Himalayan nations hold first climate talks

KATHMANDU, Aug 31, 2009 (AFP) - Nepal's prime minister opened the first climate change conference of Himalayan nations on Monday with a warning about the dangers of melting glaciers, floods and violent storms for the region.

With 1.3 billion people dependent on the water that flows down from the melting Himalayan glaciers, Madhav Kumar Nepal said cross-border cooperation was essential in tackling the impact of climate change.

This undated file picture shows the world's tallest mountain Mount Everest at 8848 meters, standing in front of Khumbu Glacier, one of the longest glaciers in the world. (AFP photo)

"The threats and risks of climate change have manifested themselves in the melting of the Himalayan glaciers, rising sea levels and violent storm surges," he said as he opened the talks in Kathmandu.

"More frequent extreme weather events have affected agricultural production across the region.

"The potentially catastrophic impact on lives and livelihoods has assumed a huge importance in our international relations."

South Asian environment officials have gathered in Kathmandu for the conference, aimed at highlighting the problems facing the region ahead of a key climate change summit in Copenhagen in December.

However, the absence of a representative from the Indian government is expected to weaken any message that comes out of the talks.

Environmental campaigners refer to the Himalayas as the "third pole" and say the melting glaciers are the biggest potential contributors to rising sea levels after the north and south poles.

But this is the first time Himalayan governments have come together to lobby for ambitious emission reduction targets at the Copenhagen summit, which aims to seal a new international climate change accord.

"Nepal's message needs to be heard, and the message of the mountains needs to be heard," said World Bank water and climate expert Claudia Sadoff ahead of the conference.

"The Himalayas have their own very real set of challenges, but there are also a lot of adaptation and mitigation opportunities in the mountains."

Glaciers in the Himalayas, a 2,400-kilometre (1,500-mile) range that sweeps through Pakistan, India, China, Nepal and Bhutan, provide headwaters for Asia's nine largest rivers, a lifeline for people who live downstream.

"The Himalayas are the source of the world's seven largest rivers and supply water to 40 percent of its population," said Mohan Munasinghe, vice chairman of the Intergovernment Panel on Climate Change.

Munasinghe said South Asian governments must begin working together to tackle flooding and water management problems.

"We cannot afford to fail," he told delegates.

Source: AFP

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