International Mountain Biodiversity Conference

Background

Why is it necessary to study mountain biodiversity?
Mountains are among the most fragile environments on earth but, at the same time, are also rich repositories of biodiversity and ecosystem services, and the sources of much of the water that sustains life on the planet. The influence that mountain ecosystems exert on their neighbouring environments extends far beyond their geographical limits to encompass the surrounding lowlands dependent on them for goods and services. International recognition of the important role that mountain ecosystems play has received more attention since Agenda 21 (Chapter 13) was adopted at the Earth Summit in Rio de Janeiro in 1992 and since then the International Year of Mountains (2002) also helped to focus attention on the need for research and development efforts directed specifically at mountain ecosystems.

How do global changes adversely affect mountain biodiversity conservation?
In spite of considerable international good will, mountain areas continue to face enormous pressures, the origins of which can be traced back to changes taking place globally. The direct drivers of environmental change in mountain areas include: climate change, changes in land use/cover and species introduction/removal; while the indirect drivers include: demographic, economic, and socio-political changes. Many of these drivers adversely affect biodiversity conservation, ecosystem services, and the well-being of the people whose lives and livelihood derives from the mountain areas. It is well-documented that land use/cover and climate change have already contributed to substantial species range contraction and extinctions; for the future, the consequence of human-induced climate change will likely endanger species persistence. While the first to be impacted will be the livelihoods of mountain people and the biodiversity of mountain species themselves, the effects will also eventually spread to the downstream river basins where they will have global ramifications.

What is the role of protected areas?
Mountains are becoming a focus for conservation biology because of a growing recognition that the ecological conditions and rich biodiversity found there favour speciation and evolution. These fragile environments, which house some of the world’s most threatened species, also house some of the world’s poorest people, dependent on the biological resources that the mountain ecosystems afford. Mountainous countries have acknowledged the special status of mountain areas by setting aside 11.4% of their areas for protected area network. The rationale for creating these protected areas has evolved as the understanding of the role they play has deepened, initially the focus was on conserving wilderness and uniqueness, and now the focus has shifted to their ability to preserve biodiversity, maintain cultural landscapes and deliver ecological services.

What steps are presently being taken to protect mountain biodiversity?
Today there is an increasing appreciation of the service that the rich biodiversity that mountain areas render to the survival of humankind. In 1992, the Convention on Biological Diversity (CBD) put forth global objectives on the conservation of biological diversity, on the sustainable use of its components and on the fair and equitable sharing of the benefits arising from genetic resources. The Conference of Parties in 2004 adopted an ‘ecosystem approach’ to biodiversity conservation and management which included a programme of work on ‘Mountain Biodiversity’. A recent advance in generating information and knowledge on mountain biodiversity complements these global agreements. The ‘Mountain Biodiversity’ programme aims to implement the CBD to reduce significantly the loss of mountain biological diversity by 2010 at global, regional, and national levels, with a view to alleviating poverty in mountain areas and in lowland areas that are dependent on mountain ecosystems for goods and services. These programmes strive to remain relevant conservation initiatives by striking a balance between safeguarding biodiversity and encouraging development and in doing so need to devising meaningful participatory approaches in both species and landscape conservation. The challenge of biodiversity conservation is especially demanding in ecosystem areas that cross national borders such as transboundary landscapes.

What are the benefits of a regional approach?
The Hindu Kush-Himalayan (HKH) region is one of the vastest and most understudied mountain regions in the world and one where the effects of global change are becoming apparent at an ever increasing rate. The reasons why this region is so understudied and why there is such a dearth of information and knowledge about it are many, but central to all of them, is that this mountain ecoregion is shared between 8 different countries. The mountainous regions of these adjacent members countries share the same type of terrain, biological diversity, and climactic conditions, and face the same challenges of global change; they also share the fact that none has fully benefited from the experiences gained by global institutions and programmes. The response by global agencies has often been bilateral and consequently fragmented; perhaps better progress can be made by taking a regional approach. Global institutions can become better aquatinted with the specific challenges shared by the mountainous regions of the 8 countries of the HKH region by engaging regional institutions who have already synthesised the concerns of the member countries into the an in-depth understanding of the underlying issues. Both global and regional institutions stand to benefit from interacting more closely with each other and working together to share, exchange, and develop strategies with the aim of proposing comprehensive solutions to meet the challenges of global change in mountain areas.