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Outlook on climate change adaptation in the Hindu Kush Himalaya

Explore the climate change adaptation policies and responses in the mountainous regions of the Hindu Kush Himalaya region in-depth, in this edition of the Mountain Adaptation Outlook series. Following an analysis of the available information this report examines whether such policies and responses address key climate change risks.
Multiple Authors
A temple and green mountains in Bhutan


The Hindu Kush Himalaya (HKH) is one of the most vulnerable regions in the world to the impacts of climate change. Wide-ranging threats are already impacting ecosystems and millions of people living in the region and downstream, and are also being felt across all sectors of society.

In the face of new challenges brought about by climate change and its economic, social, and environmental impacts, it is crucial that HKH countries (Afghanistan, Bangladesh, Bhutan, China, India, Myanmar, Nepal, and Pakistan) increase their knowledge of climate change and its ongoing and projected impacts. In order to adapt to such impacts, HKH countries must also determine whether they have appropriate policies in place for ecosystems, people, and sectors.

This Outlook has been developed to address some of these critical information needs. The document synthesizes and analyses climate change adaptation policies and responses in the mountainous regions of the HKH, and examines whether these address key climate change risks.

This Outlook was created through an assessment process that followed four main steps:

  • Chapter 1 introduces the HKH region, setting out the context and in particular, highlighting the links between its environmental and socioeconomic conditions, its vulnerability to climate change, and adaptation efforts.
  • Chapter 2 identifies the main climate hazards, vulnerabilities of different sectors and key risks that are considered priorities to be addressed through adaptation policies.
  • Chapter 3 outlines existing policies and strategies for climate change adaptation
  • Chapter 4 analyses the extent to which these measures can respond to the key risks identified (gap analysis).

This document has been prepared by the International Centre for Integrated Mountain Development (ICIMOD), GRID-Arendal, and the United Nations Environment Programme (UN Environment), involving a number of national and international experts. It is part of a global series on adaptation to climate change in mountain regions, produced in cooperation with UN Environment. The series includes outlooks for the Tropical Andes, Central Asian, South Caucasus, Carpathian, Western Balkan and East African mountain ranges.

*This weADAPT case study is an abridged version of the original text, which can be downloaded from the right-hand column. Please access the original text for more detail, research purposes, full references, or to quote text. See further information about the Mountain Outlook Series here. Below key messages of the HKH report are outlined.

The Hindu Kush Himalaya: Climate trends, scenarios, and key risks for sectors

The HKH is on the frontline of climate change. Over the past decades, there has been a strong and clear warming trend across the region. Higher altitude areas have warmed faster than lowland areas, and also faster than the global average. Most HKH glaciers are retreating and losing mass, and will continue to do so into the future. In the future, temperatures will increase by 1–2°C on average by 2050, even reaching 4–5°C in some mountainous and high-altitude areas under a high-emissions scenario.

Both fast and slow onset climate hazards create risks for the mountain and for downstream populations, and for all sectors. These are not far-off risks, but very real present-day concerns. The HKH region and its downstream areas are very familiar with extreme events, many of which cause natural disasters with very significant impacts on lives and livelihoods.

Climate-related hazards with the potential to impact the HKH region.

The majority of the population is still rural, and strongly dependent on agriculture. Most is rain-fed and therefore vulnerable to changes in rainfall timing as well as frequency. This vulnerability is exacerbated by low diversification of livelihoods. Because of the socially constructed gender roles, climate change is also impacting men and women differently. With high outmigration of men in many rural areas, a significant burden is borne by the rural women who are left behind.

In the absence of adequate adaptation measures, it is expected that food production in the HKH will generally be negatively affected through delayed or early onsets of monsoon and change in its duration, higher rainfall variability, as well as increased extreme events including floods and droughts. Further risks exist for forest and other ecosystems, which are essential in providing ecosystem services for mountain and downstream populations.

There are also large, growing, and dense human populations living in cities across the HKH. Many lack basic infrastructure and are located in areas exposed to climate-related hazards, the most significant being floods, landslides, and droughts. While improvements in disaster risk reduction are being made, these measures often struggle to keep pace with rapid population growth.

Please refer to the full report for further background information on the Hindu Kush Himalaya region, and how climate change is impacting different sectors e.g. tourism, health, infrastructure (see pages 11-16 for background on HKH and 17-55 on climate change).

Adaptation Policies

In order to prevent or minimize the damage, governments need to anticipate the effects of climate change, and take appropriate action. Adaptation takes place at all levels, including autonomous adaptation at the local level, through to the international level:

  • The HKH countries are all involved in international cooperation on climate change and in the respective countries’ Nationally Determined Contributions (NDCs), adaptation for relevant sectors are overall well addressed, apart from tourism and human health.
  • Regional cooperation should be a priority in the region as many climate change impacts are transboundary in nature, but collaboration and support for the generation and sharing of scientific data is still limited.
  • Cooperation between upstream and downstream communities, also across borders, is also an issue demanding more attention.
  • National climate change adaptation policies are in place or under development throughout the HKH, and National Adaptation Plans (NAPs) are under preparation by most of the countries, whereas the Least Developed Countries (LDCs) have established National Adaptation Programmes of Action (NAPAs).
  • The findings from the sectoral policy analysis made visible that there are great differences to what extent the eight countries in the HKH address mountain related climate hazards and climate change adaptation for different sectors. Below is a summary of key policy responses, gaps and recommendations.
The key plans and policies addressing climate change adaptation in HKH countries

Explore the full report to learn more about the adaptation policies and plans currently underway in the HKH region (see pages 54-66).

Identified Gaps and Recommendations

Sectoral policies:

1. Water

  • Policies in the water sector are relatively advanced in terms of climate change adaptation and recognise the need to adapt to hazards such as floods, flash floods and droughts.
  • However, more focus should be placed on both local and regional preventive measures when dealing with relevant hazards.
  • Enhancing transboundary cooperation amongst countries could be a way forward.
  • With the projected climate uncertainty and uneven spatial and temporal water availability, innovative water storage and management solutions are needed for the times of plenty, and times of scarcity.

2. Food and Agriculture

  • None of the existing food and agricultural policies explicitly offer comprehensive measures to address climate change adaptation, however certain countries do address specific hazards.
  • Current agricultural policies rarely consider the socially uneven impact of climate change specifically on women, children and the elderly.
  • More attention must be paid to having more resilient agriculture in terms of the water availability for irrigation purposes. The quality of food with a strong focus on nutrition needs to be looked into. Furthermore, the connection between risks of climate change, farmers’ practices, and policies need to be strengthened.
  • Good practices on the ground need to be further supported by appropriate research, policies, and extension services.

3. Forests and Biodiversity

  • Forest and biodiversity conservation policy documents in the HKH are mainly focussed on sustainable forest management, conforming to a number of global programs and conventions such as REDD+ and the Convention on Biological Diversity (CBD), and regional cooperation for the management of protected areas.
  • However, these policies do not adequately address mountain relevant hazards or adaptation measures.
  • Furthermore, policies need to better consider the current and projected vegetation and species range shift due to the warming temperatures, which has the potential to adversely impact local livelihoods, ecosystem services, and human-wildlife conflicts.

4. Energy

  • Countries’ policies generally aim to increase the efficiency of production and consumption, and promote a transition to low/zero-carbon energy sources (mitigation), but are less focused on adaptation.
  • Policies which seek to promote hydropower development need to consider the changing hydrological regimes, extreme climate and other events such as earthquakes and need to work better across borders to share critical information regarding the above.
  • Energy policies furthermore need to address the existing barriers for uptake through decentralized clean energy options.

5. Infrastructure

  • The majority of the HKH countries have developed policies to regulate and guide the development of infrastructure and urban areas.
  • However, apart from basic statements on climate-induced impacts, the policy documents offer little information about adaptation measures or goals. Policies need to ensure that any infrastructure development includes consideration of the projected risks from climate hazards.

6. Human Health

  • The linkage between human health and climate change, and the potential impacts of mountain-relevant hazards are not considered as an adaptation priority by the HKH countries.
  • There is a need for targeted research and better understanding of the direct and indirect links between climate change and human health to make informed policy decisions.
  • Furthermore, there is also a need for better post-disaster recovery measures to prevent the spread of diseases and reduce the vulnerabilities to trafficking and violence, especially of/towards women and children.

7. Tourism

  • The majority of the HKH countries have tourism policies and strategies in place. These policies acknowledge the negative impact of influx of tourists on mountain environments and the need for sustainable management.
  • However, there is a gap in anticipating the potential adverse impacts of climate hazards on this sector.
  • The policies need to have a mechanism in place to take care of tourists in times of extreme events.

Cross-cutting issues:

1. Gender

  • Gender mainstreaming in policy documents is weak in the majority of countries.
  • Gender-relevant vulnerabilities are not adequately addressed, and there is no specific strategy to address the differential impacts of climate change on women.
  • The participation of women in key decision-making and policy process is limited.

2. Indigenous Communities

  • The specific focus on indigenous communities in climate change adaptation is almost absent in the HKH countries.

Transboundary co-operation:

1. Strengthening scientific data sharing and collaboration

  • To get a better understanding of projected climate change impacts, the HKH countries would benefit from regional collaboration on the generation and sharing of scientific data.
  • Climate data constraints could be addressed by developing region- and topography-specific climate models based on comprehensive local data, and by scaling up regional information to general circulation models to improve their accuracy and relevance to mountain regions.

2. Upstream-downstream

  • As many communities in the HKH depend upon the rivers in the region, there is a great potential to minimize damage from water related disaster by strengthening regional cooperation, including between upstream and downstream communities.
  • In order to improve adaptation coordination and beneficial knowledge-sharing across communities and regions, the use of information and communications technology (ICT) solutions could be introduced across the HKH countries.

Explore the analysis further in the full report on pages 81-83.

Suggested Citation:

Alfthan, B., Gupta, N., Gjerdi, H.L., Schoolmeester, T., Andresen, M., Jurek, M., Agrawal, N.K. 2018. Outlook on climate change adaptation in the Hindu Kush Himalaya. Mountain Adaptation Outlook Series. United Nations Environment Programme, GRID-Arendal and the International Centre for Integrated Mountain Development, Vienna, Arendal and Kathmandu., www.,

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