Background and purpose of the Himalayan Assessment

Himalayan waters are a source of local livelihoods, way of life for a myriad of communities, and are also the subject of many geopolitical divisions. The glaciers that feed these rivers are melting at an unprecedented rate1 affecting river flows and leading to floods in some of the most densely populated regions of the world.  

International Center for Integrated Mountain Development (ICIMOD) brought together over 300 scientists, practitioners and experts from around the world to undertake first-of-its-kind comprehensive assessment of the Himalayan environment and development situation. This was part of ICIMOD’s Hindu Kush Himalayan Monitoring and Assessment Programme (HIMAP) funded by several donors, including Australian Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade (DFAT).

The assessment resulted in a scientific publication published by Springer.  This open access volume is the first comprehensive assessment of the Hindu Kush Himalaya (HKH) region. It comprises important scientific research on the social, economic, and environmental pillars of sustainable mountain development and will serve as a basis for evidence-based decision-making to safeguard the environment and advance people’s well-being.

This HKH Assessment Report consists of 16 chapters, which comprehensively assess the current state of knowledge of the HKH region, increase the understanding of various drivers of change and their impacts, address critical data gaps and develop a set of evidence-based and actionable policy solutions and recommendations. These are linked to nine mountain priorities for the mountains and people of the HKH consistent with the Sustainable Development Goals.

IFSD’s Principal Advisor Dr Hemant Ojha was invited as the Coordinating Lead author for the chapter “Governance: Key fro Environmental Sustainability In the Hindu Kush Himalaya”. 

Key Messages

The chapter written by 18 experts conclude that governance of environmental resources holds the key to the future of sustainable development in the Hindu Kush Himalaya (HKH). Four key conclusions include:

1) There are few existing regional policies and processes for environmental governance in the Hindu Kush Himalaya (HKH)—most are national and subnational.

2) Environmental governance reforms in the HKH emphasize decentralization, often creating positive local outcomes—yet these local initiatives are not adequately supported through subnational and national governance systems.

3) HKH countries lack institutions to link upstream and downstream communities in river basins and mountain landscapes.

The chapter suggests three key policy messages to tackle the environment and development challenges in the region:

1) Governments and environmental institutions in the HKH need to act now to strengthen the interface among science, policy, and practice. Urgent actions in this direction are needed to improve policymaking, regional development planning, and adaptive environmental governance in the face of growing climate change impacts and persistent livelihoods challenges.

2) Transboundary cooperation is crucial for improving environmental governance in the HKH. However, it is lacking mainly because the focus of intergovernmental initiatives has been on political and economic interests, rather than social and environmental wellbeing at the regional scale. Progress requires the establishment of formal, mutually agreeable frameworks for cooperation that are translated into action. HKH countries should build on ongoing collaboration initiatives to build and expand cooperation on complex transboundary environmental issues such as water basin management and energy security.

3) Environmental policy implementation in HKH countries will improve only if national governments recognize the multi-sectorial and cross-scalar nature of environmental governance. Implementation depends on the engagement of various stakeholders, including local communities. There is also a need for facilitating upstream and downstream interactions for improving landscape level governance. For this, governments need to create regulatory frameworks and local institutional arrangements to enable the expansion of successful initiatives to empower community action and inspire community-government partnerships. There is an opportunity to learn from the past four decades of decentralization and community based resource management policies and programs and upscale and institutionalize the successful initiatives across the region.

Hindu-Kush Himalayan region and its downstream (Source: Sharma et al 2019, to Introduction to the Hindu Kush Himalaya Assessment, Springer and ICIMOD)

This chapter identifies four governance keys to the sustainable future of the HKH:

 

1. Institutional innovation—for landscape level governance, upstream-downstream linkages, and for translating

policy goals into action;

2. Upscaling and institutionalizing decentralized and community based resource management practices;

3. Transboundary cooperation for managing connected landscapes; and

4. Science–policy–practice interface for decision making, learning and effective implementation of policies and

programs.

 

The report sparked global media responses through the dissemination of its key messages. See ICIMOD portal for the media coverage of the report.