British Academy International Partnership and Mobility Award Funded “Future Himalaya Dialogue” was organized on May 23-24, 2016. The event was organized by The University of Edinburgh Department of Anthropology and Global Development Academy, in collaboration with Southasia Institute of Advanced Studies, ForestAction, Institute of Social and Environmental Transition (ISET) Nepal, and Women Leading for Change in Natural Resources Nepal.


Professor Andrea J. Nightingale, Swedish University of Agricultural Sciences, Sweden
Dr. Hemant R. Ohja, Southasisa Institute of Advanced Studies, Nepal and University of New South Wales, Australia

The future of the Himalayas has recently become of great concern to the global community. The Himalayas are the headwaters for all the major river systems in Asia and their glaciers have been dubbed ‘the water towers of Asia’. The consequences of global warming have inside and outside observers convinced that investment, planning and adaptation programs are required to address climate change impacts. Our British Academy funded research, however, suggests that investment, planning and adaptation programs are perhaps insufficient and even misguided, given the lack of integration across disciplines and sectors. Our results indicate that too much attention has been placed on technical adaptation and mitigation measures and not enough on the politics of these measures. Our findings are also shared by several other research studies conducted in the Himalayas over the past several years. Therefore, we believe more research and policy attention is required in the following four domains:

  1. Whose knowledge is considered necessary for addressing climate impacts?
  2. Who decides what development actions are most important?
  3. How can development actions better consider local political economies and Himalayan geographies across scales?
  4. What are the possible development pathways that could lead to social equity and climate resilience?

The heart of our concern is that climate change measures engage in a politics of rescaling, and this lens of analysis is urgently required in the Himalayas. The scale at which ‘the problems’ are seen to lie, the scale at which people are enrolled to address them and the scale at which financing and action are expected to occur are being renegotiated at all levels. Development efforts in the Himalayas, for example, have historically been divided by nation (India, Nepal, Pakistan, China and Bhutan) whereas increasingly, there is attention to cross boundary ecological and governance concerns that also extend into Bangladesh and Southeast Asia.

Yet whose agendas are prioritized, how knowledge should be generated (through remote sensing, through ground based studies and at what scale, through cross-nation teams, etc.) and ultimately who is responsible for acting on the policy recommendations that emerge is very unclear and certainly contested. Our British Academy research revealed how within Nepal, there is a great deal of uncertainty over which actors are expected to champion climate change adaptation efforts, for example. While the institutional responsibility has been fairly clearly defined, the political transition means that many of those institutions lack clear vision on development pathways. Perhaps most significantly, while these new institutions have been given a political mandate, who is supposed to implement that mandate has been caught up in the political struggles and lack of elected representatives at the local level. Clearly, the politics of rescaling is fraught with overlapping and conflicting claims of authority in the transitional politics in the Himalayas.

These politics of rescaling demand more dialogue and critical scrutiny to inform development pathways that could lead to both climate resilience and social equity. This workshop  therefore  was engaged in the following more specific questions:

  1. What are the challenges facing Future Himalaya seen from the perspective of the Himalayan countries as well as looking more broadly geographically to the north (China, Southeast Asia), and to the south (India, Bangladesh)?
  2. How do the research concerns and research findings coalesce and diverge from one country or one part of the Himalayan region to another?
  3. What are the implications for future scientific work of such convergences and divergences?
  4. How can natural science and social science efforts be brought together more effectively to inform development pathways that could lead to climate resilience and social equity in the Himalayas?
  5. What policy recommendations can the group suggest for Future Himalaya?

Structure of the workshop:
This two-day workshop  involved presentations and small group discussions, with priority given to discussion sessions that can think concretely around the core workshop questions. The emphasis was  knowledge sharing with a few formal presentations designed to present research results and raise critical questions for discussion.

Logistics and participants:
The workshop was held at the University of Edinburgh May 23-24, 2016. The participants included colleagues from Nepal who have been engaged in our research network, as well as academics who work in the region but are based in Europe. Policy makers and Development practitioners were also invited.

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