International Centre for Integrated Mountain Development

Climate change is posing a major threat to 87% of the Himalayan habitat by the year 2100. David Molden joined us to discuss some of the challenges faced in current mountain development activity and the solutions being implemented by ICIMOD

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The Pulse of the Planet

If you look at the Himalayan mountains from a far distance, you’ll see a mountain chain with ice.

If you look closer you will start to see a rich ecosystem. 

Species like the red panda, tiger and snow leopard live in these mountains; in the Nepalese landscape over 2500 different species of rice have been discovered. The Himalayas are truly a ‘species’ of diversity themselves.

Unfortunately, climate change is posing a major threat to 87% of the original habitat by the year 2100

The Himalayan mountain chain is actually part of an even bigger region called the Hindu Kush Himalayas. This region is home to a population as big as the whole of Brazil, with over 200 million people who speak 1000 different languages.  

In this episode Talks With… David Molden who is the director of ICIMOD – International Centre for Integrated Mountain Development. ICIMOD collect data in these mountains and share their research with policy makers, in order to find innovative solutions that will protect the people who depend on the Kush mountains. 

David explains that you can actually see the effects of climate change in the mountains with the ice melting. One scary thing about temperatures rising is that even if humanity was able to limit the rise to 1.5 degrees, it would still be 2 degrees warmer in the mountains. This is because of elevation-dependent warming which causes temperatures to rise faster in higher altitudes regions. When the temperatures rise and the ice melts this affects the rainfall patterns, which in turn affects the agriculture. Besides all the people living in the mountains, another 1.7 billion people live downstream of and depend on rivers which originate in these mountains and their glaciers. 

To grasp the full picture of why these mountain regions are so vital, ICIMOD has released an assessment report on mountains, climate change, sustainability and people. You can also listen to the full interview with David on Spotify or read more about The Pulse of the Planet on

Want to find out more about ICIMOD ?

Interview Transcript


Every day you and I get bombarded with negative news. Just like the body becomes what we eat, the mind becomes what we’re putting in. It is important to listen to stories that not only give you hope, but also inspire you and uplift  you. 


In this podcast, we’re interviewing experts who will break down the solutions to the world’s most pressing problems. And I promise you, if you listen to this podcast, you’ll not only stay informed but you will also feel more energy in your life. Welcome to Talks With. 


Today, we’re going to talk about mountains. Why is mountains important? And to do that, we have invited David Molden, who is the director of ICIMOD, and it stands for the International Center for Integrated Mountain Development. So, David, warm, welcome to you on the podcast. 


Thank you very much, Spirit. And glad we can talk about mountains. 


Give me an understanding about why we are talking about mountains. Why are mountains important? 


Ok, good, good. So I’m sitting actually in Kathmandu. We have a wonderful rain shower outside. I hope you can hear a little of that. But so far, our organization works for mountains and people actually give an example of the place where we were called the Hindu Kush Himalayan region. 


This stretches from clear from Afghanistan to Myanmar. 


So quite a huge area and includes the Tibetan plateau as well as the Himalayan range. So we call this area the pulse of the planet. So it’s like taking your heartbeat. 


And if that pulse is healthy, then we also know we’re healthy. 


We as humanity are healthy. But if that pulse is weak, we know we also have problems. And I would say right now that pulses weak. But let me tell you why that is so important. And I’m using the Hindu Kush Himalayan mountains just as an example for mountain ranges all over the world. But the first is that while they’re incredibly gorgeous places, it’s wonderful to be here and work here from that perspective. And I also very much appreciate the culture, the diversity of cultures in the mountains here. We have a thousand different living languages. It’s huge with biodiversity there for global hotspots, for biodiversity in the Hindu Kush Himalayan region. 


And it’s an important resource base for an energy ecosystem services as well as water. 


Now, if we just consider water, for example, from these mountains, there are 10 huge river basins coming off the mountains. I’ll name a few Indus Ganges from the Mekong Yellow Yangtze River. 


And there are two hundred and forty million people in the mountains. That’s not a small number. But in those river basins, there are like two billion people depending on the water resources coming from mountains. And by the way, this mountain range is shared by eight countries. I mentioned a few Nepal, Bhutan, India, China, Pakistan, Afghanistan, Myanmar, Bangladesh. And so it’s incredibly important for those eight countries, but through water and energy and biodiversity for Asia. And I believe very much for the world, too, it’s also a place that’s under threat for many reasons. Right? There is environmental degradation, threatening ecosystem services. It’s a sustainable development goal hotspot and hot spot. So 30 people, percent of people are in poverty. About 50 percent are malnourished. About 80 percent do not have access to clean energy for cooking. Right. But then on top of that is climate change. So if it wasn’t hard enough already, we have climate change severely impacting the region. So if I can just go into the climate change impacts and mountains for a little bit, the first is that temperatures rise faster at higher elevation so it gets hotter, faster as you go up and up in the Himalaya. So if, for example, we could reach a one point five degree world like we’re targeting at Paris, it would be two degrees and mountains. And if we continue our rate, our trends with the emissions of greenhouse gas emissions will reach upwards of five degrees and mountains. Now, think about glaciers. So if we’re in the Hindu Kush O’Malia region, even if we could get to one point five degree world, we would lose one third of our glaciers at present emission trends, we will lose two thirds of our glaciers. Right. And think of the impact of that. But it’s not just a story about glaciers and climate change. It’s also a story of shifting monsoon and rainfall patterns of warming temperatures affecting ecosystems and agricultural systems. It’s more and more disasters, floods, landslides, avalanches in the region. So it really is a significant issue moving forward. Now, the role of my organization is a few things. One is it’s to get people. 


Together, we get people who work in science together to tell us what’s happening in the region, but then secondly, it’s to work with communities, it’s to work with governments in the regions to develop solutions. 


And that’s the important part, is that we can really take action in the region to develop solutions. 


So thank you for letting me give you a short summary of what I’ve taken with me so far. It’s a huge mountain area. The Himalaya that you are kind of surveilling and getting research from these animals is providing information and data for decision making. 


And then from this kind of mountain area, there will be people dependent on the rivers, people who are dependent on, I guess, the biosphere, all the biological ecosystem, and you’re saying that it goes faster, climate change goes faster the higher you come. So in the mountains where it’s quite high altitude, you would have almost doubled the degree, not three degrees, but five degrees. And and that would affect the water, the glaciers, which then would get the spin spin off effects. So it’s really connected to and the mountains would really be connected to the whole earth system. 


And that’s the pulse of the planet. I think you can see that. 


I see that now we have the pulse of the planet. Now, you were about to go into the solutions. Is that it? Yeah. 


Yeah. I mean, so we can’t just sit and know something is happening. We have to develop solutions. Right. And so that’s where I feel happy with our role with this remote as an organization. And it’s actually solutions at different different levels at the community level, working with mountain people, but also with governments and also with the global community. And I can give a few examples of that. So the first is we are seeing more disasters and let’s say high mountain communities are under threat from floods or say where the glacier breaks. Right. And a lot of times they get flooded or a lot of times they’re what we call cloudbursts storms that hit communities hard and fast and cause flooding. So a solution we’ve developed with our partners, but also with communities or community based flood early warning systems, that basically it’s a simple, practical technology that you put upstream, senses the flood and then gives a warning, a siren or a mobile phone message to people to move, to get it, get them to safety. And that’s actually worked in several different communities. 


Secondly, a lot of people are dependent on farming but what we’d like to do is diversify options, diversified livelihood options. So one is with farming, right. The mountains are great for nutritious food. That city people would love to get. Organic agriculture that’s healthy is to try and get these high back. 


David, yes, the audio disappeared. Could you just repeat the last few sentences you said? 


Yeah. So what? The mountains are a wonderful place for high value mountain and nutritious mountain products, right. That people like me would love to get right to. So the idea is switching and oftentimes switching back to traditional crops like sorghum or forest products or switching to organic or new products that can grow in the mountains and getting them to market with the benefits, economic benefits, going to mountain communities also to diversify it. Mountains are a wonderful place for tourism, but sometimes tourism goes wrong. Too much plastic, for example, or too many people bringing their own eating habits and benefits, going back to cities and not staying up to mountains. But actually, I think with this covid-19, that pandemic that has hit the mountains hard, perhaps this is a good time to press the reset button and get back to sustainable tourism. And another area with communities is with small businesses, say, around sustainable energy, solar, wind power. Right. Bio gas. Can we set up businesses that can provide energy to communities so they can get that clean cooking, for example? So lots of opportunities. But what it needs is investment. It needs attention. It needs government policies to make that happen. 


So also our role is to work with governments, with their policies and their investments. Our role is also to try and stimulate business and investments in the mountains and also a big solution to. Is to communicate the message of mountain people to the global community. I mean, mountain people can do that best, but sometimes it’s also the science and research through, say, IPCC that can also make a difference. So I think it’s incredibly important and also happy to be here to get this message to a broader global community. Now, I’m going to mention one last thing is about solutions. It’s incredibly important that we are all cooperating, that people are getting together about mountains. Right. And so that’s working between countries and about solutions. So we have our eight countries that I mentioned sharing experiences with these countries. So, for example, we have occurred in communities, talking to each other across borders. Right. We’ve had farming communities talk to each other and share experiences. But we also find that we have scientists and governments in this highly contentious region who are totally willing to work together about mountains as well. 


So this regional cooperation is incredibly important in the region, and that’s a role at this moment as well. 


Thank you for the summer of solution, that is this is kind of providing right now if we just play with the thought that it would not exist. So as an ending of the Cynthy, we’re going to start to go towards down there. What would happen if Eisenman would not exist? 


How would that affect the world and the people who are dependent on the protection of the service that you provide? 


Yeah, I think that so one of our very special roles is working across boundaries, right. Between countries, between communities. So it’s one of the few places that people from these countries can get together. We’re talking about Afghanistan, Pakistan, India, China as examples. 


So if we didn’t have Simard, there’s very, very few places for four scientists to get together. There’s very few meeting places for local communities to share ideas or even government officials. 


So we would miss that space for cooperation between countries. And when we miss that right. We’re missing a lot of different solutions. Right. 


Sharing information from Country A to B. We’re missing the opportunity for scientists to come together and to inform the IPCC report about what’s happening with the mountains. And so I believe we’d be a lost opportunity for people to develop solutions that they can do working together. 


If you would direct people towards learning more about this, some kind of call to action, what do you want people to kind of do after listening to this interview? 


Yeah, thank you. And I mean, if you want to learn more about mountains in our region, Hindukush, Himalaya there’s a wonderful assessment report. There’s a summary that’s easily accessible on our website, Hindukush Himalaya assessment. That’s one thing is to get familiar with mountains. And I will say many mountain ranges throughout the world face similar issues. So the second thing is just on a call to action. And the first is we really have to slow climate change, right? We have to limit global warming to one point five degrees because it’s a huge impact on mountain people who really did almost nothing to cause it. So one is look at ourselves and the actions that we take day to day, look at our governments to make sure that we are supporting climate action. But in addition to that, it goes beyond that. I fear we all have a responsibility to mountain people. Right. That we are seeing that good

investments are made in mountains so that mountain people can adapt and build resilience in the face of incredible changes. Right. There are already mountain people who are hugely resilient, but indeed the limits of that adaptive capacity and resilience is being reached. So we do need to reach out and get help from the global community.