Youths call for mountain preservation

Coinciding with the World Mountain Day on 11 December youths around Thimphu drafted the declaration to action for a Living Himalayas- “The Future We Want”.

A youth declaration drafted by the youth for the protection of Bhutan’s natural resources

SANGAY RABTEN

Thimphu

Mountains matter but mountains are under threat from climate change. What is the future that we as the youth want? What can we ask our elders to do for us? What can we do as inheritors of this planet, are the concerns of youth over climate change?  

In celebrating the International Mountain Day on 11 December, from the Bhutan Chapter, a youth declaration drafted by the youth for the protection of Bhutan’s natural resources was presented to the Royal Government of Bhutan.

Student representatives from the College of Natural Resources in Lobesa, Jigme Singye Wangchuck School of Law in Thimphu, and schools from around Thimphu drafted the declaration. It is a Call to Action for the Living Himalayas- “The Future We Want.”  

The declaration is expected to see about 200,000 signatories in the country. The capsule will be filled with pledges from young people across the country who are signatories of the declaration. Each placard holds a note written by the youth of their future self 25 years from today- on how they contributed to saving the glaciers in the country.

This is the historic moment of climate declaration from Bhutanese youth to the government institutions, and world leaders around the world calling for immediate action. 

Presenting the declaration, Nidup Dorji, a final year student in Environment and Climate Studies in College of Natural Resources said that the present generation of youth is the first to face the impact of climate change and “we are the last generation who can do anything about it.”

The youth representative shared that the villages are being submerged in the rising sea, dying crops, forests lost to rapid development, people are getting moved and are dying of hunger and thirst. “There is a catastrophe all around,” the youths lament. 

Nidup Dorji shared that the climate crisis scene around the world, “often makes youth question our existence- about our future. Are we really going to be among the 1.8 billion youth population who is going to live in a world filled with climate catastrophe?”

He further added, “The world is facing a triple planetary emergency – a climate crisis, a nature crisis and a pollution crisis causing profound suffering: lost lives, lost jobs, rising hunger, declining health and widening damage from unpredictable disasters.’’

The declaration is a call for action to all the youth of Bhutan, to policymakers, and to every Bhutanese citizen to renew forces. In a historic step of the draft declaration, there are 60 youth pledging to contribute to achieving Zero Waste Bhutan by 2030 by making small behavioral changes towards the waste we produce. “Tomorrow we call on 6,000 more youth to make the same pledge. Soon we hope to have 60,000 more and eventually all 600,000 Bhutanese making the same pledge,” the youths made the call.

“We, the youth, have waited for our government and world leaders to point towards the right way while, all along, staring at our environment being ripped apart,” the youth says. 

Nidup Dorji said that though Bhutan has a rich biodiversity, yet, Bhutanese youth are no exception in an uncertain world, “where our tomorrows are going to be determined by how much carbon dioxide is released today and how much oxygen is left for us to breathe.”

The presentation of the declaration cited Article 5 of the Constitution of Bhutan that states every Bhutanese is a trustee of the Kingdom’s Natural Resources and Environment for the benefit of the present and future generations.

As the environment and climate change impact fundamental rights and as a citizen of Bhutan, “it is my fundamental duty to do something that will benefit my generation and all generations to come,” he pledged. 

In the message of the Director-General of the International Centre for Integrated Mountain Development (ICIMOD), Nepal, Dr. Pema Gyamtsho (Ph.D.) shared that Hindu-Kush-Himalaya (HKH) is a global asset. However, he said that the region is facing increasing disaster. 

The HKH is the origin of 10 major river basins and is home to four global biodiversity hotspots, 330 important bird areas, and 54,252 glaciers. The region provides ecosystem services that directly sustain the livelihoods of 240-million people in the mountains and hills of the HKH region.

Nearly 1.9-billion people living in the 10 river basins also benefit from its resources and over 3-billion people enjoy the food produced in its river basins. 

However, the region has been observing early warning signals of global warming by experiencing an increase in the temperature by about 1.8 °C over the past half-century. The warming of the HKH region has ramifications for the global climate. This region is a heat source in summer and a heat sink in winter and influences the Indian summer monsoon.

“The brunt of climate change will be felt by today’s youth and their children in their adult lives. I hope that this call to action – the future we want: A living Himalaya declaration – developed by youth themselves heralds a new beginning in bringing our youth to the forefront of our fight against climate change impacts in the region,” the Director-General said. 

Gerald Daly, UN Resident Coordinator, Bhutan, said, “Whatever we do today, we must always keep in mind and question ourselves – in what state do we want to leave our world for our children? We don’t want to leave a world that is choking on plastic. We want to leave behind a world where our children have clean air to breathe. This is the legacy we wish to leave behind and this is the UN coming together in action.”

The Resident Representative, UNDP Bhutan, Azusa Kubota shared the concern over mountains under threat, melting glaciers, disappearing snow-capped mountains, erratic rainfall, and increased landslides and floods due to climate change.  

She said that the mountains are home to 15 percent of the world’s population and half of the world’s biodiversity hotspots. Mountains provide freshwater for everyday life to half of humanity. She said, “Indeed, mountains matter and our voices from the mountainous communities must matter!”

“Their conservation is vital for sustainable development, particularly for achieving Life on Land, Goal 15 of the Sustainable Development Goals, “the Resident Representative added. 

The chief guest of the event, Foreign Minister Dr. Tandi Dorji who is also the chairperson of the National Environment Commission, said that the mountains are our homes and abbot of protecting deities. The minister said that sustainable tourism is important, being the part of high value, low volume. 

The minister said that the government is impressed with the promising youths for submitting the declaration, which reflects equal individual rights. “All should shoulder equal responsibility. Government and citizens must act together,” the minister said, to conserve the environment and achieve SDGs. 

Three United Nations (UN) country teams of Bhutan, Nepal, and India and the ICIMOD together celebrated International Mountain Day, 2021 in multiple parallel events taking place in the three countries.