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UNEP and the International Year of the Mountains

Brussels, 27 February 2002 - "Mountains, the water towers of the world, are vital to all life on earth and to the well-being of people everywhere," said Klaus Toepfer, Executive Director of the United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP). "What happens on the highest mountain peak affects life in the lowlands, in freshwaters and even in the seas."

"Mountains serve as vast reserves of valuable resources, including water, energy and biological diversity, and as important centres for culture and recreation," Toepfer said. "Globalisation, urbanisation and mass tourism, however, threaten mountain communities and the resources that so many people depend on. Worldwide, mountain areas face increasing marginalisation, economic decline and environmental degradation."

Mr. Toepfer was speaking here today at the opening of "From the Summits to the Seas," a new photo exhibition at the European Parliament that highlights UNEP's input to the 2002 International Year of Mountains.

At the event in Brussels, held with the support of MEP Richard Howitt and MEP Luciano Caveri of the Parliament's "Friends of the Mountains, Mr Toepfer said "the Year should mark the beginning of a new era, one that recognizes the true value of mountains."

Highlighting how countries in Europe have been tackling the challenge of balancing interests in their mountains for many years, he said the Alps in particular have given rise to much discussion, especially with regard to transport, land use planning, protection of nature and landscape and tourism.

More recently the threats from global warming have been brought into sharp focus as a result of studies by the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC). These studies have highlighted how, as a result of rising temperatures linked with the build up of greenhouse gases, the snow and ice environments of mountain ranges like the Alps are set to radically change with impacts on winter tourism, water supplies, soil stability, vegetation and wildlife.

Mr Toepfer said: "The IPCC has concluded that a warming of one to 3.5 degrees Centigrade over the next 100 years would shift the current climate zones vertically by between 150 and 550 metres forcing cold loving species of plants and animals further up the slopes. Species that cannot adapt quickly enough may become extinct, an irreversible loss".

The impact of the anticipated climate change on glaciers, vital sources of water for the rivers and lakes downstream, is underlined in a study by the Bern-based ProClim, the Swiss Forum for Climate Change, which is linked to the Swiss Academy of Sciences. Their study is based on IPCC forecasts

"These experts estimate that by 2015, with a temperature rise of 0.07 degrees C, 19 per cent of the Swiss Alpine glaciers will have melted. By 2080, even more dramatic losses are foreseen unless urgent action is taken by the world to dramatically reduce emissions of greenhouse gases," said Mr Toepfer. (see notes to journalists)

He said the Alpine Convention, agreed in 1991, needed to take the impacts of climate change into account and could act as a blueprint for other mountain ranges around the world.

"The 1991 Alpine Convention gave Europe a comprehensive policy on the protection and sustainable development of the Alps, one of the largest European ecosystems. It recognised that the Alps must be protected, and that the economic and social needs of the native population have to be taken into account," said Mr Toepfer. "Other regions of the world can perhaps learn from these experiences," he said.

Note to journalists: For interview requests with Klaus Toepfer contact Robert Bisset, UNEP Press Officer on mobile +33-6-2272-5842, email: For information about UNEP's Mountain Programme, contact Andrei Iatsenia, Coordinator on telephone +41-22-9178273, fax +41-22-917-80-36, email:

An animation of Switzerland's changing glaciers, as a result of climate change, can be seen at

UNEP Activities for International Year of the Mountains

The UN General Assembly declared the year 2002 as the International Year of the Mountains (IYM) in order to increase international awareness of the global importance of mountain ecosystems. Throughout the year, people all over the world will participate in events to celebrate mountains and discuss ways to promote their conservation and sustainable development.

In response to many requests for assistance, UNEP has set-up a Mountain Programme coordinated by UNEP's World Conservation Monitoring Centre (UNEP-WCMC).

UNEP Mountain Programme in Europe and Central Asia

In response to requests from governments in Europe and Central Asia, UNEP has launched the European Mountain Initiative. The initiative, which builds on the experience of the Alpine Convention, covers the Carpathians and the Caucasus mountain ranges as well as mountains in Central Asia.

UNEP is helping Ukraine, as it leads efforts to establish greater cooperation between Carpathian countries. The project (with WWF International) aims to create a network of protected areas, like those in the Alps, and to promote conservation and sustainable development. Other activities include supporting the work of governments of Caucasian countries, to develop a legal instrument for the protection of their mountains. And, support for a "best practices" conference, to be held in Berchtesgaden, in June 2002.

In 1989 the first meeting at the National Park of Berchtesgaden in Germany started the process that led to the Alpine Convention. This year UNEP, jointly with the German Government, the Alpine Convention and CIPRA International, will organize a meeting on the "Alpine Experience: An Approach for other mountains?" (27 - 29 June, 2002). The meeting will identify lessons learned from the Alpine Process that might be useful for application in other mountain ranges.

In Central Asia the draft text of a Charter for Sustainable Mountain Development has already been discussed at the high level and comments provided by several countries.

During the Berchtesgaden meeting, officials from Central Asia will come together, supported by an experienced legal consultant from UNEP, to fine-tune the Charter that is to be formally signed during the Bishkek Global Mountain Summit.

Bishkek Global Mountain Summit

In celebration of the IYM 2002, the Government of the Republic of Kyrgyzstan will host the Bishkek Global Mountain Summit from October 29th to November 1st, 2002. The Summit, the main global concluding event of IYM, will draw together the ideas and recommendations generated from all levels and sectors of society at previous events and agree concrete actions for the sustainable development and management of mountain areas in the 21st century. The UNEP Mountain Programme is facilitating the preparation and implementation of the Summit meeting. See

Global Programme of Action for Mountains

Activities in the mountains have an important impact of the quality and quantity of water flowing into rivers and streams, the coastal environment and eventually the marine environment. The UNEP Global Programme of Action for the Protection of the Marine Environment from Land-based Activities is implementing innovative approaches to promote sustainable development.

UNEP, in partnership with the UN Focus Group on Mountains, FAO and others, is now exploring the possibility of setting up an International Partnership or a Global Programme of Action for Sustainable Mountain Development. One of the important initiatives leading to such partnership is Mountain Commons Partnership, developed jointly with the Government of Germany.

Mountain Commons Partnerships

"Mountain Commons" are one of the key interfaces between economic sustainability and environmental stewardship. Economic development and sustainability depend in many respects on appropriate resource management "at the source" in mountainous areas.

Mountains provide environmental and economic benefits particularly through the supply and regulation of frenshwater. An estimated two thirds of the world's renewable freshwater comes from mountain watersheds. Improvements in watershed management and other aspects of environmental stewardship in mountain areas will require long term local and regional cooperative programs between communities, upstream and downstream private and public stakeholder associations, policy makers and development financiers. In February 2002, UNEP and the World Economic Forum, held the first round table on Mountain Commons Stewardship in New York.

Mountain Watch / Mountain Atlas / UNEP.Net Mountain Portal

The UNEP World Conservation Monitoring Centre is working with partners to provide the best possible information on mountain ecosystems. The Centre has made a World Map of Mountains and their Forests, which will provide basic materials for a proposed World Atlas of Mountains. It is now working to develop Mountain Watch, a map-based global overview of mountain biodiversity and the priorities for management. All materials arising from the Mountain Watch and Mountain Atlas processes will be integrated into a Mountain Portal on the UNEP.Net Internet site.

High Summit Videoconference

The High Summit, 6-10 May 2002, will consist of a simultaneous videoconference broadcast with continuous live Internet feeds from North America, South America, Europe, Asia and Africa. Experts, policy makers, researchers and scholars from mountain areas will discuss five main themes: Water, Culture, Economy, Risk, Policy: The Way Forward. The objective of the High Summit is to create policy-oriented documents (one per continent) with supporting scientific guidelines on the future development of mountain areas. The High Summit will provide one of the scientific inputs into the Bishkek Global Mountain Summit. UNEP has taken responsibility for the African hub of the videoconference, which will take place in Nairobi.

Further information is available at

Building Capacity for Monitoring and Assessment

The largest protected area in Nepal, the Annapurna Conservation Area, will be the pilot site for development of tools and training for assessment of ecological and cultural values of mountain commons, and monitoring of impacts on mountain ecosystems. The UNEP-WCMC will work alongside the King Mahendra Trust for Nature Conservation in an area that has pioneered the involvement of local communities in protected area management. Lessons learned from the project will be transferable to other mountain parks.

Mountains and Sustainable Livelihoods

Mountain ecosytems are fundamental to the livelihoods of many people worldwide. They provide fuel, food, and water to communities in both highlands and lowlands and are the basis for many activities that provide income. These include marketing of non-timber forest products and tourism. Ensuring the sustainability of these activities is crucial to the continued survival of both people and ecosystems.

UNEP, through its Division for Technology Industry and Economics, UNEP-WCMC and other partners, is developing methods to quantify the impacts, or "footprint", of tourism activities. These include environmental impacts and socioeconomic impacts on local livelihoods. UNEP is also a lead agency for the 2002 International Year of Ecotourism. For more information see


For more information

In July 2001, Mr Klaus Toepfer appointed Mark Collins, Director of UNEP-WCMC in Cambridge as UNEP's focal point for the IYM. UNEP-WCMC, together with the UNEP Regional Office for Europe, has since undertaken an extensive process of building up the UNEP Mountain Programme at both the global and regional levels. The Mountain Programme is now coordinated by Andrei Iatsenia based in Geneva.

For more information contact: Andrei Iatsenia, UNEP-WCMC and UNEP Regional Office for Europe, 15 Rue des Anemones, 1219, Chatelaine-Geneva,CH phone +41-22-9178273, fax +41-22-917-80-36, email:

The UNEP Mountain Programme is being supported by the Global Environment Facility (GEF), the Swiss Agency for Development and Cooperation, the Aga Khan Development Network, FAO, UNU, UNESCO, UNDP, the World Bank, the Mountain Forum and the Governments of Kyrgyzstan, Italy and Germany.

UNEP Information Note: 2002/03