The ministerial declaration issued by India, Bhutan, Nepal, and Bangladesh addressing food, water, energy, and biodiversity concerns in the Himalayan region is a welcome initiative to protect this biodiversity-rich mountain range. The vast area faces a variety of problems that directly affect the local communities, and threaten ecosystem services provided to millions of people in neighbouring countries. Some of the serious issues that need urgent attention are accelerated forest loss, soil erosion, resource degradation, and loss of habitat and biodiversity. Climate change is a major source of worry, and needs intensive study because of its potential for severe ecological damage. It is a step forward therefore that four countries in the subcontinent convened the Climate Summit for a Living Himalayas in Bhutan and evolved a consensus-based mitigation effort primarily for the eastern part. The task before the signatories is to build institutions that will pursue research and share knowledge, beginning with a centre for the study of climate change. Sustained effort is necessary to achieve the key goals: access to reliable and affordable energy; food and water security; demarcation of connected conservation spaces; and sustainable use of biodiversity for poverty alleviation.
The Himalayan region includes many climatic systems: tropical, sub-tropical, temperate, and alpine. Thanks to sheer inaccessibility, this remote and difficult landscape has mostly escaped the ill-effects of the industrial farming system, such as pesticide and insecticide use and the introduction of hybrid or transgenic crops. Himalayan biodiversity provides a resource base for an estimated 80 million people, mostly subsistence farmers and pastoral communities. The challenge is to provide strong support systems to help them adapt to climate change. And yet data that can aid conservation of biodiversity are far from comprehensive. India, for instance, acknowledged at the summit that an inventory of the Eastern Himalayas, the target region for protection, at the level of genes, species, ecosystem, and landscape is yet to be completed. This task can brook no delay. The Himalayas form part of global natural heritage, and the U.N. Framework Convention on Climate Change must provide substantial funding for research, capacity-building, and preservation. It is also important to harness traditional knowledge and get local communities to participate in conservation programmes. A good example of this is the protection plan for snow leopards in India's Spiti valley. The Himalaya protection programme can achieve even more, if Pakistan, China, and Afghanistan join the initiative.