The future of mountains and mountain people received a long needed boost at the UN Conference on Sustainable Development, commonly known as Rio+20, which concluded in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil on 22 June. The Rio+20 declaration, ‘Our Common Vision’, adopted by Heads of State and high level representatives from around the world, gives specific recognition to the global benefits of mountain ecosystems and the vital contributions of mountain people to sustainable development. Moreover, it calls for international support for sustainable mountain development in developing countries, and encourages countries to adopt mountain-specific policies – both major steps in ensuring the future wellbeing of mountain people.
The declaration, which renews the global commitment to sustainable development and to ensuring “the promotion of an economically, socially, and environmentally sustainable future for our planet and for present and future generations”, includes three paragraphs on mountains. It recognizes the global benefits derived from mountain regions as being critical for sustainable development, noting that “mountain ecosystems play a crucial role in providing water resources to a large portion of the world’s population”. It recognizes the vulnerability of mountain ecosystems to the adverse impacts of climate change, deforestation and forest degradation, land use change, land degradation, and natural disasters, as well as the impacts of melting mountain glaciers, on the environment and human wellbeing.
The declaration acknowledges the importance of mountains as home to poor and disadvantaged communities (including indigenous communities) and, more importantly, the role of mountain people as the true stewards of the mountain environment and ecosystem resources. It therefore encourages UN member countries to “incorporat[e] mountain-specific policies into national sustainable development strategies which could include, inter alia, poverty reduction plans and programmes in mountain areas in developing countries”. This is truly a positive step in global policy development processes for improved integration of environment and development. The call for international support for sustainable mountain development in developing countries is acknowledgement that mountain countries have been disproportionately impacted by the forces of climate and global change and that supporting the mountains to adapt to and mitigate the impacts of these changes will have global benefits.
“The three paragraphs on mountains lay out a long-term vision for a holistic approach for sustainable mountain development”, said Ambassador Gyan Chandra Acharya, Nepal’s Ambassador to the United Nations.
The International Centre for Integrated Mountain Development (ICIMOD) helped bring these messages forward through the long preparatory process, right up to the final days in Rio. ICIMOD’s side event on ‘Mountain Knowledge Solutions for Sustainable Green Economy Through an Improved Water, Food, Energy, and Environment Nexus’ highlighted the need to better manage mountain natural resources as global public goods supplying water for life, food for health, and clean energy for livelihoods. ICIMOD also participated in the Mountain Pavilion – the only pavilion in Rio devoted to a global theme and not a country, which, according to Manuel Bessler, Assistant Director General of the Swiss Agency for Development and Cooperation, rightly showed that “mountains do not stop at frontiers or borders”. ICIMOD organized three events in the Mountain Pavilion: a global youth forum on mountain issues, and sessions on the role of mountains in promoting sustainable green growth strategies and on women’s role at the frontline of sustainable mountain development.
“The conference urged States and international agencies to take urgent holistic action to conserve mountain ecosystems and biodiversity, to protect the environment, and to eradicate poverty and inequality for sustainable mountain development”, said Dr David Molden, ICIMOD Director General. Dr Keshav Man Shakya, Nepal’s Minister for Environment, expressed the commitment to work together with others to promote the mountain agenda. “Human beings and mountains are inextricably linked and therefore they need to be looked at in an integrated manner, which requires coordinated efforts from all sides”, he said. “We have to set in motion a new development paradigm that promotes sustainable development in an inclusive manner”, said Dr Baburam Bhattarai, Prime Minister of Nepal. “Research, learning, and exchange of information and best practices to promote an interface among traditional knowledge, science and policy, capacity building, technical expertise, and innovation are critical for sustainable mountain development”, the Prime Minister continued, calling for “an enhanced level of collaboration and networking among specialized regional and international institutions”.
For more information contact:
Ms Nira Gurung
Communications Officer, ICIMOD