Sustainable Development and Mountains

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Instead of being considered as one of the parts of sustainable development, freshwater needs to be recognised as central to all development. The ecosystems, which maintain the water cycle can then be prioritised for conservation and restoration.

Because mountain regions are absolutely essential in the regulation and maintenance of global water and climate, they are also fundamental in all long-term Sustainable Development.
“We recognize that the benefits derived from mountain regions are essential for sustainable development. Mountain ecosystems play a crucial role in providing water resources to a large portion of the world’s population; fragile mountain ecosystems are particularly vulnerable to the adverse impacts of climate change, deforestation and forest degradation, land use change, land degradation and natural disasters; and mountain glaciers around the world are retreating and getting thinner, with increasing impacts on the environment and human well-being.”    Download: The Future We Want, UN, 2012, Rio+20.pdf  

In 1997 UN ECOSOC proclaimed that mountains represent an essential component of the global life-support system and recognised that they were essential to the survival of the global ecosystem.

“These resources and services in mountain areas are of more than national or regional importance; they have a truly global significance for the future of humankind.” ()    Download: UN ECOSOC, 17/06/98, E/1998/68.pdf  
At Rio in 1992 and in 2002 the importance of mountains not only for mountain populations but also for those living downstream and those who are dependent on the regions for various reasons was highlighted. This includes most of humanity and other life forms worldwide.
“Food security, poverty alleviation, and, ultimately, political stability will thus be critically linked to mountain resources”    Download: Sustainable Development in mountain Areas, Mountain Agenda, 2002.pdf  

Yet despite this clear correlation, the global community has been slow in prioritising mountains and their ecosystems, which are so integral to long-term sustainability.

“Mountains play a key role in sustainable development, and their importance will increase in the future. As water towers of the world, mountains will play a crucial role in providing fresh water” (Mountain Agenda, 2002, ‘Sustainable Development in mountain Areas”    Download: Sustainable Development in mountain Areas, Mountain Agenda, 2002.pdf  
Because of their role in regulating the water cycle and climate, mountain ecosystems have an important part to play in determining our future. It is in all of our interest to preserve and restore them. Mountain snows and glaciers play a critical part in the healthy functioning, of the entire cryosphere. Because all the varied regions of the cryosphere work in an interconnected manner, safeguarding the high regions will help to reduce the fast melting happening in the lower artic and polar regions. This entire issue is a matter of great urgency.
“In the Arctic changes are occurring. By acting now we can shape the course of the climate trajectory in middle latitudes and lower latitudes. The opportunity is there to act now, the window is open but it’s a window that is not going to be open forever.” (John Walsh, Professor of Climate Change, University of Alaska Fairbanks.)   
Another issue needing serious consideration in the sustainable development and mountains debate is the way that large-scale hydro- dams have been promoted as a sustainable way forward for energy and for generating green economies in mountain regions.

Previously the planning of hydro dams was based on the assumption that future stream flow patterns would remain relatively stable.

Yet with melting glaciers and climate change, river flow patterns and precipitation has been significantly and unpredictably changed. Now their continued development for hydropower needs to be seriously reconsidered.
“Academic and scientific communities need to collaborate in research across national borders, and political leaders need to include glacier melting and the future of hydroelectric power generation in their dialogues.”   Download: Javaid Laghari , chair of Pakistan’s Higher Education Commission, 2013.pdf  
Given the abundant quantity of solar energy in mountain regions, it would be beneficial to replace hydro-dam electrical projects with solar power projects. If we really want to, we have enough intelligence, capacities and finances collectively to face this global situation and work together to remedy it. Interconnected peaceful solutions that care for the wellbeing of all are our way forward.

Let us be remembered in history as the generation that turned things around, learned from our mistakes, and achieved long-term environmental sustainability.

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