Hyderabad, India – The birthplace of Lord Buddha in Nepal, a mountain revered as the centre of the universe in Tibet, long-standing monasteries in Bhutan, and majestic alpine lakes in India are among the many sacred natural sites in the Eastern Himalayas that have been preserved by traditional belief systems that place a high value on nature, says a new WWF report released on the sidelines of the UN Convention on Biological Diversity (CBD) in Hyderabad.
The High Ground: Sacred natural sites, bio-cultural diversity and climate change in the Eastern Himalayas, examines how sacred places, beliefs and practices in the Himalayas can aid efforts to conserve areas of value in the face of modern-day threats including the unrelenting pressure human demands place on the planet.
“In the Eastern Himalayas, livelihoods and strong cultural traditions deeply depend on natural resources, making conservation an integral part life. For centuries such practices have helped ensure the conservation of wildlife and other and other natural resources that are highly threatened or extinct in other parts of Asia,” said WWF International’s Executive Director of Conservation Lasse Gustavsson.
“To protect the Himalayas and other landscapes around the world WWF is asking governments at the CBD to commit to increasing domestic and international funding to help protect our planet’s most valuable natural assets.”
“Part of this effort includes safeguards on traditional knowledge and the rights of indigenous peoples and local communities, an essential component of good governance of natural resources,” he added.
In November 2011, Bhutan, Nepal, India and Bangladesh signed a regional climate change adaptation declaration at the Climate Summit for a Living Himalayas to protect the region’s biodiversity, food, energy and water resources.
Tariq Aziz, Leader of WWF’s Living Himalayas Initiative, says that combination of traditional beliefs and the application of government-backed modern trans-boundary climate adaptation frameworks also play a significant role in preserving the Eastern Himalaya’s fragile environment:
“The near-pristine state of sacred sites in East Himalayan landscapes is a testament to how sacred places, beliefs and practices can aid conservation efforts. But frameworks that allow regional governments and civil society to work together offer an added edge that will help stem the impacts of climate change,” Mr. Aziz said.
But a year after the declaration was signed, little real progress has been made. Commenting on the leadership roll India can play in conserving sacred sites and the Eastern Himalayas, economist and special advisor to the Indian Prime Minister on Climate Change Nitin Desai said:
“In many ways India is absolutely central…and is a major beneficiary of better protection of ecosystems as it is the one country that has both upland areas as well as plains,” Mr. Desai said at a Living Himalayas-focused side event at the CBD.
“The Indian government must take a leadership role in this [Living Himalayas] project because…it is something they can make a huge difference in by deploying both their scientific and human capacity as well as their financial resources,” he added.
As host nation of the CBD, Indian Prime Minister Manmohan Singh made the US$50 million "Hyderabad Pledge" on Tuesday, a commitment that will channel much needed biodiversity investments into India and other developing nations that are finding it difficult to cover urgently needed investments in natural capital.
“It is wonderful to see India step forward and commit much needed investments in biodiversity. As the CBD draws to a close in Hyderabad, WWF is encouraged to see that some progress has been made, but we now need developed countries to follow this show of leadership and increase their financial support to developing countries,” said Lasse Gustavsson.