Building resilience in mountains - COP21


“Celebrating International Mountain Day 2015: Building Resilience to Climate Change in Mountain Communities” took place at the 21st Conference of Parties (COP21) of the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC) in Paris, France on 11 December 2015. Convened by the Government of Lesotho, Colorado State University - Fort Collins, The Mountain Institute and the Mountain Partnership Secretariat (MPS), the well-attended side-event featured different approaches to making mountain communities more resilient to climate change on several continents.

Grammenos Mastrojeni of the Italian Ministry of Foreign Affairs chaired the event and gave an overview of mountain issues in the context of global security. Looking back at lessons learned from World War II and the creation of the United Nations and comparing the shock of climate change to that of the 1929 Stock Market crash, Mastrojeni underscored the importance of stable, resilient mountain economies and environments that transcend borders, ensuring a safer future for mountain and lowland populations.

Martin Frick of the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations (FAO) spoke next, pointing out that 13 percent of the world population lives in mountains and of these rural communities, 45 percent are food insecure. While global hunger figures were decreasing, the number of food insecure people in mountain areas rose 30 percent between 2000 and 2012. These figures are taken from a new study released by FAO and the MPS on International Mountain Day, he said, referring to “Mapping the vulnerability of mountain peoples to food insecurity”. Frick highlighted the findings that the number of food insecure people living in mountain regions in developing countries grew to nearly 329 million in 2012, up from 253 million in 2000. Frick also spoke of the need to connect mountain dwellers more directly with broader markets to sustainably improve mountain economies, providing mountain agricultural products and traditional crafts as the main examples.

The country of Lesotho was represented by Mosuoe Letuma, Senior Meteorologist of the Ministry of Energy and Meteorology, who began with an overview of the mountainous country with its lowest elevation at 1.4 km above sea level. Letuma reviewed the results of Lesotho’s vulnerability mapping exercise that included consultations and training with community leaders as a means to preparing for threats from climate change. Strong winds, heavy rains, snowfall in summer and shifting precipitation patterns have all posed challenges to mountain farmers and communities. Letuma discussed ways that Lesotho is helping mountain people adapt and build resilience through water management methods, land rehabilitation, education and specific policies and strategies at the national level.

Zuhra Abaihanova, Director of the Climate Change Coordination Commission of the Kyrgyz Republic, Climate Change Centre, gave an overview of her country, referring to it, along with neighbouring Tajikistan, as the water towers of the Central Asia area. She explained that her country’s contribution to the Paris Agreement contained a calculation of the funding required to implement the climatic actions, both at the expense of the domestic resources and the required international support. She pointed out that this is a very important and necessary action to determine the true scope of support required from the developed countries and to ensure transparency in aid distribution to the developing countries.

A joint presentation followed, given by Gillian Bowser and Julia Klein of Colorado State University - Fort Collins, focusing on trans-disciplinary approaches to mountain sustainability and the work of the Mountain Sentinels global network. Klein and Bowser pointed out that mountains are dynamic, diverse, complex systems that are critical to survival of humanity. But mountains have multiple stakeholders with policies made and power held by those living outside of mountains. Climate change, policies, and market forces are pushing mountain systems in new directions. Mountain Sentinels global network is made up of interdisciplinary scientists and stakeholders from 50 mountain countries co-creating knowledge and fostering action. The network promotes international, trans-disciplinary approaches linking science with policy and practice. Both presenters stressed the importance of valuing local knowledge of climate and ecological change in mountains. They also focused on the need for student exchange, and including girls in citizen science approaches in mountains.

Mayor Steve Skadron of Aspen, Colorado, USA, spoke next giving a few specifics about the climate change in the Rocky Mountains and the threats the town of Aspen is facing. The Mayor pointed out that any mountain town is only as healthy as its surrounding environment. Aspen’s city council set a goal to prepare for climate change and established a resilience plan. Recreation and tourism are key to Aspen’s economy. But climate change is causing more rain and less snow, greater wildfire risk due to more dry periods plus more invasive species and pests which affect public health and safety. Increased ozone and poorer air quality in the Aspen area lead to more people being sicker for longer periods of time. The Mayor proudly announced that Aspen’s power utility is fueled by 100-percent renewable sources and that local rates for electricity are now the lowest in Colorado. Aspen also built the largest rural mass transit system in the US. Mayor Skadron stated that adapting to climate change in mountains can be practicable and profitable and can improve quality of life. Policy change at a national level is a key focus for Mayor Skadron, using Aspen’s high profile and successes to pressure policy changes.

Edmund Barrow, Head of the Global Ecosystem Management Programme of IUCN presented “Learning from Mountain Ecosystem based Adaptation: Empowering Community, Building Adaptive Capacities” featuring IUCN’s ecosystem-based adaptation work in Nepal, Peru and Uganda. The focus of Barrow’s talk was on the ethical imperative to first start by learning directly from the local mountain people. Barrow recommended starting with establishing a level of trust with local communities then combining the best climate science with local assessments, to understand local vulnerabilities. This leads to landscape level planning and local ownership. He discussed the importance of “ “first do no harm” or “no regrets” measures. Barrow concluded by emphasizing respect for local knowledge and Institutions in mountains and the need for finding a way to empower at the community level and fins a means to influence upwards at a regional and national level.

A brief question and answer session followed. Audience and panel discussions covered ways to incorporate solid, practical knowledge from mountain people that is not found through traditional monitoring and evaluation methods plus the importance of keeping youth involved in mountain initiatives. There was a call for parties gathered at this event to join in common efforts to include rural mountain communities in the global agenda.

In his closing remarks, Mastrojeni stated that through his work with the Mountain Partnership, he had seen hundreds of people devoted to mountains. But that effort has received little attention, funding and recognition. He called on all members of the Mountain Partnership and others who care about mountains to band together to bring mountain issues more to the global forefront. Mastrojeni concluded by recognizing and thanking the ministers, ambassadors and members of Parliament in the audience, especially from Lesotho, for showing such an impressive level of support for this event.

See event programme

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Photo: TMI/Jesse Bruschini

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