World Mountain Forum - 2016

Mountains cover almost 27% of the world’s land surface and directly support the 22% of the world’s population. Mountains provide indispensable goods and services to a significant proportion of humankind. They supply half of the global population with freshwater for domestic use and lowland irrigation in support of global food security and play an important role in the production of hydropower as a form of green energy. Mountains are centres of cultural and biological diversity, sources of raw materials, and important tourist destinations. Despite these key goods and services they provide, mountains still remain among the ecosystems least documented, offering services least accounted for. At the same time, many mountain regions are confronted with multiple risks and hazards, including widespread land degradation, inequitable land rights, resource grabs, and dire poverty. Globally, approximately 40% of the mountain population in developing countries is vulnerable to food insecurity, and half are chronically hungry. The situation is exacerbated by global climatic, environmental and socioeconomic changes. With uncertainties created by climate change, high population growth and land use change, urgent political actions are needed to enable environments at global and local levels and to facilitate the implementation of SMD activities based on available knowledge and information while promoting investment in sustainable mountain

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Mountains and Climate Change

Climate change is a reality today, and some of the best evidence such as melting glaciers comes from mountain areas. Many scientists believe that the changes occurring in mountain ecosystems may provide an early glimpse of what could come to pass in lowland environments, and mountains thus act as early warning systems (Kohler T. and Maselli D. (eds) 2009). In tropical mountains for instance, the melting of glaciers as exemplified by the receding ice caps on Mount Kilimanjaro, Mount Kenya, Ruwenzori Mountains, etc. provide a good evidence of how temperatures have been raising steadily over the years and the consequences on the communities in the areas surrounding these mountains are catastrophic. As an example, Mount Kilimanjaro provides water to millions of population in Arusha and Kilimanjaro regions and it is predicted the climate and land use change are going to jeopardize the mountain’s capacity to keep providing this important service. In the neighbouring Kenya, the vast underground lakes and a large network of rivers originating from the Mount Kenya supply water to more than two million people in surrounding rural areas as well as to the approximately three million inhabitants of the nation’s capital, Nairobi. It also provides close to half the flow of water into the Tana River, which produces 50% of the hydropower generated in Kenya. All these water towers are being threatened by climate change which will put more strain both on urban water supply as well as agriculture and energy sectors. Given the crucial role played by mountains from their life-sustaining services such as water provision and recreational services; their fragility to climate change poses serious concerns because the degraded flow of these services is going to have a big impact on mountain communities’ livelihoods and national economies especially in developing countries. The recent earthquake in Nepal and the ensued landslides across the country which claimed countless lives and damaged millions worth of property attest to the mountains’ fragility to natural disasters and the predicted increased extreme weather-related events such as floods, landslides and storms are going to put mountains’ communities and their livelihoods under an ever increasing pressure. Fortunately, as also demonstrated by the joint disaster relief response brought by different stakeholders in the wake of Nepal’s event, cross-sectoral collaboration and adapted early warning systems can greatly enhance resilience of mountain communities in the face of increasing natural disasters including climate change induced weather extremes as well as other predicted impacts of climate change in mountains. This theme will take into consideration the involvement of local population and integration of local knowledge in national strategies to maintain critical services of mountain ecosystems which form the basis of the ecosystem-based adaptation, an approach much adapted for these mountains environments. Discussions will also explore options for disaster risk reduction in mountains areas in relation to climate induced hazards affecting these areas as well as look at needed international response particularly in the context of the implementation of UNFCCC COP21 outcomes which is promising to bring the world together against this most difficult challenge humanity has had to face ever.

Mountains Communities and Livelihoods

About 12 percent of the world's population lives in the mountains, but over 50 percent are directly or indirectly dependent on mountain resources (FAO, 2000). Of the 718 million people who live in mountain areas, 625 million live in developing and transition countries, a fact which exacerbates their difficult living conditions where countries have limited resources to develop infrastructures and thus the development of these areas is challenged. While mountains provide various services to mountain communities, there is widespread poverty among mountain inhabitants, loss of indigenous knowledge and serious problems of ecological deterioration in these areas. Mountain communities have been at the periphery of decision-making in the context of overall development in many countries. As a result, most global mountain areas are experiencing environmental and social well-being degradation. Poverty, unemployment, poor health, food insecurity, lack of access to potable water and good sanitation are widespread in mountain areas. In spite of the enormous amount of indigenous knowledge in the mountains, education and health delivery systems are very poor, particularly in the context of women and children. The session will share experiences and discuss strategies for better integrated community development in mountain areas through effective participation of local people as a key to preventing further ecological imbalance, increase the productive base, share equitable benefits, sustainably improve the standard of living among the large rural population living in mountain ecosystems, and discuss how mountain-specific development policies should work.

Mountain Ecosystem Services and Green Economy

Up to 80 percent of the planet's fresh surface water comes from mountains (FAO). In the southern Asia for instance, about 1.3 billion people rely on freshwater obtained directly or indirectly from the Hindu Kush Himalayan (HKH) mountain systems. Services such as water provision flow directly to lowland populations constituting the main water supply for domestic, industrial and agricultural uses. Mountain ecosystems also offer other important services such as ecotourism. Indeed, steep altitudinal changes that occur in mountain areas translate in a compression of climatic zones over short distances and thus habitats which may stretch over thousands of kilometres in the lowlands may be located on a single mountain slope. This results in mountain areas hosting some of the highly important biodiversity hotspots on the planet, a great asset for tourism. Secondly, the pristine aspect of mountain environments and their majestic character attracts millions of tourists, both professionals and fans, to these often very remote areas. These services of mountains ecosystems can be harnessed positively to drive sustainable mountain development especially in developing countries if adequate policies framework and institutional structures are put in place to regulate and distribute the revenue back to mountain communities. This session will provide insights on key considerations to make to ensure sustainable exploitation of mountain services including development of adapted PES schemes that link mountain communities as keepers of these services to lowlands dwellers who benefit from them. It will discuss sustainable options in relation to green economy in the context of new sustainable development goals.

Sustainable Mountain Agriculture

Mountain communities’ livelihoods have traditionally relied on farming which is essentially family-based. Indeed, mountain characteristics in terms of slope, accessibility, etc. are not conducive to large-scale commodity production and the agriculture sector in these areas has largely been dominated by small-scale, family-based and subsistence systems. This is not necessarily a bad thing though since mountain products have now grown a reputation of quality and originality, merits which are at the core of the rise in popularity of organic farming. Thus, in a world increasingly aware of “green” quality and organic products, mountain agriculture will provide high-value and high-quality products that cater to increasing market demand and generate income for local communities (Wymann S, et al (eds). 2013). Yet today, family farming in mountain regions is undergoing rapid transformation, due to both internal and external drivers such as population growth, economic globalization and market integration, penetration of urban lifestyles, outmigration of men and youth, and the resulting increased workload for women who remain behind, and increasing claims on land for conservation and large-scale resource extraction, such as mining. These have contributed to higher pressure on local resources, unsustainable practices in land use, disintegration of local customs and traditions, and increased vulnerability to global change. At the same time, however, these drivers of transformation can also provide opportunities for local development, enhancing the role of family farming and improving the quality of life of mountain farmers. For example, they offer opportunities for increasing farm production sustainably and for diversifying livelihoods by engaging in non-farm activities such as tourism and marketing of local handicrafts (ibid.) This session will discuss the foundation of developing the mountain brand as a key to sustainable mountain development and explore the requirements to enhance this brand and empower local mountain communities to take advantage of it as an opportunity to integrate in the global markets.

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