Global warming clock is ticking faster than mitigating measures are being implemented

Environment: If at all climate change is to be fought, the entire Himalayan region needs to come together and work together for a common goal.  Only then can the rising temperature and melting or retreating glaciers be controlled.

Prime Minister Tshering Tobgay said this at the Himalayan Third Pole Circle Meeting in Thimphu yesterday.

In his keynote address, the lyonchhoen said, regardless of what various studies predict, the fact was that, in Bhutan, glaciers are retreating.  They are retreating so quickly that it required to claw ways through rocky moraine, to lower the glacial lakes, to prevent them from breaching dams and flooding, he said,  referring to the operation Thorthormi.

“We have to work together because “thinking globally, acting locally” isn’t enough. We’ve tried that in Bhutan,” he said. “We have to think globally and act regionally.”

Spelling out 10 reasons that made Hindu Kush Himalaya (HKH) region special, which needed protection, lyonchhoen said it was the attic of the world, with simply “spectacular” landscape, virgin peaks, biodiversity hotspots, fresh water and energy, among others.

Lyonchhoen, however, said people in the mountains are faced with various challenges of increasing population, poverty and climate change.

Illiteracy, unemployment, poverty and poor healthcare are some of the big challenges but local in nature.  Challenges, such as deforestation, pollution, desertification and habitat loss are bigger but largely local in nature, which, if a country is determined, such challenges can be conquered.

Challenges like floods and drought, diseases and famine are just some of the effects of climate change and extreme weather, he said.  These are huge challenges that are international is scope. “No one country can fight climate change by itself. To fight climate change, we have to work together,” lyonchhoen said.

The President of Iceland, Ólafur Ragnar Grímsson, said that, among the three prominent parts of the planet, the Himalayas and the Arctic region share a fundamental characteristic.  They are homes to nations and communities, territories that share boundaries and economic interests, a history of military build-ups and potential conflicts.

These regions, he said, are in the 21st century, the theatre where the interaction between people and ice is most complex in its composition and consequences; its future would be of monumental global significance.

“And yet, cooperation, dialogue and research on the arctic and the Himalayan-Third Pole Regions are still, in historical terms, in their early stages; a somewhat alarming state of affairs, since the clock of irreversible climate change is ticking ever faster,” he said.

There is mounting evidence of how the retreating glaciers will impact the rivers and the water systems in the Himalayan countries.  These, he said, were directing attention to the dramatic consequences for food and energy production, security and international relations.

He added that a leading glaciologist of the Himalayan Third Pole Region, Yao Tandong, had warned that, in twenty years time, another 30 percent of the Himalayan glaciers will have disappeared and, by the middle of this century, perhaps 40 percent; 70 percent by the beginning of the 22nd century.

“If such full-scale shrinkage takes place, it’ll eventually lead to monumental ecological, political, economic and possibly military catastrophes,” president Ólafur Ragnar Grímsson said, adding , in the coming years and decades, the region will be faced with challenges that would make collaboration an absolute prerequisite for a meaningful understanding, informing policies and actions.

The director general of the International Centre for Integrated Mountain Development, David Molden, said, HKH region is a global asset and should anything happens to it, entire global would be in problem.

Migration, climate change, disasters, persistent and pervasive poverty, ICT, globalisation, road connectivity, commercialisation of agriculture land use change, growing demand for hydropower, policies for change and deforestation were some of the drivers of change in the HKH region.

“Somebody somewhere in these mountain range has got solution for climate change. What we really need to do is exchange ideas between people in the mountains to advance forward,” he said.

He, however, said that it was also about the relationship between people in the mountains and those living downstream, who would have more political say.

Yesterday’s meeting was an important stage in the evolution of cooperation and could, through dialogues, lead to the formulation of an informal roadmap, outlining further progress, involving consultation with authorities, institutions and officials in the relevant countries.

Her Royal Highness princess Dechen Yangzom Wangchuck and Her Royal Highness princess Kezang Choden Wangchuck graced the inauguration of the two-day meeting.

Experts from 13 countries, including the United States of America, China, Germany, Iceland, Pakistan, Afghanistan, Nepal, India, Sri Lanka, Myanmar and Switzerland, attended the meeting, which ends today.

National Environment Commission organised the meeting in collaboration with ICIMOD.

Nirmala Pokhrel