Your Excellency, President of Kyrgyzstan Askar Akaev,
Ladies and gentlemen,
Friends and colleagues.
I am honoured to have the opportunity to address this distinguished meeting on behalf of the United Nations Environment Programme and the Executive Director, Klaus Toepfer.
At the outset, I would like to thank our host, the Government of Kyrgyzstan, for enabling us to get together in this beautiful country. The Global Mountain Summit, the first-ever conference devoted entirely to mountain issues, represents in substance the culmination, the crowning, of the activities held to celebrate the International Year of the Mountains, proposed by Kyrgyzstan.
I would also like to thank the members of the International Advisory Board, who, under the leadership of President Akaev, played an indispensable role in the lead-up to this momentous event. The FAO, the lead UN agency for the International Year of Mountains and the task manager for Chapter 13 of Agenda 21 also deserves our gratitude.
The Summit and its worldwide preparatory process have been made possible through generous contributions and support from numerous governments, intergovernmental institutions and NGOs. The length and diversity of the supporters of this Summit is a testimony to the growing attention being paid to mountain-related issues at the global level. UNEP is proud to be working with such a diverse group of stakeholders. Together we could move mountains or, to put it more appropriately we can help restore the fragile mountain ecosystems that provide so many critical environmental services to humanity.
As acknowledged by the Earth Summit in Rio and more recently the World Summit on Sustainable Development (WSSD), mountains are vital to all life on earth and to the well-being of people everywhere. Mountains are indeed the source of many services and benefits upon which the quality of our life depends. What happens on the highest mountain peak affects life in the lowlands, in freshwaters and even in the seas. Over half of the global population depends on mountain resources. The mountain regions of developing countries alone are home to some 625 million people, representing 10 per cent of the world's population.
Far too frequently, mountains are seen as providers of abundant natural resources, with insufficient attention paid to the plight of their inhabitants as well as the sustainability of their ecosystems. Consequently socio-economic conditions have deteriorated in the mountain regions of all continents, as exemplified by poverty, limited employment opportunities, depopulation, environmental and natural resources degradation, loss of ethno-cultural traditions, inter-ethnic tensions, conflicts, and lack of access to information.
Mountains are evidently mighty, lofty places and over the centuries we have allowed ourselves to see them, in our mythology and folklore, as both impregnable and capable of taking care of themselves with calamitous consequences. Happily things are changing for the better.
The critical importance of mountains is now being recognised by the international community. We in the United Nations Environment Programme are initiating a wide range of efforts to support the aims of International Year of Mountains, jointly with our partners and supporters, which we shall carry out in the years to come.
I would now like to outline briefly how we in UNEP view follow-up to the IYM.
We at UNEP believe there is a strong and overriding need to continue paying priority attention to the interlinkages between the environmental services provided by the mountain ecosystems and the fresh water coming from them.
Water as a source of life will be the subject of the Dushanbe Fresh Water Forum, proposed by the Government of Tadjikistan to celebrate the International Year of Fresh Water, in September 2003. UNEP is committed to continuing close co-operation with the Task managers for the Year, UNESCO and the DESA. UNEP is also committed to helping to ensure that the outcomes of the IYM are linked to and supportive of the International Year of Fresh Water. We believe this will contribute significantly to the achievement of the Millennium Development Goal of halving the proportion of people who do not have access to safe drinking water by the year 2015.
In a similar spirit, we are joining forces with the World Economic Forum, the GEF, the IUCN, the CSD, the Government of Germany, and the Mountain Forum to launch a Water and Mountains Initiative in Davos next January. This initiative builds on over a year of extensive consultation with both private and public sector institutions and will be our joint contribution to the umbrella International Partnership for Sustainable Development of Mountain Regions. It fits very well in the further development and implementation of the Global Compact led by the Office of the Sercretary General, bringing UNEP's work with the private sector to bear on the protection and maintenance of vital mountain ecosystems.
Another area of fundamental importance is captured in UNEP's message for the WSSD to promote "environment for development". Against that background, and at the request of the Government of Kyrgyzstan, we intend to support the recent Kyrgyz initiative to set up a Network of Developing Mountain States and Regions, as proposed during the WSSD in Johannesburg. We are gratified by the growing interest in joining this network, which is aimed at assisting people living in the mountain areas of both developing countries and those in transition, such as Kyrgyzstan.
Recognising the efficacy of regional-level activities, UNEP will continue to provide support to the several regional processes aimed at enhancing transboundary cooperation in mountain regions to protect their environments and support sustainable livelihoods for mountain people.
The Alpine Convention has provided much inspiration in this regard, particularly in Europe, Asia, and Africa. Later today we will hear more detailed presentations on some of these initiatives by our partners. I will therefore now refer to a few examples.
During the Summit, the Central Asian Mountain Charter will be opened for signature. This Charter, which has been developed over the past year, will signal the political resolve of the Central Asian states to move towards a comprehensive framework convention for the mountains of Central Asia. UNEP will continue to assist as much as possible in this process, which is another Kyrgyz initiative.
In Africa, the African Ministerial Conference on the Environment (AMCEN), has created a special working group to support regional mountain agenda in the continent, including work towards mountain conventions. We are supporting this initiative, working in close cooperation with the current Chair of AMCEN, the Minister of Environment of Uganda.
In Europe, the Government of Ukraine is leading inter-governmental negotiations that will hopefully lead to the Carpathian Convention being opened for signature during the "Environment in Europe 2003" Ministerial conference in Kiev. UNEP is actively supporting officials from the Ukraine and other relevant states in pursuing this goal.
Of course, in all of these regional activities, UNEP is working closely with a range of governmental, intergovernmental and non-governmental partners. We are grateful to all of these partners for their support.
I would now like to turn briefly to the Mountain Watch Report.
In any environmental strategy for mountain protection and development, assessing and informing stakeholders of the state of the play must be a major focal area. I am happy to report that UNEP, jointly with the GEF and other partners, has just released the first issue of the Mountain Watch report. This report provides the first map-based overview of environmental change in mountains and its implications for sustainable development. We hope that discussions on this report in Bishkek will be a starting point for a broad consultative process. We also hope that it will lead to region-specific reports (such as an Asian issue, on which we will work with ICIMOD) and in the longer run to a Global Mountain Atlas.
The report presents new global maps illustrating the seven major causes, or pressures, of environmental change in mountains: natural hazards, fire, climate change, infrastructure development, violent human conflict, land cover change and agricultural intensification. It also offers a process to enable better and more informed decision-making.
In order to identify priority areas for global mountain conservation, maps of ecosystem and indicator species groups were overlaid with information about the various pressures. The result was truly stunning, and we can clearly see which areas are suffering the most. For the first time we have a global snapshot of the threats and
vulnerability of different mountain regions.
Of the seven pressures considered, four affect a higher proportion of mountain areas in Africa than in any other region, namely: agricultural suitability, conversion to grazing land, violent human conflict and fire. In the section on "retreating glaciers" the report warns that the entire ice cap on Mount Kilimanjaro may disappear in a couple of decades if the current rate of loss evidently due to global warming continues.
Compared to other regions, mountain areas in Australasia and South East Asia have experienced relatively high conversion to cropland, and are projected to experience relatively high rates of infrastructure development in coming decades.
In North and Central America, Eurasia and Greenland, a relatively high proportion of mountain area may be affected by severe climate change.
South American mountain regions appear to be particularly susceptible to destructive earthquakes, with approximately 88% of their area considered to be at risk.
We hope this report will serve as a wake-up call to policy-makers, and will give even more impetus to national, regional and global mountain-related initiaitves.
Your Excellency, President Askar Akaev, distinguished delegates, colleagues and friends,
Where will we be at the end of the International Year of Mountains? Will we be any better off? In UNEP we sincerely hope that our concerted work during this year will be translated into increased attention to and action for the protection and sustainable development of mountain areas in the years to come. This Summit will undoubtedly serve as an important milestone and I am confident that we will succeed in finalising the Bishkek Mountain Platform to serve as the main framework for overall sustainable mountain development in the 21st century.