The Hindu Kush Himalayas are losing their tree cover and their glaciers are receding, but no one knows the exact magnitude of these problems. So developing a global network for ecological research in mountain areas is essential, say scientists.

The Kathmandu-based International Centre for Integrated Mountain Development (ICIMOD), the United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP), and the World Conservation Union – World Commission on Protected Areas (IUCN-WCPA) made a start on this at the ongoing UN biodiversity summit here in Nagoya on Monday.

At a special event organised during the talks, which last from October 18 to 29 summit, Christian Koerner, chair of the Global Mountain Biodiversity Assessment, said: “Mountains have always been a place of survival due to their topographic richness. The diversity of functions provided by the rich mountain biodiversity is as important as the diversity itself.”

Mountains provide opportunities for species to move vertically and horizontally and to adapt in response to climate change. However, some species are restricted to micro-climatic conditions, and those that cannot move further up are likely to be trapped and lost.

Ibrahim Thiaw, director of policy at UNEP, stressed the importance of the “ecosystem approach” in biodiversity conservation and management. This approach, advocated by the UN Convention on Biological Diversity (CBD), looks at linkages between ecosystem resilience and the sustainable use of biodiversity for and by the people. He praised the joint ICIMOD and UNEP collaboration for a regional transboundary conservation initiative, which adopts the ecosystem approach in the Kailash Sacred Landscape, in cooperation with China, India, and Nepal.

Penelope Figgis from IUCN-WCPA stressed the significance of habitat connectivity for maintaining a natural landscape, keeping the ecosystems intact, allowing species to move and survive, interlinking protected areas and restoring landscapes by involving people across many tenures.

Andreas Schild, director general of ICIMOD, emphasised the need for systematic generation of data through scientific monitoring. Highlighting the trans-Himalayan “transect approach”, he said: “The transect concept has enormous potential to meet the challenges of climate change, particularly in relation to adaptation and biodiversity conservation and management in the Hindu Kush Himalayas.”

The regional approach facilitated by ICIMOD can certainly achieve the long-term goal of data generating and sharing, provided the countries across the Hindu Kush-Himalayas join hands. Schild advocated a link between biodiversity conservation and poverty reduction. The Kailash Sacred Landscape programme aims to develop and test this approach by implementing conservation and ecosystem management strategies, and enhancing climate-change resilience of communities.

Warren Evans, director of environment at the World Bank, emphasised the urgent need for data from the mountain regions, adding: “The transect concept is a good way to fill the data gaps from the Hindu Kush-Himalayan region. Regional cooperation is expected to enhance the inter-sectoral policy coordination that addresses regional and transboundary issues.”

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