Climate change adaptation in mountains – COP21


As the new global agreement on climate change was being negotiated in Paris, France, a side event highlighted the impacts of climate change across several mountain ranges on different continents. “Adapting to climate change - success stories and challenges from across mountain ranges”, as the event held alongside the 21st Conference of Parties of the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change was called, was well attended on 10 December 2015.

Andrew Taber, Executive Director of The Mountain Institute, chaired the event and outlined the Mountain Partnership’s current sustainable mountain development efforts and membership. Hayrullo Ibodzoda, Chairman of the Committee for Environment Protection under the Government of the Republic of Tajikistan spoke first, followed by his colleague, Svetlana Jumaeva, Executive Director of the Centre for Climate Change and Disaster Reduction. Both Ibodzoda and Jumaeva focused on climate change adaptation strategies in Tajikistan and the many challenges faced:  Tajikistan, 93% of which is covered by mountains, is a low emitter of greenhouse gases, but highly affected by climate change. Jumaeva stressed the difficulty of adapting to dramatic changes in mountain areas based on limited capacity. She also highlighted the importance of traditional knowledge from the older generations as mountain communities try to adapt to climate change.

Stefan Ruchti of the Swiss delegation spoke about the many adaptations Swiss mountain farmers have made in the face of climate change. The situation is one of general increased risk and loss of resilience in the Alps. Since mountain regions are subject to constant change due to a warming climate, this also brings a change in economic opportunities. And at the same time, these opportunities are limited due to topography and structural constraints. Climate change is altering the basic conditions in mountain regions which means increased challenges for agriculture and forestry. Reduced water availability and distribution may lead to farming being focused on just a few prime locations in the Swiss Alps. Ruchti concluded that water supply will determine long-term development opportunities.

Eric Chavez, Executive Director of OIKOS, presented stories of rural development from the Peruvian Andes, highlighting the successful adaptations made by mountain communities in the areas of crop diversity, medicinal plants and animal husbandry. Chavez stressed the importance of native crops and animals, traditional knowledge and empowering women in mountain communities. He gave examples of the importance of protecting highlands that capture water and the very adaptable low-tech methods used by mountain people as they adapt to climate change. Chavez reminded the audience that mountain crops that are very popular and valuable today, such as quinoa, were once practically unknown outside of the Andes.

Next came an update from Nepal given by Meeta Pradhan, Director of The Mountain Institute’s Himalaya Programme. She spoke about the aftermath of the April 2015 earthquake in Nepal and the devastation in remote Himalayan villages. She pointed out that earthquakes, like climate change, are extreme events that have an impact on women and their roles in their communities. The earthquake further exacerbated pre-disaster inequalities based on gender, age, caste, ethnicity, marital status and class. The case studies Pradhan presented pointed to the importance of building back from this natural disaster in a way that creates more resilient mountain communities. Key to this resiliency are more sustainable and stable livelihoods for rural farmers. The Mountain Institute’s Medicinal and Aromatic Plants project was highlighted in Pradhan’s talk as a means to lift mountain farmers out of poverty. She also discussed the importance of improving preparedness and on using an ecosystem based adaptation approach in these hard hit areas as they rebuild.

Mohammed El Moatamid of Morocco’s Agriculture and Fishery Ministry presented his country’s strategy for promoting mountain development next. Using a participatory approach, Morocco is addressing the social and economic issues that are affecting mountain areas – known as the “water castles” – that cover 302 000 sq km of the country and are home to 7.7 million people. Since Morocco will be the host county for COP22 in 2016, El Moatamid ended by inviting all in attendance to reconvene in Marrakesh next year.

Andrew Taber concluded this portion of the event by reading an excerpt from a letter from His Holiness the Drikung Kyabgon Chetsang, a Mountain Partnership Ambassador, who had written to the leaders of COP21 stating that he called on “the global Mountain Partnership and global leaders attending COP21 events to initiate urgent measures to safeguard our mountain ecosystems and improve the lives and livelihoods of mountain communities and mountain people all around the world”.

A lively question and answer session then ensued. Audience questions covered gender roles, balancing extractive industries with mountain conservation and, of course, the state of the global agreement being negotiated. All panellists participated in answering questions with enthusiastic follow-up comments from several people in the audience.

In conclusion, Grammenos Mastrojeni of the Italian Ministry of Foreign Affairs put the mountain-focused event into context. He observed that, "COP21 in Paris was presented as a peace conference and as a moment to build opportunities out of a challenge. And in this sense, mountains show us that we don't belong to nations before belonging to ecosystems. And that belonging to ecosystems first can allow us to have a dialogue among ourselves with no boundaries. Mountains were in COP21 as a message of peace."

This event was convened by the Government of Tajikistan and OIKOS and co-organized by the Mountain Partnership Secretariat.

See event programme

See flickr album

Read more


Home > mountain-partnership > News