Mountain Context Matters in Monitoring and Reporting on Sustainable Development Goals

A new MRI publication highlights the importance of spatial context in monitoring and reporting on the Sustainable Development Goals. With reflections based on research in mountain regions, the paper calls for data collection methodologies and review schemes that take into account how SDGs may be reflected at sub-national and regional levels. This recent publication in the GAIA Open Access Thematic Issue: Research for Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) was developed by the MRI and the Center for Development and Environment (CDE), as part of our collaboration on the Sustainable Mountain Development for Global Change (SMD4GC) program.

In September 2015, the General Assembly of the United Nations unanimously adopted the Agenda 2030 for Sustainable Development. Central to this agenda are 17 Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) and 169 related targets. By committing to the 2030 Agenda, countries have promised to work towards sustainable development, pledging to leave no one behind. However, for those that are marginalized due to living in remote mountainous regions, for example, the risk of exclusion remains.

Assessing benefits and trade-offs of the dynamic development in the Jhikhu Khola watershed, Nepal is essential to guide further efforts towards achieving the SDGs (Source: Susanne Wymann von Dach, 2017).

Mountain areas of the world are highly diverse in terms of environment, culture, and politics, and this in turn influences local conditions—and thereby also the respective development pathways. In national level reviews, such mountain specificities sit within large administrative units and remain difficult to identify and distinguish. Localizing the SDGs could facilitate evidence-informed reviews and decision-making by addressing targeted development agendas for mountains.

However, so far very little guidance is available for countries to account for sub-national or regional spatial considerations, such as mountain territories. A critical step forward is producing spatially disaggregated data to identify patterns of socio-economic disparities within countries. At the moment, data availability is clearly inadequate for monitoring SDGs in a mountain context. Support is needed, especially for strengthening statistical offices at both the national and local level.

Experts in Kyrgyzstan assess the interactions between SDG targets that are of high priority and help to strengthen the resilience of mountain people and ecosystem in the Kyrgyz mountains (Source: Alma Uzbekova, UCA, 2018).

Participatory approaches are often recommended when engaging in processes of co-production of knowledge to localise the SDGs, ensuring relevance, ownership, commitment and effective means for implementation of policies. Although such approaches require time and resources, the benefits of local participation are important as a basis for social learning. Furthermore, success in participatory approaches relies not only on the quality of frameworks used, but in the criteria applied to assess their effectiveness.

The authors conclude that enhancing national level reporting with insights and inputs from sub-national reviews, such as those that explicitly account for mountain areas, enables an evidence-informed debate and decision-making context that considers the needs of marginalized or distant communities, which are also relevant for regional and global level reviews and decisions on governing sustainable development across national boundaries. To facilitate this process, new methods and experiences need to be developed and shared to address mountain specificities, for instance via networks and platforms such as the Localizing the SDGs website.

You can download and read the GAIA article here.

This article was originally published by the Mountain Research Initiative.

Read More on GlacierHub:

Study Assesses Efficacy of Artificial Glaciers in Alleviating Water Scarcity in Ladakh, India

Video of the Week: Work Inspired by John Ruskin

Project Pressure Exhibition Explores Climate Change and Glaciers

New Report Addresses Mountain Sustainability

A major new report provides a thorough summary of research and an innovative discussion of development efforts in mountain regions. This report, titled ‘Mountains and Climate Change: A Global Concern,’ was published in December 2014 by the Mountain Partnership as part of the UN Sustainable Mountain Development Series. The Mountain Partnership is an international organization, dedicated to sustainable mountain development, which partners with the United Nations.

Sheep grazing below Mt. Huantsán in Peru’s Cordillera Blanca. Source: Mattias Borg Rasmussen
Tropical Andes: Sheep grazing below Mt. Huantsán in Peru’s Cordillera Blanca. Source: Mattias Borg Rasmussen

The report was developed for the 20th Conference of the Parties to the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (COP20), which was held in Lima, Peru, in December 2014. Integrating a variety of perspectives from researchers and practitioners, the report synthesizes and analyzes adaptation-mitigation strategies and relevant policy recommendations about climate change vulnerabilities in the mountain regions in order to understand problems and solutions. These together seek to define and understand both the problem space and the solution space for sustainable mountain development globally world-wide. Case studies on glaciers presented in the report cover the mountains of the Alps, the tropical Andes, the Himalayas, the Carpathians of Eastern Europe and Kyrgyzstan.

One of these case studies reports on historical and current changes in the tropical Andes. It finds that smaller glaciers have been retreating relatively faster than larger glaciers. It includes projections for the 0°C mean annual isotherm (the altitude at which the average temperature is at the freezing point of water) so that glaciers may be maintained. This isotherm, also known as the freezing level, may move upslope by hundreds of meters by the year 2100, leading to increased melting and glacier retreat. The report suggests that precipitation patterns over the Andes are stable and will not raise water scarcity concerns, but rising temperatures at higher altitudes will increase evaporation and lead to water deficiencies.

This short 2012 World Bank Video ‘Melting glaciers: The Slow Disaster in the Andes’ provides an overview of impacts of changing climate on Andean water

The Carpathian region in Europe, discussed in a second case study, is home to a long mountain range with relatively fewer and smaller glaciers. These mountains are also facing impacts from climatic changes. At the Fourth Meeting of the Conference of the Parties to the Carpathian Convention (COP4) in 2014, strategies for adaptation to climate change in this region was adopted. Some of these recommendations include developing funding mechanisms including a plan for compensating mountain areas for the service and goods they provide, building  knowledge hubs and platforms for sharing information.

A glacial peak in Tatra National Park, Slovakia, in the highest section of the Carpathians (Source: Peter Fenďa/ Flickr)
A glacial peak in Tatra National Park, Slovakia, in the highest section of the Carpathians (Source: Peter Fenďa/ Flickr)

Temperatures during the summer have shown an increase in the Carpathian region, contributing to melting, even though winter temperatures remained relatively unchanged. The report suggests that in the last 50 years, precipitation over this mountain region has overall been more intensified and displays a spatially varying “mosaic pattern” which has anomalous increase in few locations and decrease in others. These changes have been attributed to the effects of a pattern of increasing localization of storms. The report calls for further studies to describe processes that affect glacier retreat and to reduce the uncertainties in projections, and it places high priority on the regional capacity building and financial investment in the region.

A Himalayan Avalanche (Photo:Flickr)
A Himalayan avalanche (Source: Pavel Matejicek/Flickr)

This report reasserts with higher confidence findings in earlier documents such as “Mountain glaciers are key indicators of climate change” and “Glacier changes are the most visible evidence of global climate change we have.” It underscores that retreating glaciers are modifying the regions’ hydro-climatology, and this change is in turn causing a cascade of hazards such as landslides, glacial lake outburst floods (GLOFs), and rock falls. The report recommends sustaining mountain economies through integrated risk management and water management approaches incorporate participatory governance and decision making. It stresses that most mountain ranges are found in developing countries, but that the bulk of the responsibility for climate change lies with developed countries. Finally, the report highlights the importance of including glaciers and mountain climate change in the United Nation Development Programme’s Post-2015 Development Agenda and in Sustainable Development Goals which will orient global development efforts in coming decades. In this way, the report serves not only as a synthesis of prior research but as a guide for future action.