Mountains are home to 15% of the world´s population and host about half of the world’s biodiversity hotspots. They provide freshwater for everyday life to half of humanity. Their conservation is a key factor for sustainable development and is part of Goal 15 of the SDGs.
World’s finest ground-based observatories are located at high altitude. The trend started in the late 19th century when the nascent atmospheric research allowed us to realize that starlight is less distorted at high altitude. When the advances in infrared detectors opened a new wavelength window for astronomical observations, the high altitudes became imperative. The advent of microwave astronomy further reinforced the need to locate observing facilities on high mountains. A respectful and mindful presence of astronomers in some of the most pristine mountainous locations is closely linked to conservation efforts.
Unfortunately, mountains are under threat from climate change and overexploitation. As the global climate continues to warm, mountain people — some of the world’s poorest — face even greater struggles to survive. The rising temperatures also mean that mountain glaciers are melting at unprecedented rates, affecting freshwater supplies downstream for millions of people.
This problem affects us all. We must reduce our carbon footprint and take care of these natural treasures.
The increasing attention to the importance of mountains led the UN to declare to 2002 the UN International Year of Mountains. The first international day was celebrated for the first time the following year, 2003.
Its roots date back to 1992, when the document “Managing Fragile Ecosystems: Sustainable Mountain Development” (called Chapter 13), was adopted as part of the action plan Agenda 21 of the Conference on Environment and Development.
2020 Theme: Mountain biodiversity
Mountain biodiversity is the theme of this year’s International Mountain Day, so let’s celebrate their rich biodiversity, as well as address the threats they face.
Mountains loom large in some of the world’s most spectacular landscapes. Their unique topography, compressed climatic zones and isolation have created the conditions for a wide spectrum of life forms.
Biodiversity encompasses the variety of ecosystems, species and genetic resources, and mountains have many endemic varieties. The differentiated topography in terms of altitude, slope and exposure in mountains offers opportunities to grow a variety of high-value crops, horticulture, livestock and forest species.
For example, mountain pastoralists in Pakistan have a highly treasured livestock genetic resource pool with special traits bred into animals, such as disease resilience, which can help adaption to changing climate. Nearly 70% of mountain land is used for grazing and provides manure that enhances soil fertility. Livestock not only produces food items such as milk, butter and meat, but also valuable by-products, such as some of the most precious yarns, like cashmere wool.
However, climate change, unsustainable farming practices, commercial mining, logging, and poaching all exact a heavy toll on mountain biodiversity. In addition, land use and land cover change, and natural disasters, accelerate biodiversity loss and contribute to creating a fragile environment for mountain communities. Ecosystem degradation, loss of livelihoods and migration in mountains can lead to the abandonment of cultural practices and ancient traditions that have sustained biodiversity for generations.
The sustainable management of mountain biodiversity has been increasingly recognized as a global priority. Sustainable Development Goal 15, target four, is dedicated to the conservation of mountains’ biodiversity in consideration of its global relevance. Biodiversity in all ecosystems is in focus, as the United Nations has declared 2021 to 2030 the UN Decade on Ecosystem Restoration and governments prepare to negotiate the post-2020 global biodiversity framework for adoption this year at the 15th meeting of the Conference of the Parties (COP 15) to the Convention on Biological Diversity (CBD).
Celebrate this International Day 2020 with your community and friends preparing an event or joining the conversation on social media using the hashtag #MountainsMatter. Pass on some of the key messages, or share about the biodiversity in the mountains near you, or a photo of your favorite mountain. – International Mountain Day on UN.org
Image Credit: Grand Teton Mountains – Bob Trembley, 2009