Building transboundary trust, cooperation, and partnerships

Basanta Raj Shrestha dancing to the tune of HKH calling with ICIMOD colleague during his farewell event.

November has been an eventful month for transboundary cooperation on climate change, with COP27 taking centre stage. With optimism about COP27’s outcomes and the international community’s ability to limit warming to 1.5 degrees at perhaps its lowest ebb ever, ICIMOD’s engagement at COP27 and within the HKH region instils hope in our ability to build resilience among communities, confront the climate crisis, and implement on-the-ground solutions through transboundary cooperation.

At COP27, world leaders and climate scientists and champions gathered to speak about the implementation of initiatives designed to combat climate change. Over four days of engagement at Sharm El-Sheikh, ICIMOD hosted a total of 11 events at the Cryosphere Pavilion and the IRENA Pavilion while contributing to a panel discussion at the Pakistan Pavilion. Focusing on the theme of #MovingMountains, we showcased videos from the HKH and promoted knowledge products on issues confronting the HKH and our collective work to address them. While raising awareness about the importance of the Third Pole at COP27, we worked hard to develop and deepen partnerships across the region this month.

Bringing together all eight HKH member countries, ICIMOD and the United Nations Development Program (UNDP) signed an MoU in June 2022 to establish long-term regional cooperation in the HKH on issues such as transboundary climate risk reduction and adaptation, biodiversity and environmental health, and green mountain economies. On 29–30 November, ICIMOD and UNDP met for a collaborative workshop in which both teams shared their organisations’ strategies, explored programmatic areas for collaboration, and developed a joint work plan for UNDP–ICIMOD collaboration.

Continuing our focus on transboundary partnership, we renewed and signed a series of MoUs with our partners as well as a letter of intent with the Sonia Jawari Center for Public Policy (SJCPP) during a two-day workshop designed to address the climate, biodiversity, and pollution crises in the Hindu Kush Karakoram Pamir Landscape. Following the devastating floods in Pakistan, these new and reinforced partnerships – with organisations including the Aga Khan Foundation (AKF); the University of Central Asia (UCA); Lanzhou University; and the AKF’s national chapters in Pakistan, Tajikistan, and Afghanistan – will bolster ICIMOD’s cross-border capacity building and mutual engagement initiatives in the HKPL.

In direct response to the 2022 Pakistan floods, we published an assessment of agricultural losses in Sindh Province using satellite data in collaboration with the Pakistan Agricultural Research Council (PARC). Our findings provided valuable data to the Government of Pakistan to support rehabilitation and compensation planning processes.

Elsewhere, our Cryosphere Initiative organised a conference on ‘Cryosphere and related hazards in High Mountain Asia in a changing climate’ in Kazakhstan in early November. The international conference brought together over 150 researchers and practitioners, including ICIMOD experts on cryosphere and livelihoods, to share best practices and ideas for the sustainable development of societies in High Mountain Asia.

While ICIMOD acts upon issues that the mountains face and speaks in global forums – which are without doubt immensely important to develop a common understanding globally on what needs to happen, we must not lose sight of our work towards practical, tangible outcomes. Our Deputy Director General Izabella Koziell recently walked up Langtang Valley in Nepal and could not help but think about how difficult the circumstances remain for many of the communities in these regions. In Langtang, Izabella was reminded that we really need action, and we need it now.

This sentiment was put into action by our Livelihoods team, who recently returned from a project in Langtang which delivered and installed landslide warning signposts across the region. We also collaborated with UNESCO Nepal and Langtang National Park to host a workshop for youth and school children about the impacts of climate change on biodiversity and people around the national park.

Of course, none of ICIMOD’s transboundary partnerships or projects would be possible without the work of committed colleagues like Basanta Raj Shrestha, our Director of Strategic Cooperation, who is retiring at the end of this year after having served the organisation and the HKH region for over 30 years. During his farewell, we celebrated Basanta ji’s stellar role promoting GIS/RS applications in the region and elevating ICIMOD as a centre of excellence in the space. I had the immense privilege of working with him for over two decades and wish him success in all of his future endeavours.

Congratulating another colleague for her exceptional work combatting climate change, we applaud Izabella for winning the UN Women Rise and Raise Others Award this month. Our Deputy Director General has dedicated her career to women empowerment in climate, establishing gender inclusion as a cornerstone of ICIMOD’s efforts to build resilience amongst mountain communities.

Building on our partnerships and the work of dedicated colleagues – past and present, we really need to act on the ground because, at the end of the day, that is where we need to see transformative change and resilience.

(Pema Gyamtsho is the Director General of ICIMOD.)