1. Mountain areas cover almost one quarter of the Earth's land surface and host about 12 per cent of its human inhabitants. Additionally, mountains provide vital natural resources for lowland peoples. Mountains are both a unique environment in their own right, and one that incorporates many of the existing thematic programmes under the Convention. For example, forests, inland waters, dry and sub-humid lands and agricultural programme elements can all be found in mountain biological diversity. The present programme of work on mountain biological diversity features goals and activities that are specific to mountain biological diversity, although the existing programmes of work on forests, inland waters, agricultural, and dry and sub-humid land biological diversity also apply to mountain ecosystems. As a result, the goals and activities contained in the existing programmes of work of each of these thematic areas should also be applied and implemented, whenever appropriate, for their respective areas in mountain ecosystems.
2. Mountain biological diversity is of high importance for a number of ecological functions. The integrity of soils is the prime focus for ecosystem services and human needs. Mountains have often been referred to as "natural water towers" because they contain the headwaters of rivers that are also vital for maintaining human life in densely populated areas downstream. Natural and semi-natural vegetation cover on mountains helps to stabilize headwaters, preventing flooding, and maintaining steady year-round flows by facilitating the seepage of rainwater into underwater aquifers. Mountain biodiversity contributes to human well-being well beyond its immediate vicinity and is essential to the management of water flows over entire river basins.
3. Soil retention and slope stability are closely connected with the extent of above-ground and below-ground vegetation, both essential to ecosystem resilience after disturbance. The high plant functional diversity of mountain ecosystems may also add to their resiliency and, should extreme disturbances occur, often provides effective barriers to high-energy events such as rock falls and avalanches. It also may reduce extensive damage levels at lower elevations. Although it has been to date impossible to provide a thorough definition of mountains with both universal application and acceptance, there are a number of characteristics that are unique to mountain ecosystems. These are referred to in the note by the Executive Secretary on the status and trends of, and threats to, mountain biodiversity prepared for the eighth meeting of the Subsidiary Body on Scientific, Technical and Technological Advice (SBSTTA) (UNEP/CBD/SBSTTA/8/5) .
4. Information and input from international forums may also be taken into account, particular, chapter 13 of Agenda 21, which relates to sustainable mountain development, and the World Summit on Sustainable Development, which also considered mountain ecosystems. Paragraph 42 of the Plan of Implementation of the World Summit, states that:
"Mountain ecosystems support particular livelihoods, and include significant watershed resources, biological diversity and unique flora and fauna. Many are particularly fragile and vulnerable to the adverse effects of climate change and need specific protection." .
5. The Plan of Implementation proposed a number of specific actions to be undertaken in regard to mountains. The 2002 International Year of the Mountains also provides valuable input. In addition, a number of international agreements and bodies, institutions, and programme initiatives may be considered such as the Convention on Wetlands, (Ramsar, Iran, 1971), the United Nations Convention to Combat Desertification (UNCCD), the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC), the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations (FAO), the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO), the International Centre for Integrated Mountain Development (ICIMOD), the International Centre for Agricultural Research in the Dry Areas (ICARDA), the International Partnership for Sustainable Development in Mountain Regions, the International Human Dimensions Programme on Global Environmental Change (IHDP), the Centre for Mountain Studies, the Consorcio para el Desarrollo de la Ecoregion Andina (CONDESAN), the Mountain Research Initiative (MRI), the Global Mountain Biodiversity Assessment (GMBA) of DIVERSITAS, the International Union of Forest Research Organizations (IUFRO), the Alpine Convention, the Carpathian Framework Convention and the United Nations Environment Programme - World Conservation Monitoring Centre (UNEP-WCMC).
B. Overall purpose and scope of the programme of work
6. The overall purpose of the programme of work is the significant reduction of mountain biological diversity loss by 2010 at global, regional and national levels, through the implementation of the three main objectives of the Convention on Biological Diversity.
7. The implementation of the programme of work aims at making a significant contribution to poverty alleviation in mountain ecosystems and in lowlands dependent on the goods and services of mountain ecosystems and thereby contribute to the objectives of the Strategic Plan of the Convention on Biological Diversity, the Plan of Implementation of the World Summit on Sustainable Development, and the Millennium Development Goals.
8. The programme of work focuses on addressing characteristics and problems that are specific to mountain biological diversity. These include:
- The particularly high concentration of biological diversity hotspots in mountain regions, including high ecosystem diversity, high species richness, high number of endemic and endangered species, and high genetic diversity of crop, livestock, and their wild relatives;
- Cultural diversity, and the particularly key role of indigenous and local communities in the conservation and management of mountain biological diversity;
- The fragility of mountain ecosystems and species and their vulnerability to human and natural disturbances, in particular to land-use change and global climate change (such as the retreat of glaciers and increased areas of desertification);
- The upland-lowland interactions that characterize mountain ecosystems, with special emphasis to the relevance of upland ecosystems for the management of food, water and soil resources;
9. The programme of work also seeks to avoid duplication with existing thematic work programmes and other existing initiatives of the Convention on Biological Diversity. Parties are encouraged to apply, where appropriate, the objectives and activities from these thematic work programmes to the conservation of mountain biological diversity, the sustainable use of mountain biological diversity, and the equitable sharing of benefits arising from the utilization of genetic resources.
10. The programme of work is intended to assist Parties in establishing national programmes of work with targeted goals, objectives, and actions, with specific actors, timeframes, inputs, and expected measurable outputs. Parties may select from, adapt, and/or add to, the goals, objectives and actions suggested in the current programme of work according to particular national and local conditions, and their level of development. Implementation of this programme of work should take into account the ecosystem approach of the Convention on Biological Diversity. In determining national programmes of work, Parties are encouraged to pay due regard to the socio-economic, cultural and environmental costs and benefits of various options. In addition, Parties are encouraged to consider the use of appropriate technologies, sources of finance, and technical cooperation, and to ensure, through appropriate actions, the means to meet the particular challenges and demands of their mountain ecosystems.
C. Programme elements, goals and actions