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.

Celebrating International Mountain Day at the United Nations

Three countries, Peru, Kyrgyzstan and Austria, sponsored an event at the United Nations Headquarters in New York on November 11 to mark International Mountain Day. It was attended by over 60 people, most of whom were senior and junior staff who represent mountain countries and officials from UN agencies. The speakers all underscored the importance of mountains in core UN priorities, including sustainable development, social justice, and human well-being.

Presentations by Permanent Representatives from Mountain Countries

Adriana Dinu, the executive coordinator of the UN Development Program Global Environmental Finance Unit (GEF), served as moderator. Her familiarity with mountain issues stems both from her position as a major representative of one of the key climate finance institutions in the world, and as someone with extensive experience in the mountains of her country, the Carpathians in Romania. She indicated the importance of mountains to key UN initiatives, particularly the Paris Agreement, the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development and the Sendai Framework for Disaster Risk Reduction.

An animated moment during the discussion (source: Madina Karabaeva)

The three countries’ permanent representatives, roughly equivalent to ambassadors, were the first to speak. Mirgul Moldoisaeva of Kyrgyzstan underscored her country’s long engagement with mountain issues. The Bishkek Global Mountain Summit was held in its capital in 2002. This event marked 2002 as the International Year of Mountains and led to the creation of International Mountain Day by a resolution of the UN General Assembly. Moldoisaeva described Kyrgyzstan’s engagement with snow leopard conservation as a form of mountain ecosystem management which preserves both biodiversity and human livelihoods.

Jan Kickert, the permanent representative of Austria, emphasized the need to maintain fragile mountain ecosystems so that they can support agriculture and water resources. He described the challenges which mountain countries face to keep population in balance with resources, particularly in the context of growing international flows of migrants. Kickert noted that temperatures in the Alps, and in other mountains, are rising at a rate faster than the global average, so that the 2 degree limit established in the Paris Agreement has already been breached there. He also discussed the Alpine Convention, a body which links the eight countries in Europe with portions of their territory in the Alps, and their work on a variety of environmental and social issues.

Peru’s permanent representative, Gustavo Meza Cuadra, noted with pride his country’s deep cultural heritage that traces back to the Incas, a civilization centered in the Andes. He spoke of Peru’s recent successes in poverty reduction. He indicated that the employment and income generation that support this progress rest in part on glaciers to supply water to the desert coast, an active economic region, and hence is threatened by climate change. The growth of tourism, another major economic activity, is also challenged by glacier retreat and water scarcity.

A Diverse Panel Discussion

After these opening addresses, Dinu chaired a panel discussion. The first to speak was Markus Reiterer, the secretary general of the Alpine Convention. He briefly summarized how the Convention on the Protection of the Alps was signed in 1991 and entered into force in 1995. It supports protocols in a number of sectors, including planning and development, nature protection, agriculture, forests, tourism, energy, transport and soils. He discussed several new initiatives of the convention, including a platform for information exchange and a commitment to making the Alps carbon neutral by 2050. He emphasized the importance of women in mountain economies and societies, and spoke of the importance of stemming the depopulation of high mountain regions.

Gustavo Meza Cuadra, Markus Reiterer and Ben Orlove, with Veronika Bustamante (standing) (source: Will Julian)

Carla Mucavi, the director of the Liaison Office of the UN Food and Agriculture Office, underscored the vulnerability of mountain peoples, recognizing the challenges which they face and the potential of their knowledge and resilience. She focused on women in mountain settings as resource managers, guardians of biodiversity, and decision-makers in adaptation programs. She noted that women in mountain settings often suffer from discrimination that blocks their access to land title, and proposed targeted investments to promote resilience in mountain regions.

Ben Orlove, a professor at Columbia University, and editor of this website, was the third to speak. He indicated that glacier retreat affects human well-being not only because of its impacts on water resources and natural hazards, but also because glaciers hold great cultural and spiritual importance in mountain countries around the world. He showed four slides of a pilgrimage to a glacier in southern Peru, discussing the accommodations that the participants, largely indigenous Quechua-speakers, have made to the retreat of the glacier. He noted the participation of mountain communities in UNESCO events that promote indigenous knowledge as a tool to address climate change, and spoke of glaciers as a focus of the IPCC Special Report on Oceans and the Cryosphere.

An Engaged Audience

After this panel discussion, Dinu opened the session to questions from the floor. The four people who spoke were all from mountain countries in Asia. Their remarks focused on their countries’ experience with the issues of hunger, climate and gender that the other speakers had raised, including the 2015 earthquake in Nepal and the rapid response of mountain communities to assist each other, an innovative financing program involving the World Wildlife Fund and the private sector in Bhutan, knowledge sharing platforms in Tajikistan, and biodiversity programs in Kazakhstan.

Conversations after the meeting (source: Will Julian)

The permanent representatives, panelists and moderator all gave brief closing remarks. In addition to the serious reflections on issues of poverty and sustainability in the context of climate change, there were a few lighter notes, including Moldoisaeva’s invitation to the audience to attend the Third World Nomad Games in Kyrgyzstan in 2018.

After Dinu formally closed the event, people remained in the room for about 15 minutes. A staff member from one of the host countries commented to GlacierHub, “It’s not usual to see so many people stay around after a meeting. Ordinarily everyone is rushing off to their next appointment.” One small group formed to discuss migration issues in mountain countries. Several people commented to Orlove that they particularly appreciated his slides about the pilgrimage, because these cultural and spiritual dimensions of mountains are often neglected. Dinu received a number of compliments on her effective moderation of the session. And, as often seems to happen at UN events, many participants exchanged cards and promised to remain in touch. Such ties can support mountain issues in international forums in the future.

Photo Friday: International Mountain Day

In honor of International Mountain Day on Sunday, December 11th, GlacierHub is excited to share with you our most-liked photos on Instagram. You can follow us @glacierhub for more images collected by our authors. After all, who doesn’t love amazing photos of glaciers?

And don’t forget to check out more info on International Mountain Day, a global celebration of mountain life established by the United Nations General Assembly in 2003. This year’s theme is “Mountain Cultures,” celebrating diversity and strengthening identity. #MountainsMatter 


High in the Himalaya Mountains, the Ladakh region in northwest India demonstrates how glacial lakes can offer lessons on adaptation (Source: Praveen/Creative Commons).



Greenland’s Steenstrup Glacier with the Denmark Straight in the background (Source: NASA’s IceBridge Project).



Amazing shot of an iceberg from the water below (Source: Ashley Cordingley/Creative Commons).



An adventurer and his dog wander across an imaginary peak (Source: Sergey Grechanyuk).



The Nooksack Indian Tribe looks to glaciers to save salmon populations (Source: Oliver Grah).

Photo Friday: Mt. Kilimanjaro

The UN designated December 11th as International Mountain Day. This year, at COP 21, a side event was held, ‘International Mountain Day: Celebrating International Cooperation on Climate Change Adaptation in Mountain Environments – from Rio to Lima to Paris

In honor of this celebration of mountains, this week’s Photo Friday features images of Mount Kilimanjaro, the highest mountain in Africa. There is one main glacier on the mountain, at the peak, the Furtwängler Glacier. Much of the ice on Mt. Kilimanjaro has disappeared over the past century, and the small glacier is what is left of this ice. Some scientists predict that this glacier could disappear by 2030.

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