March 15, 2016 Sujeev Shakya

Himalayan Consensus

Bhutan’s Prime Minister Tshering Tobgay in his recent TED talks—videos that present ‘a great idea’ in 18 minutes or less—explains how his country is not only carbon neutral, but one of the few in the world to have negative carbon emissions. Tobgay emphasised how the world can help Bhutan succeed further in its foray into sustainability by donating for the ‘Bhutan For Life’ initiative, a 15 year, $45 million fund to maintain and manage Bhutan’s parks and wildlife corridors as it gears up for conservation efforts. He then appeals to the world to dream with him about creating an ‘Earth for Life’ fund to mobilise global resources to replicate what is happening in Bhutan.

Planetary Sustainability
The battle over resources is never-ending in this capitalist world. We have countries that are taking charge of resources in far-off continents. Human history is filled with examples of exploitation of resources by people with economic power. But abundance of resources can also create problems. Richard Auty, a British economist, came up with the phrase ‘resource curse’ to describe a phenomenon where countries bestowed with natural resources face low economic growth. Similarly even the countries in the Himalayas have great natural resources, but they lag behind in economic growth indicators.

Furthermore, exploitation of resources has been linked to politics. In Nepal, the advent of ‘bulldozer terrorism’ using state-of-art equipment fuelled by easy transportation of natural resources through vehicles run by syndicates that break every rule in the book has made the impact of natural disasters more severe. Politicians who find the return on such businesses lucrative have continued to provide licenses for rampant destruction of nature, and business people who know about the profitable returns from exploiting nature have joined politics to keep the nexus strong.

But countries have limited control on natural phenomena such as the flow of water or the movement of air. The Himalayan region is facing the challenge of an increase in dust particles in the air and smog as people in the Indo-Gangetic Plain burn more wood and engage in construction that generates so much of dust. Atmospheric studies have revealed that the generation of dust particles in California can be traced to activities in Africa.

However, this is not sustainable as some natural crisis will unfold due to such practices. If only humans could maintain the perspective that we have not inherited the planet from our ancestors but borrowed it from the future generation, there would be a difference in how we look at the resource utilisation paradigm. The key is the realisation that simple gestures can go a long way; for instance, closing the tap to ensure water is not wasted or not violating the rules while setting up a factory. The need is to develop self-awareness among people about what needs to be done and what they as an individual can do for the larger good of society and the planet. Laws alone can never dictate human behaviour.

The Consensus Discourse
The initiator of the concept Laurence Brahm, an American lawyer, in his book ‘Fusion Economics’ talks about the need of changing the lenses to look at basic issues, be it compassionate capital or conscientious consumption. He argues that regions need to come together to discuss these issues without political borders as disasters have no boundaries and neither does the impact of climate change.

The last two major quakes in the Himalayas—Sikkim Earthquake in 2011 and Nepal Earthquake in 2015—raise questions about the way our urban settlements have been developed. They are not cities as they do not have traffic lights or management systems of modern cities. They are not towns as the people next door live like strangers and never contribute to basic civic duties like cleaning up garbage or sharing water in a sustainable manner. Planners who are good at planning in the flat lands and building matchbox structures are replicating it in the hills, making the towns in the Himalayas ugly sprawls with animals, humans and vehicles competing in badly planned roads. The British colonial powers are credited with building a lot of infrastructure in the hills but it is well known that the roads they built were to hunt for rare herbs and minerals and did not take cognisance of future population growth and economic development. The challenge of building the new Himalayan economy will be based not only on managing the resources well but also planning for optimum sustainable usage of them.

The other big issue is funding businesses that are based on innovation with sustainability. Many good ways of renewable energy are being explored in the region like water harvesting or converting waste into manure. Globally, people are chasing the next big tech innovation. Billions of dollars are available but these people have to be excited about the possibilities of innovation in this part of the world.

Himalayan Consensus, a non-profit organisation advocating for economic development from collective experiences across the Himalayan region, is holding its first global summit this week and many global thought leaders are converging to ideate on vast range of interventions that have been successfully made or are being tested. The dream of the organisation is to have a Davos in the Himalayas where each year thought leaders will gather to discuss the planet’s sustainability and efforts like Earth For Life. Nepal can be the centre of this great movement that in the years to come can generate the same interest as the World Economic Forum.

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