Protecting mountain habitats

Safeguarding mountain ecosystems
Protecting mountain lands
Protecting against vulnerability of mountainous environments
Mountain ecosystems and environments are of critical importance as water stores. They are often physically unstable (subject to earthquakes; landslides and volcanic and torrential phenomena) and sometimes plentiful in mineral resources. Biologically, mountain ecosystems are characterized by attitudinal zonation and microclimatic "niches" generating a rich but fragile biological diversity. Characteristically, human communities in mountains are self-reliant and have a detailed knowledge of the ecosystems on which they depend and of how to utilize them. Cultural diversity and richness parallel the biological diversity, and the specific sacred and/or religious significance of the mountains themselves is often a prominent cultural feature.

The complexity and diversity of mountain ecosystems make it difficult to generalize. The need for a comprehensive, interdisciplinary approach to sustainable mountain development with the effective participation and empowerment of mountain people has been recognized, as has the need to further increase awareness at all levels of society of the importance of mountain ecosystems, together with their problems and potential. The prevalence of absolute and relative poverty in mountainous regions and the downstream consequences of the degradation of mountain ecosystems are recognized as major reasons for mobilizing international efforts to assist countries to formulate and implement strategies for sustainable mountain development. A priority will be to develop and test potentially replicable models for rural poverty alleviation that can overcome the obstacles facing populations in upland areas and ease their transition to more sustainable livelihoods. These should build on local knowledge, capacities and opportunities, suggesting in turn that for mountainous regions, multiple adaptive models are likely to be more successful than approaches based on a uniform development paradigm.

There is a general lack of suitable institutional mechanisms to ensure an integrated approach, in view of the complexity of mountain ecosystems and the socio-economic issues at stake. In addition, there is scope for improved policy and legislation for mountain areas, as well as for training and capacity building, to make the implementation of chapter 13 of Agenda 21 possible. The need for long-term projects and programmes and long-term monitoring of their environmental benefits is emphasized.

Linkages between traditional knowledge and practices and their effect on ecosystems should receive more attention. Linkages between data collection and research, and the utilization and application of results need reinforcement. A recurrent issue is the plea for more action-oriented data collection and research linked to specific pilot areas where different government agencies and non-governmental organizations could coordinate interventions. Research should also be more responsive to the needs and aspirations of mountain populations. Improved information systems, networking and accessible databases have been identified as a priority area for action.

Traditionally mountains have had their natural and human resources drained to benefit the lowlands. At present, however, mountainous countries can support their upland programmes to a greater degree by channelling some returns from mountain-derived benefits (such as hydropower, mining, forestry, tourism), where appropriate, back into the uplands. The empowerment of mountain communities, including increased control over local resource conservation and management, in order to become more directly involved in income-earning activities, is seen as a necessary step in a strategy for sustainable mountain development.

In Nepal's Annapurna Conservation Area, established in 1986 as a multiple-use area rather than a national park, government collaboration with local community groups brought about the establishment and enforcement of a land-use system that increases the local benefits from tourism and provided local people with training in conservation and forest management. Local participation reduced local scepticism and conflict.

The [Convention concerning the Protection of the Alps] (1991) aims to protect the Alps environmentally, economically and culturally. The Parties are obliged to pursue a comprehensive policy for the preservation and protection of the Alps by applying the principle of prevention, the polluter-pays principle, and through cooperation and through the prudent and sustainable use of resources. In order to achieve the objectives the Parties shall take appropriate measures, including: regional planning; soil conservation; and conservation of nature and the countryside. The objective is to protect, conserve and where necessary rehabilitate the natural environment and the countryside so that ecosystems are able to function, animal and plants species (including their habitats) are preserved, nature's capacity for regeneration and sustained productivity is maintained and the variety, uniqueness and beauty of nature and the countryside as a whole are preserved on a permanent basis. The Convention is supplemented by five protocols on tourism, traffic, regional planning, protection of nature and mountain landscapes, and mountain farming and forestry. These protocols should be integrated by the Parties into their national and regional policies. A conference standing committee consisting of delegates of the Parties is to be set up as an executive body.

There are some 430 mountain protected areas worldwide. Their significance and characteristics demand special conservation measures.
Protecting watersheds
Type Classification:
D: Detailed strategies
Related UN Sustainable Development Goals:
GOAL 10: Reduced InequalityGOAL 15: Life on Land