Monitoring progress on mountains in the SDGs

Mountain Green Cover Index (MGCI)


The Mountain Green Cover Index (MGCI) is designed to measure the extent and the changes of green vegetation in mountain areas - i.e. forest, shrubs, trees, pasture land, crop land, etc. – in order to monitor progress towards the mountain target. MGCI is defined as the percentage of green cover over the total surface of the mountain region of a given country and for given reporting year. The aim of the index is to monitor the evolution of the green cover and thus assess the status of conservation of mountain ecosystems.


Mountain ecosystems are important biodiversity centres that provide valuable ecosystem services to upstream and downstream areas. Yet, mountains are very fragile and impacted easily by both natural and anthropogenic factors. These can include climate change, natural hazards such as landslides and flooding, unplanned agricultural expansion, unplanned urbanization, timber extraction and recreational activities. The degradation of mountain ecosystems such as loss of the glacial cover, mountain biodiversity and green cover will affect the ability of the ecosystem to supply water downstream. The loss of forest and vegetative cover will reduce the ability of the ecosystem to retain soil and prevent landslides and flooding downstream.

Therefore, monitoring mountain vegetation changes provides information on the status of mountain ecosystems. Monitoring the MGCI over time can provide information on the extent of vegetational change and of the general health of the mountain ecosystem. Assessing the change of green cover differentiated by elevation is important in understanding the changes that are occurring in the mountain regions due to the influence of slope, aspect and altitude of the mountain terrain to the ecosystem.

However, the MGCI values should be interpreted with care. It does not provide the details on species change, change in the tree line or rain shadow areas. Understanding the variation in the species composition and the tree line will be important in identifying the long-term impacts of climate change in mountain regions. Analysing the vegetative variations in each of the elevation zones over time will assist in determining the appropriate management and adaption measures.

In some cases, an increase in the indicator value in high elevation classes may also signify the encroachment of vegetation on areas previously covered by glaciers or other permanent or semipermanent ice or snow layers, as a result of global warming due to climate change. Such a change can be tracked with the current methodology and flagged accordingly at the level of disaggregated data by land cover type and elevation class, to distinguish this case from the general desired trend of increasing mountain green cover.

Read more

This FAO elearning Academy course was developed to guide countries in reporting on Indicators 15.1.1 and 15.2.1. It illustrates the rationale of the indicators, the definitions and methodologies on which monitoring activities are based, and explains the process and the tools available for compiling data related to the two indicators through the Global Forest Resources Assessment Programme (available in English, French and Spanish).

Home > mountain-partnership > Our work > Advocacy > 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development > Mountain Green Cover Index