Key messages

Key facts

  • Mountains cover about 27 percent of the earth’s land area and are home to 1.1 billion people – 15 percent of the world’s population (SDG 15).  
  • Ninety percent of mountain people live in developing countries (SDG 1).  
  • Mountains host about half of the world's biodiversity hotspots and 30 percent of all Key Biodiversity Areas, as well as vital genetic resources for locally adapted crops and livestock (SDG 15).  
  • Mountain ecosystems provide important ecosystem services to billions of people living downstream, such as stabilizing slopes, regulating climate, regulating hydrological cycles, and supporting livelihoods (SDG 13).
  • Women are vital to environmental action in mountain ecosystems. They contribute to resource management, biodiversity conservation, water and food security (SDG 5).
  • Mountains are of paramount importance as water towers, both for mountain people and for around 2 billion people living in connected lowland areas (SDG 3).  
  • Two-thirds of irrigated agriculture globally depend on runoff contributions  from mountains (SDG 2)
  • Sustainable agrifood systems are drivers of sustainable mountain development due to their potential for small- and medium-sized enterprises, and their links with tourism and niche markets (SDGs 1, 2, 8, 12).
  • Mountains have a key role to play in providing renewable energy, especially through hydropower, solar power and wind power (SDG 7)
  • In 2018, 39 percent of all the global mountain area was covered in forests (SDG 15).
  • Mountain destinations attract about 15-20 percent of global tourism (SDG 8).

Climate change

  • Climate change is negatively impacting food security, agriculture and the provision of ecosystem services across many different mountainous regions worldwide (SDG 13).
  • Snow cover, glaciers and permafrost in mountain areas are projected to continue to decline in almost all regions throughout the twenty-first century. This has implications on water supply in the lowlands, such as a reduced river flow during summer and dry seasons, with implications on large irrigation schemes (SDGs 6, 13).
  • Climate-related hazards, such as flash floods and landslides, have contributed to an increase in disasters, affecting a growing number of people in mountain regions and further downstream. Moreover, the increasing number of natural hazards has high potential for cascading effects in mountain environments, and the interaction between different hazardous events can lead to greater impacts than the sum of the single hazard effects (SDG 13).
  • The current rate and depth of adaptation in mountain regions is insufficient to respond to current and future climate change. Transformational approaches are needed (SDG 13).

Food insecurity and poverty

  • One out of two rural mountain people in developing countries is vulnerable to food insecurity (SDGs 1, 2)
  • Poverty, marginalization and inequitable gender dynamics are the root causes of mountain people’s vulnerability (SDGs 1, 5, 8, 10).
  • When mountain people migrate, it has multiple positive and negative impacts on their livelihoods and communities as well as on mountain ecosystems (SDGs 8, 10, 15).

Pollution

  • Mountain ecosystems are at risk from uncontrolled dumping and open burning of waste, including plastic waste (SDG 15)
  • Due to long-range environmental transport, hazardous chemicals including persistent organic pollutants and microplastics are deposited in mountains (SDG 15).

Land degradation

  • About 311 million people – approximately half of the rural mountain population in developing countries – live in areas exposed to progressive land degradation, 178 million of whom are considered vulnerable to food insecurity (SDG 15).

Infrastructure

  • In 2018, only 29 percent of the rural mountain population lived in areas with high service and facilities availability (such as education, health care, amenities, food services, non-food shops, access to water and sanitation, technology and communication, electricity and hotels). The vast majority of the rural mountain population, approximately 442 million people, lived in areas with limited service availability (SDG 9).

Conflict

  • An estimated 212 million rural people in the mountains lived in areas identified as having medium and high intensity of conflicts between 2000 and 2018. Out of those, 128 million were estimated to be vulnerable to food insecurity (SDG 16).
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