What's the Problem?

Mountain biodiversity faces a number of serious and growing challenges.

Habitat degradation caused by unsustainable clearing of land results in erosion of fertile soil and increases the threat of avalanches, landslides and flooding. With this change in habitat, rare species of plants and animals can face extinction.

This environmental degradation often means increasing poverty and hunger for mountain people, already amongst the world’s poorest and hungriest. As resources become scarce, conflicts over their use can arise. Many men, women and families have no choice but to migrate to lowland cities. Mountain communities disintegrate and entire cultures and languages disappear.

There are many challenges to overcome in order to successfully and sustainably use mountain biodiversity. The growing demand for water, the consequences of global climate change, the growth in tourism, and the pressures of industry and agriculture in a world of increased globalization are just some of these challenges.

Chapter 13 of Agenda 21 on Sustainable Mountain Development recognized that mountain ecosystems are rapidly changing and that the proper management of mountain resources and socio-economic development of the people affected deserved immediate action. The United Nations General Assembly proclaimed 2002 as the International Year of Mountains with the main objective to increase awareness of the importance of sustainable mountain development. The 2002 World Summit on Sustainable Development included in its Plan of Implementation considerations for the sustainable development of mountain regions (paragraph 40).

The UNEP-World Conservation Monitoring Centre and UNEP’s Mountain Programme, in collaboration with a number of organizations, compiled the Mountain Watch report, which provides a systematic assessment of mountain ecosystems, using a geographic information system (GIS) based analysis of global data. According to this report important pressures that mountain ecosystems face include: seismic hazards; fire; climate change; land cover change and agricultural conversion; infrastructure development; and armed conflict. These pressures degrade mountain environments and affect the provision of ecosystem services and the livelihoods of people dependent upon them. In all mountain regions, natural risks are high and the effects of poor land use practices are particularly severe. As ecosystems representing the complex and integrated ecology of our planet, mountain environments are essential to the survival of the global biosphere.