Asian cold deserts: unique biodiversity and ecosystem services
United Nations University Institute for Sustainability and Peace
Date and Time
16 October 2012 12:15 - 13:45
Asia covers the largest area of cold desert in the world covering partly/fully ten countries viz., Afghanistan, China, India, Iran, Kyrgyz Republic, Mongolia, Pakistan, Russia and Tajikistan. This ecoregion harbors some unique biodiversity (e.g., snow leopard, Marco Polo sheep, yak and a large number of rare and threatened medicinal plants) with ecosystem services critical for sustainable livelihoods of 20-30 million people living within the region and a march larger population in the catchments of Indus, Ganges, Brahmputra, Salween, Mekong, Yangtze, Yellow, Tarim, Syr Darya, Amu Darya and many other rivers fed by the region. With global attention to species-rich regions on one hand and extremely inhospitable climate and poor infrastructure on the other, biodiversity in cold desert remained only a marginal agenda in biodiversity research, sustainable management and policies. Being the highest region of the world (Changthang and Tibet: ‘Roof of the World’) faced to the highest rates of global climate change, Asian cold desert region is likely to pass through radical changes in both wild and domesticated biodiversity, offering new economic development opportunities (e.g., agricultural extensification and intensification and increased melt-water flows in the highlands under warmer climate) and threats to biodiversity (e.g., as a result of overgrazing/overstocking and warming-driven movements of species and biomes) and biodiversity-linked ecosystem services (e.g., reduced base flow in the catchments of rivers fed by the glaciers in the cold desert region, dominance of unpalatable species). The United Nations University-Institute of Sustainability of Peace (UNU-ISP), through this side-event and in cooperation with its academic partners, shall reach out to the global community with the outcomes of its interdisciplinary programmes on biodiversity research, management and capacity building in Asian cold deserts.