Mountain environments cover some 27% of the world’s land surface, and directly support the 22% of the world’s people who live within mountain regions. Lowland people also depend on mountain environments for a wide range of goods and services, including water, energy, timber, biodiversity maintenance, and opportunities for recreation and spiritual renewal. Mountains provide for the freshwater needs of more than half of humanity, and are, in effect, the water towers of the world.
The world’s mountains encompass some of the most spectacular landscapes, a great diversity of species and habitat types, and distinctive human communities. Mountains occur on all continents, in all latitude zones, and within all the world’s principal biome types – from hyper-arid hot desert and tropical forest to arid polar icecaps – and support a wide variety of ecosystems. Mountain ecosystems are important for biological diversity, particularly in the tropics and warmer temperate latitudes. Isolated mountain blocks are often rich in endemic species. As noted in the report of the Secretary-General of the United Nations when he proclaimed 2002 as the “International Year of Mountains," mountains harbour a significant portion of distinct ethnic groups, varied remnants of cultural traditions, environmental knowledge and habitat adaptations. They host some of the world’s most complex agro-cultural gene pools and traditional management practices.
Mountain biodiversity plays a key role in the support of global environmental, economic, social and cultural sectors through connections to; invasive species, air pollution, climate change, mining, hydropower, tourism, forests, agriculture. Therefore the challenge is to sustainably manage mountain regions to avoid degradation and avoid subsequent increases in poverty and hunger.