Why Mountains Matter: International Mountain Day 2018

International Mountain Day, celebrated at the United Nations Headquarters in New York on 11 December, encouraged collaborative talks regarding the protection of mountain ecosystems, sustainable development and international cooperation. This year’s event was hosted by Kyrgyzstan, a country whose landscape is 95 percent mountainous, according to Kyrgyzstan’s Permanent Representative, Mirgul Moldoisaeva.

The Tien Shan in Kyrgyzstan during summer 2006 (Source: PKNirvana/Creative Commons).

Attendees at the International Mountain Day side event included representatives from mountainous countries, officials from UN agencies, and students.

Austrian Permanent Representative Jan Kickert emphasized to the audience that mountains will see a great deal of change over the next few decades. The ambassador added that mountain conservation is a “crucial role of all of humanity,” and as developed nations, it is “our job to help mountainous [developing] countries.”

International Mountain Day Presentations 

Andorra representatives Joan Lopez and Landry Riba started off the day’s discussions. Riba stated that the average altitude in Andorra is 1,996 meters, making the majority of the region mountainous. Climatology is a dynamic factor affecting agricultural activity in Andorra; livestock and tobacco are two main agricultural topics of concern. To withstand current and future climate variability, Andorra will move toward resilient thinking in its agricultural sector through action planning, joint efforts with other sectors, and crop diversification and research.

International Mountain Day attendees engaged in discussion (Source: Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations/Flickr).

Ben Orlove, a professor at Columbia University and GlacierHub editor, spoke at the event and referenced research documenting the intensified rate of warming in mountain environments. Orlove discussed the impacts of glacial retreat on water availability, glacial lake outburst floods, and evolving indigenous traditions. Orlove stated that there is a “strong call for adaptation of mountain communities.” He expressed the value in learning from indigenous peoples in order to prepare mountain communities and to adapt to a changing climate.

George Grusso, an FAO representative, explained that “what happens in the mountains has an impact on the rest of the world.” He emphasized that people around the world rely on mountains for a number of products, including tea, rice, silk, lentils, beans and coffee.

Left to right: Samuel Elzinga (Utah Valley University), Andrew Jensen (Utah Valley University), Ambassador Blais (Canada), Joan Lopez (Andorra), Yoko Watanabe (UNDP), Ambassador Kickert (Austria), Ambassador Moldoisaeva (Kyrgyzstan), Ben Orlove (Columbia University, GlacierHub editor), Carla Mucavi (Moderator), Landry Riba (Andorra), and Giorgio Grussu (FAO) (Source: Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations/Flickr).

During the event, Grusso announced the Mountain Partnership/FAO and UNDP’s Global Environment Facility (GEF) Small Grants Programme which aims to improve livelihoods of mountain communities by helping producers obtain fair pricing for their goods. Yoko Watanabe, a UNDP representative, added that the program is ongoing in 24 countries and in over 30 mountain ecosystem-specific projects.

Andrew Jensen and Samuel Elzinga, student representatives from Utah Valley University, spoke about the Utah International Mountain Forum, which promotes youth involvement in the environmental movement, water conservation, recycling and paper consumption reduction.

#MountainsMatter: Key Messages

#MountainsMatter was the theme of this year’s International Mountain Day. The hashtag’s purpose aimed to spread awareness around rates of temperature increase in mountain regions throughout the world and emphasize how change to mountains will influence everyone.

Mountains cover roughly 22 percent of the earth’s land surfaces and provide between 60-80 percent of all freshwater resources, according to UN Facts & Figures. Mountains matter to a variety of people for a variety of different reasons, and more people will continue to be affected as temperatures rise and mountain glaciers retreat.

Click on the FAO video below to learn more about why #MountainsMatter.

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