Forest and Water Programme

Mountains and Cloud Forest matter: Celebrating the International Mountain Day.


The International Mountain Day (IMD) was designated by The United Nations General to raise awareness on the importance of mountains to life and it is celebrated on 11 December, since 2003. Mountains are extremely important to life maintenance, as they supply half of the world’s population with freshwater and support 40 percent of the world’s irrigation. It is estimated that 75 percent of the world’s accessible freshwater comes from forested watersheds.  Among the forest ecosystems found on mountains, the Tropical Montane Cloud Forests (TMCF) are particularly important not only because they fulfill the protective role admirably, but they also provide additional hydrological benefits.


TMCF can be found in areas with high rainfall and are frequently covered in clouds or mist.  The presence of clouds not only increase the water inputs from fog capture but also reduce loss via evapotranspiration, due to the low radiation levels and high atmospheric humidity they generate. As a result of their location and characteristics, cloud forests can improve the water available and regulate surface and groundwater flow, while maintaining high water quality. TMCF are important not only for water but they are also present high species richness and endemism, especially epiphytes and insects, being considered a priority hotspot for biodiversity conservation.


The spatial distribution of TMCF are naturally fragmented and restricted in extent, due to the particular climatic and topographic conditions in which they occur. Cloud forests cover an area ranging from 1 - 14% of the total area of the world’s tropical forests, which is seeing reductions due to anthropic actions.


Source: Global potential (red) and known (green) TMCF distribution. Reproduced from Bubb, P., I. May, L. Miles, and J. Sayer, 2004: Cloud Forest Agenda, UNEP-WCMC, Cambridge, UK. [Available online at].


Land cover changes, illegal logging and cattle grazing are among the most common threats to cloud forests, resulting in forest degradation and cover losses. For example, In Veracruz, Mexico the area of TMCF decreased to almost half their original surface during the period between 1973 and 2003 due to land cover changes.  TMCF are also one of the ecosystems most affected by climate change, due to their restrictive climatic requirements and fragmented distribution. Temperatures increasing and alterations in the patterns of precipitation and cloud distribution can have a huge impact on cloud forests, resulting in biodiversity losses and affecting the provision of ecosystem services.


The conservation and restoration of TMCF are extremely important to support biodiversity conservation ensure their provision of ecosystem services, especially water quality and water availability. Projects and initiatives aiming to protect and restore cloud forests are already being created and implemented. The Cloud Forest Blue Energy Mechanism, for example, aims to restore 60 million hectares of these ecosystem forests in Latin America, which will result in around 2.4 gigatonnes of carbon dioxide sequestered, and creation of a green infrastructure opportunity worth around $30-$40 billion for hydropower. Therefore, restoring and conserving cloud forests provides a range of benefits, improving social and economic well-being.


For more information on mountains, please check:


-  The International Mountain Day website. Access its history, key messages, tool kits, curiosities, and celebration events around the world.


- The Mountain Partnership Secretariat at FAO, an alliance of governments and organizations committed to working together to achieve sustainable mountain development around the world.


- The latest worldwide news on mountain-related topics.