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Mark Collins and Andrei latsenia describe UNEP’s work in the International Year of Mountains

The International Year of Mountains (IYM) promises to yield two vital outcomes: a heightened awareness around the world of the dangers facing mountain ecosystems and communities, and a detailed plan setting out policies and actions that governments and other stakeholders can take to tackle these problems. UNEP has established a secretariat in Geneva to coordinate its IYM activities. A wide range of assessment, communications, policy development and national activities is in train to ensure that the year achieves concrete results.

IYM will be full of opportunities for dialogue and discussion; a series of mountain workshops is already under way. Barriers and best practices in sustainable mountain development are being discussed and analysed, highlighting promising new approaches, and shaping options for the future. The high point will be the Global Mountain Summit, to be held in Bishkek, Kyrgyzstan from 29 October-2 November. UNEP is providing technical support to the Government of Kyrgyzstan in the run-up to the conference. Ten issues papers on mountains, currently undergoing e-consultation through the Mountain Forum, a global network of experts, will form a foundation for the Bishkek Mountain Platform, a policy framework for mountainous countries to adopt at the Summit and implement at home.

The Italian Committee for IYM has been active in organizing a High Summit Videoconference, broadcast simultaneously in North America, South America, Europe, Asia and Africa. With support from the Italian Government and Cisco Systems, experts, policy-makers, researchers and scholars from mountainous areas discussed all aspects of mountain ecology and culture and prepared reports on the future development of mountain areas. UNEP took responsibility for the African hub of the videoconference (www.highsummit.org), drawing in participants from all parts of the continent.

Well-being and profits
Many human communities and industries depend upon the health of mountains for their well-being and profits. UNEP-WCMC has begun to coordinate an assessment of the ecological condition of mountain systems, to be known as Mountain Watch; it will be devised and implemented in developing regions through a GEF project. A framework World Map of Mountains and their Forests has already been published, and will eventually be elaborated into a World Atlas of Mountains.

Many countries have proposed regional initiatives to promote the protection and sustainable management of major transboundary mountain ranges. UNEP’s European Mountain Initiative, a response to requests from governments in Europe and Central Asia, will focus on strengthening cooperation in the Carpathians, Caucasus and Central Asia. The Alpine Convention, adopted in 1991, brought together all alpine countries to work together on mountain development and protection. From 26-29 June alpine experts will convene with counterparts from the Carpathians, Caucasus and Himalayas in Berchtesgaden, Germany to identify lessons learned from the Alpine Process that might prove relevant for other mountain ranges.

UNEP’s Regional Office for Europe and WWF’s Danube Carpathian Programme Office are helping Ukraine to lead intergovernmental consultations. The focus is the WWF-Carpathian Ecoregion Initiative, a partnership of over 50 organizations promoting the Carpathian Biodiversity Network of mountain protected areas and strengthening the participation of local communities, the private sector and NGOs.

A draft Central Asian Mountain Charter, initiated by the Government of Kyrgyzstan, is the subject of inter-ministerial consultations among Central Asian Countries. Its signing is planned as a side event of the Bishkek Global Mountain Summit. The Caucasian countries are also developing a legal instrument for protecting the Caucasian Mountain Ecosystem.

Friends of the Mountains, a group of Members of the European Parliament, sponsored a UNEP poster display – From the Summits to the Seas – opened in the Parliament in Brussels by Executive Director Klaus Toepfer on 27 February. The posters will be displayed at international meetings throughout 2002.

Building capacity
Implementing the strategies and plans arising from the Year will require enhanced capacity in many countries. UNEP-WCMC is helping in the Annapurna Conservation Area, the largest protected area in Nepal, with collaboration from the Darwin Initiative (United Kingdom) and the King Mahendra Trust. This will become a pilot site for developing tools, training staff in assessing ecological and cultural values of mountain commons, and monitoring impacts of tourism. Local communities will be heavily involved – and the lessons learned will be transferable to other mountain parks.
‘...there is a tug of war between cultural education and the present academic education...’

Robert, Mountain Voices

Restoring mountain ecosystems, improving mountain people’s livelihoods, managing watersheds – and other aspects of environmental stewardship in mountain areas – will require long-term local and regional cooperative programmes between communities, private and public stakeholder associations, policy-makers and development financiers. How might this be organized?

UNEP’s approach is to enhance participation by all stakeholders, building on existing models to achieve action through organizations from the global level to the grassroots. These emerging partnerships and stakeholder dialogues will need a common, easily accessible networking point if they are to endure. UNEP is discussing with partners the possibility of facilitating a Mountain Commons Partnership (MCP) to serve as a hub and clearing-house for IYM follow-up action programmes at the national, regional and, if appropriate, global level.

Cooperative programmes
Working closely with the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations – the lead agency for IYM and Task Manager of Chapter 13 of Agenda 21 – the MCP could facilitate new cooperative programmes with environmental and development agencies, civil society organizations (parliamentarians, NGOs, community-based organizations) and the private sector. It would measure its success by monitoring progress in establishing specific regional mountain commons action programmes and partnerships, by transferring economic and legal framework tools, and by building a participative programme designed by an international advisory board.

Klaus Toepfer, Executive Director of UNEP, has called IYM ‘a unique opportunity to celebrate the natural environment, cultures and peoples of the world’s mountain regions, providing us with a tool for raising the political profile of sustainable mountain development’. Through its IYM activities UNEP is engaging with partners worldwide to improve the condition and prospects for mountain ecosystems and peoples. In the longer term, the success of IYM will be judged on concrete outcomes. UNEP and its partners are formulating the concept of a Global Programme of Action for Mountains as one way to keep mountains on the agenda long after the Year is over

Mark Collins is Director, UNEP World Conservation Monitoring Centre and Andrei Iatsenia is Mountain Programme Coordinator, UNEP Regional Office for Europe. .

PHOTOGRAPH: Kelly Vandenberg/UNEP/Topham

Glacial lake outburst floods

UNEP and the International Centre for Integrated Mountain Development (ICIMOD) have forged a partnership to study the phenomenon of glacial lake outburst floods (GLOFs) in Nepal and Bhutan. The phenomenon has been brought about by climate change causing the melting of glaciers and the forming of glacial lakes behind moraines. The moraine dams are comparatively weak and can breach suddenly, causing catastrophic flooding downstream.

The UNEP/ICIMOD project has prepared an inventory of Nepal and Bhutan’s glaciers and glacial lakes and highlighted those where GLOF events are likely to occur and cause serious damage to life and property. It suggested that 20 Nepalese and 24 Bhutanese glacial lakes were potentially dangerous. The project is also providing advice on methods of recognizing potential dangers and immediate threats, and on developing early warning systems, to the Governments of the two countries. It is helping to strengthen the capability of their national institutions to address GLOF issues.

Surendra Shrestha

UNEP’s work during the International Year of Mountains is generously supported by FAO (as lead agency), the GEF, the Swiss Agency for Development and Cooperation, the Aga Khan Development Network, United Nations University, UNESCO, United Nations Development Programme, the World Bank, the Mountain Forum and the Governments of Kyrgyzstan, Austria, Italy, United Kingdom and Germany.

This issue:
Contents | Editorial K. Toepfer | Saving the common land | Aiming high | Mighty, but fragile | Walking the talk | Regreening the slopes | For the people | High priorities | Natural beauty | Prospects for WSSD: Towards Johannesburg | Along a steep pathway | The height of trouble | Disneyland or diversity? | Path to discovery | On top of the issue | Peak condition | Swimming upstream | Cloudy future

Complementary articles in other issues:
Mark Collins: Globalizing solutions (Biological Diversity) 2000

Complementary report:
Mountain Watch Report