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ICIMOD Hosts International Moutnain Biodiversity Conference

Kathmandu – Globalisation and climate change are threatening biodiversity in even the most remote parts of the Himalayan mountains. As rain patterns change and the temperature increases, the unique plants that grow in this harsh environment may die out, threatening the animals and insects that depend on them, and the livelihoods of the mountain people who use them.

There are many stories of change, and anecdotal evidence is abundant, but in this vast region there is very little hard scientific information, information that is urgently needed so that appropriate actions can be planned to combat and limit the coming problems.

A key problem is the alarming lack of systematic data for the Himalayan region, so much so that recently the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) the world’s foremost authority on this subject, called the entire Himalayan region a ‘white spot’ on the global climactic map, an area where there was so little systematic information available that scientists and planners had to ‘guess in the dark’ when making predictions and planning for the future.

ICIMOD together with International Union for Conservation of Nature – World Commission on Protected Areas (IUCN-WCPA), World Wide Fund–Nepal (WWF-NP), Global Mountain Biodiversity Assessment (GMBA) and UNESCO’s Man and Biosphere (UNESCO-MAB) is now bringing together scientists and planners from across the world at a meeting in Kathmandu to discuss ways to fill this gap and tackle the problems of biodiversity conservation by looking at how climate change is affecting mountain biodiversity, how biodiversity can best be managed for economic goods and ecosystem services from the mountains, and how to achieve long-term continuity in mountain research programmes from the many different organisations involved — from government to NGOs.

The International Conference on Mountain Biodiversity is taking place from 16-18 November 2008 at the ICIMOD Headquarters in Khumalatar, Lalitpur, in the Kathmandu Valley of Nepal. Some 75 renowned biodiversity, climate change, and conservation experts, representatives of global programmes, and representatives of the eight countries that share the Himalayan region — from more than 20 countries in all — will meet to discuss ways of systematically gathering and sharing the information needed, developing a reliable picture of the present situation, and formulating approaches to respond.

The aim is to provide a forum where world-renowned experts and representatives of global programmes can discuss issues with the countries of the Himalayan region to develop a common future strategy for mountain biodiversity conservation. The Conference is accompanied by two pre-conference workshops on Mountain Transboundary Protected Areas (10-14 November 2008), and Linking Geodata with Biodiversity Information (15-16 November 2008), and a post-conference workshop on a Research Strategy on Global Change in Mountain Biosphere Reserves (19 November 2008) which will provide opportunities to discuss and agree special aspects of this important topic.

The Hon’ble Minister Ganesh Shah, Ministry of Environment, Science and Technology of the Government of Nepal, was the Chief Guest at the opening of the conference. A special message sent by the Executive Secretary of the Secretariat of the Convention on Biological Diversity (CBD), Dr. Ahmed Djoghlaf, emphasised the importance and timeliness of the meeting. Dr Djoghlaf called on all governments to start preparations for the International Year of Biodiversity in 2010, at which time the Programme of Work on Mountain Biological Diversity would be reviewed by the 10th meeting of the Conference of the Parties (COP) to the CBD.

The contributions of ICIMOD and the galaxy of international organizations such as the Global Mountain Biodiversity Assessment, Mountain Partnership, Mountain Forum, and Mountain Research Initiative have been and will be critical. Says Dr. Andreas Schild, Director General of ICIMOD, “The loss of biological diversity in these ecologically sensitive areas poses a threat to the security of the Himalayan region and endangers the world’s global genetic heritage. Himalayan biodiversity is disappearing at an alarming rate and the time to act is now.”