Regional adaptation planning for addressing transboundary climate risks

Event: 7th Asia Pacific Climate Change Adaptation Forum
Date: 9th March 2021, Online

The Hindu Kush Himalayan (HKH) region comprises the mountainous region spanning eight countries in South Asia, including Afghanistan, Bangladesh, Bhutan, China, India, Myanmar, Nepal, and Pakistan. The HKH region is endowed with significant transboundary freshwater resources and biodiversity reserves. Nearly ten glacier, rainfall, and snow-fed rivers originate from the mountains form a lifeline to almost 200 million people in the HKH region. Being a vast mountainous region, it also plays a vital role in the global and regional climate.

The region is facing aggravated climate change impacts due to its unique geographical characteristics. The HKH region is reported to be warming three times faster than the global average. The accelerated warming in the HKH region is projected to have debilitating impacts on the region’s glaciers, glacier-fed rivers, and dependent national and regional economies.

The negative consequences of climate change include glacial lake outburst floods (GLOF), drying of glaciers, and water scarcity. A decline in agricultural productivity will have food security implications. The transboundary climate risks the region is facing include the impact on the transboundary water resources with implications for water scarcity, impacts on the food production, livelihood impacts, mobility of people from hills to plains, and potential conflicts for food, water and energy. Economically vibrant, the region is also firmly integrated into global supply markets. Climate change impacts in the HKH region will likely have ripple effects across the HKH region and beyond.

There has already been large scale mobility of people from hills to plains burdening the local environment, the prevalence of unemployment, and poverty. Migration has led to deprivation in hills and a lack of development, especially in areas of infrastructure development. In terms of energy, because the hydropower dam construction on transboundary rivers can lead to inter-state water disputes, the region can only rely on micro-hydro and other renewable sources such as solar.

The region also has a high dependency on international remittances. There is enough evidence to show the remittances are affected by events far away from the HKH region (e.g. COVID19 was projected to shrink remittances to the HKH region in the range of 4-12% in 2020). Climate change impacts on local livelihoods will worsen the dependency on international remittances.

The HKH region governments are making efforts in strengthening their defences against climate change risks. However, the awareness and availability of technical knowledge to account for transboundary climate risks are scanty in the region. Hence, the adaptation plans that are being developed are unlikely to address transboundary climate risks and may even underestimate the overall climate risks the HKH region faces. The regional cooperation for addressing climate change risks are yet to take shape in the region. The region is also to make significant progress in amicably managing the transboundary water resources.