Diplomats representing 15 governments and heads of several US-based Major Groups decided on 29 April 2014 that the mountain agenda should hone in on two succinct but compelling arguments for the 11th session of the UN Open Working Group (OWG) on Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs). During a meeting hosted by the Permanent Mission of Romania to the UN in New York, USA, participants examined six areas of sustainable development, and ultimately chose ‘water’ and ‘ecosystems and biodiversity’ as the those where mountains contribute most to the livelihoods and well-being of communities around the word.
“Sustainable mountain development should be a global priority given the multitude of ecosystem goods and services that mountains provide; among the most important is water for more than half of humanity for drinking, irrigation and energy production,” said Ambassador Simona Miculescu of Romania in her welcoming remarks. Pressing for more visibility for mountains in the Post-2015 development agenda, she noted that mountains are mentioned only once in the current OWG focus area document – under ecosystems and biodiversity.
Concurring that mountains deserve more attention, Ambassador Durga Prasad Bhattarai of Nepal, who, together with the Romanian Mission, that of Austria and the Mountain Partnership Secretariat (MPS), co-organized the meeting, stated, “People in the mountains are among the world’s poorest.” Climate change is compounding the issues of poverty, food insecurity and infrastructure challenges, he said, affirming that global warming is making mountain peoples even more vulnerable.
Thomas Hofer, Coordinator of the MPS, presented mountain-related targets and indicators related to six of the 15 areas that the OWG is currently focusing on – poverty eradication; water and sanitation; sustainable agriculture, food security and nutrition; energy; climate change; and ecosystems and biodiversity. “These focus areas, which have strategic importance, are all connected,” he explained. “For example, mountain ecosystems cannot continue to provide the universally important ecosystem services such as water (Focus Area 6) and biodiversity (Focus Area 14) if poverty and food insecurity in mountains are not specifically addressed.”
“There are so many disparate voices during the OWG sessions that we must compress the mountain agenda to two or three very compelling arguments to be heard,” said Rusty Butler of Utah Valley University. The discussion led to a consensus that narrowing the targets and indicators to a few issues that specifically relate to and are crucial to mountains was the best way to have mountains recognized in the SDGs.
The group deemed that mountain ecosystem services have universal importance and need a special attention in an SDG on ecosystems and biodiversity because mountains are home to 25 percent of terrestrial biodiversity, 23 percent of the world’s forests and a gene pool of globally important products, such as maize, potato, barley, sorghum, tomatoes and apples. Mountains also deserve mention in the SDG water focus area because they provide between 60 to 80 percent of the earth’s freshwater resources.