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International Mountain Day
11 December

Sustainable mountain development

The issue

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.

The management

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

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