MP members call for attention to mountains and the cryosphere at the UN 2023 Water Conference


Mountains are the world's water towers – providing water to both people living in the mountains and to around 2 billion people living in connected lowland areas. The Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs), specifically Target 6.6, recognize mountains' important role, calling for the protection and restoration of water-related ecosystems, including mountains, forests, wetlands, rivers, aquifers and lakes, by 2030.

Yet the cryosphere (including glaciers, snow and permafrost) is declining in almost all regions due to rising global temperatures. Climate change is causing an increase of hazards and extreme weather events heavily affecting mountains in their role as the water sources for the planet. This is leading to water stress, affecting all water uses, including availability for agriculture, energy supply and food security.

To address these threats and call on decision-makers for action, Mountain Partnership member governments and civil society hosted mountain and cryosphere-focused side events during the UN 2023 Water Conference on 22–24 March.

Water towers for people and the planet

The Government of Andorra and the Mountain Partnership Secretariat (MPS) convened an online session on 23 March to discuss how to bring mountains to the forefront of international processes, particularly the Water Action Agenda, and how to accelerate political momentum for inclusive, resilient, and sustainable mountain development.

Sílvia Ferrer, Director of Environment and Sustainability, Andorra, moderated the event. Ferrer underlined the Government of Andorra's commitment to the Mountain Partnership and to the global mountain agenda.

Nurlan Aitmurzaev, Special Envoy of the President of the Kyrgyz Republic on Mountain Issues, noted his country's efforts to promote international cooperation for sustainable mountain development. He recalled the proposal to the United Nations General Assembly to declare 2022 as the International Year of Sustainable Mountain Development, and the recent declaration of 2023–2027 as Five Years of Action for the Development of Mountain Regions.

Carlos Montoya, Deputy Director of Global Environmental Affairs, Ministry of Foreign Affairs, Peru, drew attention to how changes in the mountainous parts of his country, including the melting of glaciers and extreme weather events, directly affect the health and water availability of communities throughout the territory, including in heavily populated lowland areas. He noted how the Andean Mountain Initiative has been working on identifying thematic priorities that meet the common needs of the Andean countries, including water resources, climate change adaptation, biodiversity and ecosystem services.

Sindhu Dhungana, Joint Secretary, Ministry of Forests and Environment, Nepal, described the importance of the Hindu Kush Himalayas (HKH) as the water towers of Asia and discussed the establishment of mountain hydropower stations in Nepal as key to reducing greenhouse gases and meeting the country's Nationally Determined Contributions. Given the transboundary nature of the HKH, Dhungana underlined the importance of platforms such as the International Centre for Integrated Mountain Development, Mountain Partnership, Group of Friends of Mountainous Countries and the Ambition on Melting Ice on Sea-level Rise and Mountain Water Resources for bringing governments together to promote integrated water management.

Detlef Stammer, Chair, World Climate Research Program, and member of the World Meteorological Organization delegation, described how climate change and human activities are affecting the water cycle, which is causing mountain glaciers and snow to melt, meaning they will no longer be the world's water towers. To improve the future, it is necessary to better understand the processes impacting the water cycle and improve observations, data sharing, and forecasting and management tools.

Paola Agostini, Lead Natural Resources Management Specialist, World Bank (WB), described how the WB is addressing sustainable water management through investments, trust funds for analytical work, and dedicated platforms. Currently, the WB already has a strong presence in Central Asia working on water issues and nature-based solutions, including through its Central Asia Energy-Water Development Program. It is now working together with partners to design a global facility for transboundary water cooperation to provide technical assistance to countries to develop legal and institutional frameworks. Furthermore, water will be central to the WB's new mandate on global public goods.

Marta Domènech, Researcher, Andorra Research and Innovation, Andorra, provided an overview of the historical changes to water flow in Andorra, an entirely mountainous country in the Pyrenees, and predictions for future scenarios. Using these, Andorra Research and Innovation is working with the Government of Andorra to deploy an adaptive ecological flow regime to ensure the country's baseline socioeconomic, energy and ecological needs are met.

Rosalaura Romeo, Interim Coordinator of the MPS, Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations (FAO), explained how the Mountain Partnership acts as the link between international fora and the alliance's diverse stakeholder basis, aiming to ensure the main development agendas acknowledge and address the needs of mountain peoples and environments. She highlighted how it is the collective responsibility of all members to strengthen collaboration to promote the mountain agenda.

Elisenda Vives Balmana, Ambassador, Permanent Representative, Permanent Mission of Andorra to the United Nations, underscored in her closing remarks how the side event is part of a larger political process being led by the Government of Andorra together with other governments in the framework of the Mountain Partnership to see mountains higher up on international development agendas and being devoted more attention and resources.

The outcomes of the discussion will be captured in a policy brief on water and mountains that will be launched for the UN Climate Change Conference in December 2023.

Mountain-related side events

In addition to the event led by the Government of Andorra, Mountain Partnership members organized several side events during the UN 2023 Water Conference to raise attention on mountains.

The Government of Italy in collaboration with the UNESCO World Water Assessment Program hosted the side event "Partnerships and Cooperation for Water: The main findings of the United Nations World Water Development Report 2023 and experiences from the countries". The event launched the course " "Aqua Team for Sustainable Development" which will be jointly conducted by the Mountain Partnership Secretariat, the University of Turin – DISAFA, the Italian High Health Institute, EFI, the Joint Research Centre Ispra, the Italian Geographical Society, and the UNESCO Chair of Biotechnology and Bioethics, Italy. Click here to register for the online course.

The Governments of the Kyrgyz Republic, Nepal and Peru together with the International Cryosphere Climate Initiative, in coordination with members of the "Ambition on Melting Ice" High-level Group, hosted the side event "Cryosphere, climate, cooperation: Preserving glaciers and snow for the Water Action Agenda". The event discussed the importance of the global cryosphere to societies worldwide, highlighting projected future impacts of cryosphere melt at different levels of global warming. Scientific talks were followed by remarks from government representatives, who shared knowledge and solutions from a national perspective. Halka Otto, Senior Liaison Officer, FAO Liaison Office, represented the MPS at the event.

The Zero Water Day Partnership (ZWDP) organized the event "The Voice of Children and Youth on Water for Sustainable Development". Students from schools in Bhutan, Germany, Malawi, Scotland, United Arab Emirates and United States of America presented their projects and key messages for Action on Water for Sustainable Development. Speakers included the Department of Land Resources Conservation of the Ministry of Agriculture of Malawi, UNESCO Chair Global Health and Education, UNESCO World Heritage Site Swiss Alps Jungfrau-Aletsch, and local German government. The MPS provided final remarks. The outcomes of the event will be condensed into a policy brief on the importance of youth and education for water and mountains. Read the ZWDP's Water Action commitment.

The International Institute for Environment and Development and the International Network of Mountain Indigenous Peoples presented evidence of the climate change impacts facing mountain water-related ecosystems, and the role played by Indigenous Peoples and mountain communities in conserving them during the side event "Protecting and restoring critical water related ecosystems in mountains: The role of Indigenous Peoples and biocultural territories in mountain ecosystems". Virginie Gillet, Land and Water Officer, FAO, represented the MPS at the event.

Watch the event recording
Read the Mountain Partnership Secretariat's Water Action commitment
Learn more about the UN 2023 Water Conference

Photo: ©FAO/Max Valencia

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