The mountains in North and Central America and the Caribbean are an important source of freshwater as well as natural resources, such as coal and natural gas. In North America, the mountain recreation and tourism industry contributes significant revenues for state and provincial budgets. Mountains are an attractive place to live for many – young people and retirees are moving to them part-time or year-round for the ‘good quality of life’ they offer while various local North American populations have spiritual or cultural connections to mountains.
However, North America’s fragile mountain ecosystems face major challenges caused by climate change, urban encroachment and industry. An important economic driver for North America’s mountains, mining and other industries can cause serious damage to people, water and land.
Though mountains only encompass 2 percent of Central America’s land surface, they account for a remarkable 12 percent of the earth’s biodiversity. In addition to climate change, the greatest global threat to the sustainable mountain development in Central America, population growth, food insecurity, unemployment, outmigration and the need for more healthcare and education services pose serious challenges to the region.
The Caribbean is home to 115 islands, most of which are volcanic with rich fertile soils and mountainous landscapes. Classified as a significant global biodiversity hotspot, the region has extremely diverse ecosystems, ranging from high altitude rain forests to cactus savannahs.
Population growth, along with the intensification of agriculture and tourism put high pressure on Caribbean ecosystems. Additionally, deforestation on mountains and unsustainable farming practices on steep hillsides often contribute to landslides and other forms of soil loss during extreme weather events.