By Pema Gymatsho, Nepali Times

As those of us in mountainous regions have witnessed, even a rise of 1.5°C is too hot.

It is too hot for the glaciers and permafrost, which are melting at an unprecedented rate, whilst changing snowfall, snowmelt and avalanches are becoming more unpredictable. It is too hot for our ecosystems, our food and water sources, and for our people. The ensuing impacts of food and water security will impact one-quarter of humanity living downstream.

With this crisis upon us, it is vital that regions of the world sharing similar challenges come together to also share knowledge, experience and solutions. The International Centre for Integrated Mountain Development (ICIMOD), which works for the eight countries of the Hindu Kush Himalaya (HKH), and the Arctic Centre of the University of Lapland jointly held the first ever Inter-Polar Conference on 6-9 September in Kathmandu.

The Arctic polar region encompasses the Arctic Ocean, adjacent seas, and parts of Canada, Denmark, Finland, Greenland, Iceland, Norway, Russia, Sweden and the United States. The Himalaya is sometimes referred to as the ‘Third Pole’ as it contains the largest area of permanent ice cover outside of the polar regions. It spans Afghanistan, Bangladesh, Bhutan, China, India, Myanmar, Nepal and Pakistan.

Despite both the Arctic and the Himalaya experiencing a thawing cryosphere – frozen water at the earth’s surface including glacier, lake and river ice, permafrost and snow – these two regions have traditionally been considered separately.

The Inter-Polar Conference was held in collaboration with the UArctic Chair in Arctic Legal Research and Education, and Law Thematic Network, sought to unite representatives from the polar regions, and to serve as a networking platform to share commonalities, links, and differences, especially concerning geo-political, socio-cultural, environmental, and legal aspects. 

ICIMOD drew on its substantial experience as a regional and international mediator to bring together policymakers from mountain regions to drive forward change.

The overarching message from this pioneering conference demonstrated the importance and power of global – and regional – cooperation and collaboration when dealing with the triple planetary crisis of climate change, pollution and biodiversity loss.

Representatives and researchers from the Himalaya-Hindu Kush learnt of the specific experience and history of the Arctic Council, which was set up in 1996 to understand environmental challenges and preserve the Arctic environment while promoting sustainable development, and to address issues of climate adaptation and resilience. It has since evolved to establish institutional and governmental mechanisms for sharing knowledge and scientific findings.

The conference’s keynote speakers sharing their insights on critical issues facing our polar regions included Timo Koivurova from Arctic Centre, University of Lapland, Akhilesh Gupta, Senior Adviser at the Department of Science and Technology Secretary, Science and Engineering Research Board, India, and Aisha Khan, Chief Executive of the Civil Society Coalition for Climate Change (CSCCC) in Pakistan.

The rich networking event sparked a series of interdisciplinary discussions with the aim of developing creative solutions, not least charting a clear roadmap for the Himalaya Hindu Kush to launch its own Regional Institutional Mechanism for the Third Pole.

A rise of 1.5°C is already too hot for the planet. As the Arctic and Third Pole thaw, we need global unity to combat climate changeair pollution, and biodiversity loss. The Inter-Polar Conference was a crucial step towards building a shared knowledge network for positive change. We're joining forces and pushing for faster, ambitious emissions cuts to save our snows.

Three Poles

“The Arctic, as the Hindu Kush Himalaya, has seen its share of history. It is a place that connects everything together. Some years ago, we said the climate change in the Arctic is two times faster than the global average, then we said three times faster, then four. If we lose the Arctic, we lose the globe.” 

Markku Heikkila, the Arctic Centre, University of Lapland

“As we approach the critical 2030 deadline of limiting Global Warming to 1.5°C, the cryosphere, in particular, does not grant us the luxury of time. We must view it through a holistic lens that encompasses not only scientific considerations but also addresses the profound social, economic, and ecological impacts it entails.”

Aisha Khan, Civil Society Coalition for Climate Change, Pakistan

“The Arctic is changing faster than any other region in the world affecting people's lives, not only in the Arctic but globally. We need to work together across the regions to be able to adopt and find solutions to save our snow and people's homelands.”

Kirsi Latola, University of the Arctic

“Science and technology play a crucial role in building resilience against climate change in the Hindu Kush Himalaya. It's imperative to establish robust mitigation and adaptation measures grounded in both indigenous and evidence-based knowledge.”

Akhilesh Gupta, Science and Engineering Research Board, India

“The science-driven approach of the Arctic Council has many benefits, empowering researchers and indigenous knowledge holders to actively shape inter-governmental policy decisions, ensuring that critical issues receive the attention and consideration they deserve.” 

Timo Koivurova, Arctic Centre, University of Lapland

Pema Gymatsho is the Director General of the  International Centre for Integrated Mountain Development (ICIMOD) in Kathmandu.

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