A message from mountains: climate action cannot wait

by Hiroto Mitsugi, FAO Forestry Assistant Director General

©Evelyn Hill

11 December 2019, Madrid - Climate change is becoming a daily reality for all of us, as global warming has already reached 1°C above pre-industrial levels, due to past and current greenhouse gas emissions. These conditions have already had a profound impact on ecosystems and people everywhere, especially in mountain areas. 

If recent reports of avalanches and floods weren’t enough of a sign, there is new evidence of this in the findings of a new report, recently issued by the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC).

The Special Report on the Ocean and Cryosphere in a Changing Climate tells us that glaciers are retreating in all high mountain regions, thinning by roughly half a meter each year between 2006 and 2015. Smaller glaciers found in areas like Europe, eastern Africa, the tropical Andes and Indonesia are projected to lose more than 80 percent of their current ice mass by 2100, under high-emission scenarios. Worldwide, many glaciers are expected to disappear by 2100, regardless of the scenario.  

These changes are altering the availability and quality of water downstream, with the potential to impact sectors like agriculture and hydropower. Rapid thawing has also increased hazards like landslides, avalanches, rockfalls and floods.

The observance of International Mountain Day, on December 11, should be a reminder that the emergency being faced by mountains and mountain peoples, ultimately, affects us all, wherever we live.

The consequences are threatening the well-being of communities around the world, including the 1.1 billion people who live in mountain areas, many of whom are among the world’s most vulnerable to poverty and food insecurity. 

Vulnerability to food insecurity in the rural mountain areas of developing countries grew by 12 percent between 2012 and 2017 alone, to roughly 350 million people. The increase was nearly twice as high in Africa during the same period. 

Many mountain populations depend directly on agriculture for their food and income and all of us rely on mountains in some way for benefits like water, food, energy and clean air. But the value of mountains isn’t just about resources. In many cultures, mountains are also centres of identity, religion, culture and recreation. 

 Since 2002, the Mountain Partnership has been working towards the sustainable development of mountains. This United Nations alliance, comprising 60 governments and more than 300 organizations, addresses climate change in mountain and promotes adaptation measures.  

The IPCC report bolsters arguments for limiting global warming to the lowest possible level – in line with the goal that governments set for themselves in the 2015 Paris Agreement. Urgently reducing greenhouse gas emissions would limit the scale of changes to the ocean and cryosphere and help to preserve the ecosystems and the livelihoods which depend on them. 

The report provides key scientific input for world leaders gathering for forthcoming climate and environment negotiations, such as this month’s UN Framework Convention on Climate Change Conference (COP25) in Madrid. It sounds the loudest alarm yet about the need for rapid and coordinated action among governments, organizations, businesses and communities to address these unprecedented and enduring changes, for the benefit of us all. 

There is an urgent need to combine scientific information with local and indigenous knowledge to better manage climate change risks and enhance people’s resilience. 

Mountain people may be vulnerable to climate change but they, also, have the knowledge and potential to help us all adapt to the dire changes described in the report, due to their close interaction with land and water resources. 

International Mountain Day is a time to consider the global relevance of mountains for the planet and to place them at the centre of climate negotiations. It is also a reminder that it is up to us to support action to keep mountains healthy and to enjoy them in sustainable ways.


The Mountain Partnership is a United Nations alliance committed to sustainably protecting mountain regions and improving the living conditions of mountain populations. Its Secretariat is located at FAO and funded by Andorra, Italy and Switzerland, and by FAO.

last updated:  Wednesday, December 11, 2019