International Mountain Day 2019: FAO and the UN honor youth in mountainous areas


On 11 December the United Nations (UN) celebrated the International Mountain Day at the UN Headquarters in New York. The event was co-organized by the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations (FAO) and the Permanent Missions of the Kyrgyz Republic, Andorra, Austria, Bhutan, Canada, Greece, Italy, Nepal and Norway.

In her opening remarks, Mirgul Moldoisaeva, Permanent Representative of the Kyrgyz Republic to the UN, outlined Kyrgyzstan’s active work on promoting the principles of sustainable mountain development, and welcomed the recent adoption of the Sustainable Mountain Development resolution in the framework of the General Assembly’s Second Committee.

In August 2019, Kyrgyzstan established the Group of Friends of Mountain Countries, which already has 21 members. Canada became the most recent addition to the Group, and Permanent Representative Marc-Andre Blanchard highlighted the importance of mountains for Canadians. “Mountains cover over a quarter of Canada’s regions, and provide us with drinking water, economic wealth and spiritual connection,” said Blanchard.

This year’s overarching theme “Mountains Matter for Youth” centered on the connections between the mountains and youth. “Many young people leave their homes in the mountains in search of better life and employment, which in turn leads to abandoned agriculture and ecosystems, land degradation, and a loss of cultural values and ancient traditions,” said Carla Mucavi, Director of the FAO Liaison Office in New York, who also moderated the event.

The role of young people as custodians of mountains and their natural resources was the focus of Permanent Representative of Norway and current President of the ECOSOC (in full) Mona Juul’s speech. “It is important that youth get to experience the mountains and have the ability to make a living while living in mountainous areas,” said Juul.

Andorra, a country Permanent Representative Elisenda Vives Balmaña referred to as “100% mountains”, has invested in many projects promoting young entrepreneurship in mountainous regions. “Young people, and especially indigenous people living in the mountains, are asking for sustainable solutions to address climate change”, noted Ambassador Vives Balmaña.
The 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development was widely referenced throughout the event. Today, millions of young people around the world are actively participating in shaping efforts to achieve the sustainable development goals. Goals 8 (Decent Work and Economic Growth), 13 (Climate Action) and 15 (Life on Land) are especially relevant to mountain development and sustainability.

In Bhutan for instance, collective action is helping safeguard mountainous ecosystems by making strides in the fight against climate change. As Permanent Representative Doma Tsering noted, “Bhuthan has gone above and beyond its constitutional commitment, and is now carbon negative.”

“For countries like us, the mountains are our identity markers, as well as the foundation of our image,” stated Amrit Bahadur Rai, Permanent Representative of Nepal. Rai went on to emphasize the importance of promoting mountainous products in the market.

Despite not being a predominantly mountainous country, Greece is home to mountains that are protected as national parks. Permanent Representative Maria Theofili referred to the lack of access to basic services that people face while living in the mountains, and noted the role of agriculture as “key to successful mountainous development”.

Deputy Permanent Representative of Austria Hans-Joachim Almoslechner informed of the youth alpine programmes that his country has launched. “We are looking to seize the momentum regarding mountain development”, explained Almoslechner.

Concluding the keynote speeches session, Deputy Permanent Representative of Italy Stefano Stefanile affirmed that “Italy will bring the issue of mountain development in next year’s COP26 and the 2026 Olympics in Milan.”

The ensuing panel sessions focused on evidence-based approaches. In his stirring presentation, Satya Tripathi, Assistant Secretary-General of the UN Environment Programme Office in New York, stated: "It is not that we do not have solutions, but we need financing; otherwise young people in the mountains will face problems they did not create."

Ben Orlove, International and Public Affairs Professor from Columbia University, provided key messages coming from the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change Special Report on Oceans and the Cryosphere. Orlove co-authored the chapter on High Mountain Areas. Delving into his work, he explained how “outmigration creates pressures on mountain societies”.

The youngest panelist was Samuel Elzinga, President of the Utah International Mountain Forum at Utah Valley University. “We want a better world for us and our children, but many youth lack the capacity to advocate at this high of a level,” said Elzinga before going on to present innovating new approaches to empower students within the framework of the sustainable mountain development agenda.

The lively discussion that followed featured interventions by representatives from the Permanent Missions of Afghanistan and Switzerland to the UN.

Today, mountains are home to about 1.1 billion people who are among the world’s poorest. In fact, over half of the rural mountain dwellers face food insecurity. As one of the founding members of the Mountain Partnership, a UN voluntary alliance created in 2002 comprising now of 383 members, FAO will continue to raise awareness on mountain development, and foster relevant targeted actions.

For more information on the event, including Professor Orlove's presentation, click here.

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