Vulnerable Peaks and People

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More than half of the world’s population depends on mountains to provide drinking water. This water comes from glaciers in the Himalayas, Andes and other mountain ranges which a recent report by the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) identified as among parts of the world most vulnerable to climate change.

Each year, the United Nations marks the 11th of December as International Mountain Day, honouring the rich and diverse ecosystems and people that inhabit these magnificent landscapes, and highlighting the challenges they face. This year GRID-Arendal, UN Environment and a number of partners, observed the day with the launch of two special reports at the climate change negotiations underway in Katowice, Poland – the Outlook on Climate Change Adaptation in the Hindu Kush Himalaya and the Mountain Adaptation Outlook Series Synthesis Report.

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 Nepalese woman washes at a communal water tap. Photo: UN Women/Narendra Shrestha.

These reports wrap up a seven-volume series of assessments that looked at the world’s major mountain systems. They examined how mountain countries address the effects of climate change and the need for adaptation in their policies. They also looked at how these countries are cooperating across national borders.

“One of the most important messages throughout the analysis in these reports is that adaptation in mountain regions requires international cooperation,” Satya S. Tripathi, UN Assistant Secretary General and Head of the UN Environment Office in New York, said at the report launch in Katowice. “Whether we’re talking about the Western Balkans, Southern Caucasus, Central Asia, Tropical Andes, Eastern Africa, or the Carpathian Mountains, no single country can meet the challenge on its own.”

Each report assesses the current and projected climate impacts and risks within these mountainous regions and analyzes the extent to which national and sectoral policies and strategies are equipped to deal with the current and projected impacts of climate change. Each report identifies key sectoral and national policy gaps, and concludes with a series of targeted recommendations to strengthen policies and regional cooperation.

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 The Hindu Kush Himalayas stretches over 3500 km across eight countries and is home to 240 million people. Another 1.9 billion depend on the water it provides. Image: GRID-Arendal.
For example, The Outlook on Climate Change Adaptation in the Hindu Kush Himalaya focusses on one of the world’s most important mountain regions due to its sheer size, available water resources, and large human populations both within the mountains and downstream. The report developed with the International Centre for Integrated Mountain Development (ICIMOD) and UN Environment and reveals that there are great differences to what extent the eight countries in the region address climate hazards and climate change adaptation for different sectors.

“The general trend in national adaptation efforts, with a few exceptions, is that current policies offer a very limited focus on the importance of climate change adaptation specifically for mountains,” Arnico Panday, Regional Programme Manager for Atmosphere at ICIMOD, said at the launch. “The analysis also shows that policies in different sectors vary widely in their approach to climate change adaptation.”

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The Hindu Kush Himalayas outlook examined the extent to which the policies of countries acknowledged a particular climate hazard, and whether a strategy was in place to address this issue. Image: GRID-Arendal.

Policies in the Hindu Kush Himalaya water sector (pictured above) are relatively advanced in terms of climate change adaptation and recognize the need to adapt to hazards such as floods, flash floods and droughts. However, for other sectors examined (food and agriculture, energy, forests and biodiversity, energy, infrastructure, human health, tourism), the analysis revealed that more needs to be done to integrate climate change concerns and adaptation measures into existing policies.

The second report, the Mountain Adaptation Outlook Series - Synthesis Report, provides a concise summary of the entire series. It is focussed on common challenges in increasing global cooperation on mountain adaptation and, like the series, is grouped according to sectors.

Vulnerable Peaks and People 4 All regions in the Outlook series are experiencing rapid climate change with temperatures rising in line with global trends. Image: GRID-Arendal.

The report launch was organized by UN Environment with GRID-Arendal, ICIMOD and a series of other partners. It was hosted by the Austrian Federal Ministry for Sustainability and Tourism.

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