The International Mountain Day has its roots in 1992, when the adoption of Chapter 13 of Agenda 21 “Managing Fragile Ecosystems: Sustainable Mountain Development” at the United Nations Conference on Environment and Development put a milestone in the history of mountain development. The increasing attention to the importance of mountains led the UN General Assembly to declare 2002 the UN International Year of Mountains. On this occasion, the UN General Assembly has designated 11 December, from 2003 onwards, as “International Mountain Day”. FAO is the coordinating agency for the preparation and animation of this celebration (IMD) and is mandated to lead observance of it at the global level. The Watershed Management and Mountains programme of the Forestry Department is responsible for coordinating this international process.
Mountains cover approximately one-quarter of the world’s surface and are home to 12% of the human population. Mountains are characterized by massive global diversity – from tropical rain forests to permanent ice and snow, from climates with more than 12 m of annual precipitation to high ‑ altitude deserts, and from sea level to almost 9 000 m in altitude. They are the water towers of the world – providing freshwater to at least half of the world’s people. However, mountains are also high-risk environments; avalanches, landslides, volcanic eruptions, earthquakes and glacial lake outburst floods threaten life in mountain regions and surrounding areas. Mountains play an important role in influencing global and regional climates and weather conditions.
Mountain people are among the world’s poorest and most disadvantaged. They frequently face political, social and economic marginalization and lack access to such basic services as health and education. Moreover, current global challenges such as climate change, economic developments and population growth exacerbate the hardships they face. Sustainable approaches to development are therefore particularly important in mountain regions. Over the generations, mountain people have learned how to live with the threat of natural hazards and have developed well-adapted and risk-resilient land-use systems. However, there is growing evidence that many mountain regions have become increasingly disaster-prone over the past few decades.
To respond to the global challenges and threats, holistic, participatory and integrated approaches that address all aspects of sustainability are required. The specific needs and inter-linkages of different aspects of sustainable mountain development, such as water, biodiversity, tourism and infrastructure, must be taken into account. To achieve sustainable mountain development, it is essential that all concerned stakeholders are involved and that awareness is raised about mountain ecosystems, their fragility and prevalent problems, and about ways of addressing them.
The sustainable development and protection of mountain regions and the improvement of local livelihoods should be at the core of mountain legislation. Such legislation needs to address the protection of ethnic minorities and the cultural heritage of mountain people, and to recognize community-based property rights. Many mountain ranges are transboundary, so sustainable mountain development requires international cooperation.
The way forward
- On the policy level, it is necessary to strengthen existing policies and establish new and innovative national, regional and international institutions and mechanisms based specifically mountain-related issues; also, governments should increase attention to disaster risk management in mountain areas through the development of measures, approaches and policies for prevention, mitigation and rehabilitation of natural disasters and of public service. Transport and communication infrastructure need to be implemented, as well. Mountain people’s active engagement in decision-making processes with a specific focus on women’s role is of paramount importance, since it ensures that indigenous cultures, traditions and knowledge are fully recognized and included in development policy and planning in mountain regions and that access and agreed-to rights to land and natural resources are respected.
- On the economic level, levels of investment and funding for sustainable development in mountain regions at the global, regional, national and community levels, should be increased, through better integration of the private sector. Payments for environmental services (PES) will potentially better the economic situation of mountain communities, representing an innovative way of financing sustainable development projects. All this must be backed up by a supportive and enabling environment for the promotion of high-quality products and services from mountain areas as a means of improving livelihoods and protecting mountain environments, and facilitate mountain areas’ access to national and international markets.
- Managing natural resources correctly is essential to promote the conservation and the sustainable use of increasingly scarce resources from mountain areas, such as water, biodiversity, forests, grasslands and soils In view of climate change and the increasing occurrence and threat of natural hazards, it is vital to increase awareness, prudence and efficiency in the use and management of natural resources in mountain areas, and implement specific measures for adaptation and mitigation.
- On the international level, promoting initiatives for transboundary cooperation, with particular attention to upstream–downstream linkages and support developing countries and countries with economies in transition in their efforts towards sustainable mountain development, through bilateral, multilateral and South–South cooperation will bring tangible results. Moreover, supporting the collaborative efforts of the Mountain Partnership, encouraging the active involvement of its members and increase efforts to include and mainstream mountain issues in international discussions and negotiations, particularly regarding the three main relevant United Nations Conventions (UNCBD with its Programme of Work on Mountain Biological Diversity, UNCCD and UNFCCC), UN-Water and the World Water Forum will result in a great gathering of pro-active intervention.
- Capacity building will undoubtedly promote sustainable mountain development at all levels. That is why is fundamental to support research efforts to improve understanding of the drivers of change affecting mountain regions, and promote the collection of disaggregated data from mountain areas as the basis for informed decision- and policy-making. In the context of climate change, a major requisite is to increase efforts to monitor glaciers and runoff patterns in mountain areas, to assess future water availability.