UN and partners call for immediate measures to strengthen climate adaptation efforts in mountain regions Fri, Dec 11, 2015

New Mountain Adaptation Outlooks launched at COP 21

Photo Credit: Jocelyn Kinghorn CC

Paris, 11 December 2015 - By promoting policies in favour of ecosystem-based adaptation in mountain regions, countries could build resilience and reduce the vulnerability of communities living in these high-altitude areas as well as that of millions of others living downstream, concluded a series of Mountain Adaptation Outlooks launched today by the UN Environment Programme (UNEP).

A call to speed-up and strengthen these efforts came at a roundtable hosted by the Government of Peru and co-organised by UNEP and GRID-Arendal as well as other partners at COP 21 in Paris, where the new reports were launched.

There, the leaders committed to try and ensure mountains and climate change adaptation become a priority issue at the inter-regional, regional and national level. They also committed to make better use of existing technical assistance mechanisms such as the Climate Technology Centre & Network and financial ones such as the Green Climate Fund and support greater knowledge-sharing.

"Mountain ecosystems enrich the lives of over half of the world's population as a source of water, energy, agriculture and other essential goods and services. Unfortunately, while the impact of climate change is accentuated at high altitude, such regions are often on the edge of decision-making, partly due to their isolation, inaccessibility and relative poverty" said UNEP's Executive Director Achim Steiner.

The studies provide concrete examples of the threats posed by climate change to mountains and recommend policy solutions. Key findings include:

  • Ecosystems of the Pamir-Alai and the Tien Shan mountains in Central Asia play an extremely important role in the accumulation and supply of water in all of the region's countries during the vegetation season, when the resource is scarce. Melting glaciers, permafrost and reduced snow cover are among the many ways in which climate change threatens the essential water supply provided by mountains.
  • Many of the impacts caused by climate change in mountains regions will not only be a future issue but are already a present-day concern. Farmers in the high mountains are already forced to adapt, for example by moving their crops to higher altitudes to escape the heat. In the tropical Andes, farmers have had to move their potatoes up by about 150 metres in the last 30 years.
  • The majority of natural disasters occur in mountainous regions. These include landslides, glacial lake outburst floods and earthquakes, which threaten not only mountain inhabitants and critical infrastructure but also people living in the lowlands. The catastrophic flooding in Serbia and Bosnia and Herzegovina in 2014 is a recent example of this.
  • Fragile mountain environments - such as mountain grasslands, forests and wetlands - are particularly vulnerable to climate change. These ecosystems currently provide essential services such as carbon sequestration, biodiversity and water supply. Tropical mountain forests such as the cloud forests of Peru are among the most biodiverse places on earth. This value could be lost unless prompt adaptation measures are implemented.
  • Mountainous countries share many challenges caused by climate change, which create the potential for mutual benefit. Both natural and social scientific research and measurements, as well as lessons learned from implemented adaptation policies, should be shared at regional and global level to reduce costs and improve the adaptive capacity of all.
  • The analysis concludes that a stronger policy focus on adaptation in mountains is necessary to address key climate risks. Sustainable development in a changing climate requires policy makers to take a long-term perspective and protect the essential services provided by mountains and their inhabitants.

Ministers and other high-level leaders from various mountain countries around the globe including Austria, Bhutan, Czech Republic, East Africa, Kyrgyzstan, Norway, Peru, Serbia, Switzerland and Uganda attended today's event, titled 'International Mountain Day - celebrating international cooperation on climate change adaptation in mountain environments'.

"The International Mountain Day is an apt occasion to strengthen our commitment to international cooperation for sustainable mountain development. Regional cooperation, such as through the Andean Initiative, lets us mutually enhance our adaptive capacity by sharing experiences and coordinating policy", said Manuel Gerardo Pedro Pulgar-Vidal Otálora, Minister of Environment of Peru.

"Austria' s unique alpine landscape is a product of centuries of sustainable cultivation by the people who live in it. We must ensure that people remain able to make a living in all remote mountain areas. Therefore we need regional collaborations and networks to share experiences and exchange know-how. I congratulate UNEP for leading on these efforts," said Andrä Rupprechter, Federal Minister of Agriculture, Forestry, Environment and Water Management of Austria, which co-supported the production of the outlooks.


UNEP's Mountain Adaptation Outlook series

Within the context of UNEP's inter-regional project titled 'Climate change action in developing countries with fragile mountainous ecosystems,' UNEP - in collaboration with GRID-Arendal and mountain centres of excellence - has prepared a series of regional outlooks focusing on climate change adaptation responses in mountain regions from a policy angle. Covering the Western Balkans, Southern Caucasus, Central Asia, (Tropical) Andes and Eastern Africa, the first series assesses the effectiveness of existing adaptation policy measures and the extent to which they apply to mountain landscapes, before going on to identify critical gaps that must be addressed to meet current and future risks from climate change. Responding to the Rio+20 outcome, the reports call for more strengthened efforts towards regional dialogue and cooperative action in mountains regions to face the uncertainties caused by climate change.

This UNEP project, co-funded by the Government of Austria, aims to support mountainous developing countries in integrating climate change adaptation into their development policies through a sub-regional approach. Data on existing climate impacts, risks and vulnerabilities has been collected, existing policies evaluated and further ones identified.

UNEP's Ecosystem-based adaptation Programme

Sponsored by the German Environment Ministry, this project examines the impact of climate change in Nepal, Peru and Uganda and is a collaboration between UNEP, UNDP and the International Union for the Conservation of Nature. As the programme develops, other countries and ecosystems will be added.

Himalayan Water and Climate Atlas

The Hindu Kush Himalayas is one of the most populous, disaster-prone and vulnerable regions in the world, yet knowledge about the changing climate in the mountains and its possible impacts is still limited and scattered. To help address this problem, three organizations came together to produce the region's first climate and water atlas, a guidebook for policy makers who are tackling crucial adaptation issues. The Himalayan Climate and Water Atlas: Impact of Climate Change on Water Resources in Five of Asia's Major River Basins was released today by the International Centre for Integrated Mountain Development, GRID-Arendal and the Centre for International Climate and Environmental Research-Oslo.

The atlas is the first of its kind and offers a comprehensive, regional understanding of the changing climate and its impact on water resources in five of the major river basins in the region - the Indus, Brahmaputra, Ganges, Salween and Mekong. It uses maps and infographics to show how the region's climate is changing now and into the future, with severe consequences for populations, both local and downstream.

The Himalayan Climate Change Adaptation Programme is a pioneering collaboration among three organisations - CICERO, the International Centre for Integrated Mountain Development and GRID-Arendal - aimed at contributing to enhanced resilience of mountain communities, particularly women, through improved understanding of their vulnerabilities as well as opportunities and potentials for adaptation. It is funded by the governments of Norway and Sweden.

For more information, please contact:

Isabelle Valentiny, Head of Communications, UNEP's Regional Office for Europe, +41 79 251 82 36, isabelle.valentiny@unep.org

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