"Our work really starts now..."

Posted on 12 December 2011

Dr. Liisa Rohweder (CEO WWF-Finland) discusses the Climate Summit for a Living Himalayas.
Whilst efforts to reach a global consensus on combating climate change continue, the need for effective action at the regional and national level escalates. Such action can no longer wait for global agreement. If people, economic growth, and nature are to coexist in harmony, we must act fast to ensure ecological resilience and economic sustainability.

In the Himalayas WWF-UK, WWF-US and WWF-Finland have joined forces with the WWF offices of Bhutan, Nepal and India, to create a regional initiative aimed at ensuring such action is taken. The Living Himalayas Initiative recently played a key role in the successful outcome of the Climate Summit for a Living Himalayas – a role Dr. Liisa Rohweder, the CEO of WWF-Finland is extremely proud of, but said, “Our work really starts now…”

“The Climate Summit for a Living Himalayas was extremely successful for two reasons”, said Dr. Rohweder speaking outside the summit in Bhutan. “The first is that the summit process and its outcomes are fully owned by the four governments” – something WWF played a pivotal role in making happen, “but more significantly is the fact that this is the first time that India, Nepal, Bhutan and Bangladesh, have come together to join forces to combat the impacts of climate change.”

From WWF’s perspective, the Summit marks a major milestone – taking us one step closer to our vision for a Living Himalayas; ‘where nature and people live in harmony’. It also provides us with a well needed success story in terms of tackling the issue of climate change. A point Dr. Rohweder was keen to stress. “What the world needs right now are climate change success stories – especially as we wait for the results of the Durban climate talks”, which she admitted to feeling “very pessimistic about”.

WWF will now support the 4 governments in their efforts to build on this positive outcome, and create further success stories for the people and biodiversity of the Himalayas. “We must reinforce our support, and increase our regional adaptation work. This will help make the eastern Himalayas a showcase for the rest of the world”.

When asked about WWF’s role at the summit, Dr. Rohweder cited the message that she had received whilst speaking with government leaders at the summit; “WWF’s Living Himalayas Initiative has been working effectively, and with great passion now for a year and a half to make this summit a success, and to create regional level action on adaptation to climate change.” She added that the fact that “the WWF team had provided vital assistance, background information, and guidance in keeping the process focused on creating a regional ‘Framework of Cooperation’, is a matter of pride for WWF”.

Whilst WWF has a strong country-level presence in Bhutan, India and Nepal, WWF’s Living Himalayas Initiative has been focusing on regional level work, particularly in regard to climate based issues; as Dr. Rohweder said, “The impacts of climate change are not restricted by political boundaries”. They also tend to be interconnected with issues of biodiversity, water availability and human livelihoods; so any effort to address these issues must ‘look beyond borders’ and deal with them at a regional scale.

The leaders of the 4 countries have acknowledged this, and agreed that if they are going to have any success in terms of preparing their countries for the adverse effects of climate change, they must work together at a regional level. The agreement at the summit underscores this, and highlights the vital role played by WWF’s Living Himalayas Initiative.

The work really starts now though – a point emphasized by various participants at the summit, including Dr. Rohweder, “While it has been heavy going in the lead up to the summit, our work really starts now. Our role as a solutions-based organization with decades of experience in the region puts us in a position where we can really make a difference, and help make real the outcomes of the summit”.

Claiming the summit as a big success for the Living Himalayas Initiative, Dr. Rohweder said that the regional context of the Living Himalayas Initiative has increased the effectiveness of WWF’s in-country investments - specifically WWF-UK, WWF-US and WWF-Finland’s. One of the great challenges at WWF is the constant need to produce success stories that provide models to be shared and replicated, as well as lessons learned, but these three WWF offices working alongside the Living Himalayas Initiative have been doing so effectively.

The key for the Living Himalayas Initiative now is to realign itself with the outcomes of the summit, and look for further support from the WWF network so it can continue to work effectively and diligently on issues linked with securing the freshwater systems of the Himalayas, and the sustainable use of its biodiversity. An increased focus is also needed on protecting some of the iconic species of the region (such as the snow leopard and red panda), as well as increasing the role of local communities in conservation, and establishing a network of community conservation areas across the eastern Himalayas.

All of which pose challenges, but as Dr. Rohweder said, “We have succeeded in the past and we will succeed in the future too”. It was unthinkable a couple of years ago that that the eastern Himalayan nations would come together to combat the impacts of climate change. A challenge that was taken up by WWF’s Living Himalayas Initiative and made a reality. Proof that WWF has a vital role to play in the future of the Himalayas and the fight against the impacts of global climate change.
Dr. Liisa Rohweder, CEO WWF-Finland
The Climate Summit for a Living Himalayas -Bhutan 2011
Dr. Pema Gyamtsho, Bhutan's Minister of Agriculture and Forests, with WWF staff outside the Climate Summit for a Living Himalayas.
Dr. Rohweder visiting school children in Wangchuck National Park, Bhutan.