“We don’t’ understand the message God has sent us…..”, this is how the mountain communities of Peru react to the recent signs of climate change they observe in their day to day life. There is enough to indicate the vulnerability of mountain communities to the climate change. And situation is more or less same in all the mountainous areas of the world. So how should mountain communities prepare themselves to cope with the climatic uncertainty? What should scientific community do and where and what is the role of policy makers? What can technology do- does the solution to these challenges lie in technical interventions alone or natural interventions alone or both? These were some of the questions which were debated in a side event in Durban today (Nov 3) that was jointly organized by UNEP, UNDP and IUCN and financially supported by German funded programme on Ecosystem based Adaptation (EBA) in mountain ecosystems in Peru, Nepal and Uganda.
Mountain ecosystems are contrasting paradigm, when it comes to the climate change vulnerability. Due to the highest natural variability in weather conditions in mountain ecosystems, they are inherently highly resilient to climate crisis. On the other hand due to fragility of different kinds of ecosystems within mountain landscape, ranging from high altitude desert areas, glaciers and biodiversity rich alpine and sub-alpine regions, they are also among the equally most vulnerable ecosystems of the world.
Besides fragile ecological setting, poverty, lack of capacity, poor state of basic infrastructure, and therefore limited access to resources adds to the vulnerability of mountain communities to climate change. Natural calamities such as landslides, mudslides, soil erosion, glacial lake outburst floods (GLOF), and melting of glaciers at a rather fast pace etc. are putting mountain ecosystems and local communities at a high risk.
This is further complicated by the tough terrain, inaccessibility, and extremely poor infrastructure which make it even more difficult to attend natural calamities in such a way, which could minimize the disastrous impacts of the climate change related calamities. Furthermore, inter linkages between many of these risks multiply the destructive effects and therefore demand for integrated solutions, inbuilt into the social, political and economic regimes of the mountain ecosystem.
Ecosystem based adaptation has therefore emerged as a potential approach to address such climatic threats and build the resilience of the mountain communities to adapt to the adverse impacts of climate change. There are enough evidences which suggest that along with the changing climate of mountain ecosystems, the communities living there have also learned to live with varying climatic conditions of mountains and adapting themselves by practicing sustainable way of living, using their traditional knowledge, and learning by doing approach.
So there is vast amount of knowledge that exists within these communities, which is a rich repository and can be very useful in devising appropriate coping strategies and adaptation plans. However, in view of rapidly changing nature of climate very recently, coupled with changing land use patterns, influenced by market economy, the questions are being raised if the prevailing resilience of the local communities is enough to cope with the climate change, and many think that perhaps not! Situation is worsened in a state like Uttarakhand in India, where outmigration is very high, leaving women, children and older generations behind.
With reduced workforce area under fallow agriculture is on the rise, and thus raising concerns over food security. All these factors cumulatively add to the vulnerability of mountain communities. Another aspect of such a rapidly changing socio-cultural setting is the breaking down of the traditional institutions, weakening the base of social fabric of mountain communities.
So what can be done to reverse the pattern and build the resilience of mountain ecosystems and communities to cope with the climate change impacts? There is no denial of the fact that building block of developing ecosystem based adaptation do exist within the region. It is a matter of putting them together, providing additional support, in terms of strengthening customary institutions, respecting local traditions, creating enabling policies, and integrating them using appropriate resilience framework.
There have been number of sectoral studies, highlighting the effectiveness of ecosystem based approach for climate change adaptation. Besides, there are anecdotal stories, convincing scientific facts and number of local level examples supporting the fact that solutions to the climate change adaptation can be found very much within the communities. The Local Adaptation Plans of Action called LAPAs, in Nepal are developed on these lines, merging bottom up and top down knowledge and developing frameworks for climate change adaptation and finally integrating them into national climate change policy framework. Moreover, there is a need of strongly bringing such discussions to the level of climate change negotiation talks and convincing policy makers.
So what is the take home message? For me take home message is that there are reasons to be hopeful for mountain communities to provide better future to present and future generations, provided international community goes beyond rhetoric and pays required attention to develop adaptation capacity of the mountain communities to fight with the climate change.
Rhetoric of rich traditional knowledge system, appropriate policies etc. needs to be changed in to action. It is time to act, ecosystem based adaptation has potential to be both effective for adaptation and delivering multiple benefits. The water towers of the world has all necessary capitals within it, and therefore they need to be put together and integrated appropriately to find solutions for the betterment of the mountain ecosystems and their inhabitants for present as well as future generations.
*Dr. Chandra Shekhar Silori, kindly agreed to write ‘Durban Post’ from Durban for Climate Himalaya’s readers . Dr. Chandra Shekhar Silori is Project Coordinator for Grass Roots Capacity Building Needs on REDD+ at RECOFTC-the Centre for People and Forest at Bangkok, Thailand. As a team member of delegation of observer organization RECOFTC he is at present participating in COP- 17 at Durban. His organization has a couple of side events organized, one to share the findings of our recent study on capacity building needs of the service providers for REDD+, and other on the gender and REDD+. The RECOFTC will have a booth where the team will display the work on forestry in general and REDD+ in particular. Dr. Silori recently did a regional study on Capacity Building Need on REDD+ and will be sharing it during CoP 17 at Durban.
Featured Photo Credit: Bablu, Uttarakhand, India
Started in year 2010, ‘Climate Himalaya’ initiative has been working on the mountain and climate related issues in the Himalayan region of South Asia. In the last two years this knowledge sharing portal has become one of the important references for the governments, research institutions, civil society groups and international agencies, those have work and interest in Himalayas. The Climate Himalaya team innovates on knowledge sharing, capacity building and climatic adaptation aspects in its focus countries like Bhutan, India, Nepal and Pakistan. Climate Himalaya’s thematic areas of work are mountain ecosystem, water, forest and livelihood. Read>>