Story | 20 Apr, 2021

Melting summits: the need to adopt a “science-governance and diplomacy” approach to climate change

On February 7, 2021, more than 200 people lost their lives to a flash flood in the foothills of the Indian Himalayas. History is repeating itself here as in June 2013, more than 3,000 people went missing, and 800 died, in similar circumstances, and in the same area. In both cases, the location of these floods – in the paraglacial zone –, the meteorological conditions, and the impacts of climate change in fragile ecosystems were natural precursors to these tragic events. But rapid, unregulated development and over-exploitation of rivers in the high Himalayas were also at play here. Indeed, neglecting all warnings of the experts, including courts’ rulings, rampant construction of hydropower projects was carried out in sensitive zones. It is therefore not a surprise that most human casualties in late February were workers at two hydropower projects that were severely affected by the flooding.

This case highlights the importance of reliable data and information regarding the state of glaciers, large water infrastructure and their potential risks to humans and nature, especially in remote areas facing the most extreme consequences of global warming. Such crucial information can allow for the adoption of timely policies, laws, agreements and monitoring mechanisms  to mitigate similar events in mountainous ranges such as the Himalayas, the Andes and the Alps.

IUCN, within the framework of BRIDGE (Building River Dialogue and Governance), plays an active role in facilitating dialogues to link a science-policy and diplomacy approach to support countries in effective policy implementation and enforcement of norms for effective water governance. For that purpose, the IUCN Environmental Law Centre will publish a paper on Climate Diplomacy during World Water Week 2021,  which will be available in the Water, Governance, Law and Diplomacy Platform to explore this approach in detail and plant the seed for discussion about our melting glaciers.

For more information please refer to the IUCN led 2020 World Water Week Event on “Facing the climate emergency: effectively leveraging science, governance and diplomacy”.

(Prepared by Carolyne Clermont & Diego Jara, IUCN Environmental Law Centre, April 2021)