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Experts recommend collective response to common ecosystem risks

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South Asia faces the challenge of tackling persistent poverty at a time of rapid and large-scale changes in social, environmental, and economic conditions. A fairer, more equitable approach to governing environmental resources will be critical to ending poverty in the region. The International Centre for Integrated Mountain Development (ICIMOD) and the UK’s Ecosystem Services for Poverty Alleviation (ESPA) programme, in close partnership with national governments, have pursued practical ways to achieve wellbeing for the poorest and environmental sustainability through research and knowledge programmes in South Asia.

All of us rely on the natural environment for our survival and billions of people still rely principally on the environment for their livelihoods and other aspects of wellbeing. The dependence of the world’s poorest people on the environment and their contribution to its stewardship are often ‘hidden’ in public debates and decision-making processes.

Together with Nepal’s Ministry of Forests and Environment, the Reducing Emissions from Deforestation and Forest Degradation (REDD) Implementation Centre, ICIMOD and ESPA conducted a Regional Symposium on Ecosystem Services for Poverty Alleviation in Kathmandu from 13–14 March 2018. The event brought together 80 researchers from South Asia and around the globe to discuss effective approaches to ecosystem services governance for poverty alleviation.

Secretary of Nepal’s Ministry of Forests and Environment, Yubak Dhoj GC, commended the platform provided by the symposium as a “collective response to the common threat to ecosystems – the forests, wetlands, and agriculture areas.” He stated that policy interventions, institutional support, and research are key to shaping effective ecosystem services.

ICIMOD’s Director of Strategic Cooperation Basanta Shrestha said, “We need to be able to understand current challenges to ecosystems in order to work towards effective and innovative solutions on the ground, many of which are transboundary in nature. We also need to bring research findings and knowledge into action, and upscale them as development efforts.”

ESPA’s Director Kate Schreckenberg said: “We need better social and ecological assessments of decision-making over natural resources, to paint a clear picture of who benefits and who bears the costs of environmental decisions. Trade-offs and any potential human costs must be understood and explicitly addressed through open, just, and democratic processes. The ESPA approach is not easy but it is exciting and offers promise for the future.”

The symposium focused on interlinkages among ecosystems, poverty, and wellbeing; governance, policy, and institutions; complexity and social change; valuation of ecosystem services; rewarding environmental stewardship; and achieving development impact through research. Participants also identified key insights and practical tools for managing the complex interactions between changing ecosystems and human migration.

In closing, ESPA Director Kate Schreckenberg said, “If we are going to overcome poverty and environmental degradation and enable everyone in society to lead productive, fulfilling lives, we need to move beyond a sectoral focus and look at the bigger natural and social picture. ESPA encourages recognition of different people’s rights and values and how they access the environment to achieve their wellbeing.”

In the wake of the tragic loss of lives in the US Bangla Airways incident at Kathmandu’s Tribhuvan International airport on 12 March 2018, organizers dedicated the two-day event in honour of the individuals who lost their lives. Two of the deceased were employed at the National Planning Commission of Bangladesh, and on their way to participate in this symposium.

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