Protection Agency, Afghanistan, stressed the need to create closer working relationships for mountain development, especially to support marginalised mountain communities. “Let us come together to forge regional cooperation and harness the global resources as a united block for the benefit of mountain communities”, he said.

Nurul Karim, additional secretary of the Ministry of Environment and Forest, Bangladesh highlighted the direct links between the mountainous areas of the HKH region and downstream, riparian areas, like Bangladesh. “The adverse effects of climate change in the mountains, including hazards such as floods, landslides and increased river erosion, have direct impacts downstream”, he said, adding, “Upstream and downstream linkages provide a foundation for forming partnerships among HKH countries for sustainable mountain development”.

Despite the Government of Bhutan’s commitment to be carbon neutral, the effects of climate change, including rapidly melting glaciers and the formation of glacial lakes, present challenges to the Himalayan nation. “Solutions lie in forging partnerships with neighbouring mountains countries, international agencies, and UN bodies to contribute to global efforts, while still addressing local problems”, said secretary of the National Environment Commission, Chencho Norbu.

“No single country will reach the SDGs alone”, said U Ohn Win, Union Minister of the Ministry of Environment and Natural Resources, Myanmar, adding that to translate SDGs into action, effective partnerships are needed at all levels. “There is an urgency to build alliances among the HKH countries and mobilise emerging financing instruments and opportunities.”

Vishwendra Paswan, Minister of the Ministry of Population and Environment, Nepal, highlighted the intricate linkages “from Sagarmatha [Mount Everest] to samudra [the ocean]”. On behalf of the Government of Nepal, he proposed convening a global forum to forge a stronger alliance between mountain countries and promote the Mountain Agenda.

Raza Bashir Tarar, High Commissioner of Pakistan to Kenya and Pakistan’s permanent representative to UNEP and UN-HABITAT, stressed the importance of improving connectivity in the HKH region and identifying ways to mainstream the Mountain Agenda into SDGs. “To take the Mountain Agenda forward, let us combine our efforts for the next UNEP global meetings”, he said.

“The HKH Partnership provides a clear path to forge a regional alliance for sustainable mountain development in the HKH region and to position the HKH region and the Mountain Agenda in global climate and sustainable development deliberations”, said Basanta Shrestha, Director of Strategic Cooperation at ICIMOD.

Staff reporter