Mountains: early warning systems for climate change

”We know mountains are ’water towers’ for many regions, and we know at least half of the world’s population depends on water from mountain headwaters,” said UNESCO’s Director-General, Irina Bokova, on 4 November 2015, as she inaugurated the exhibition Mountains: early warning systems for climate change. It will be shown on the UNESCO gates during the General Conference to raise awareness of the impacts of climate change in mountains, which could affect water and food security.

Mountains are among the most sensitive ecosystems. They experience the impacts of climate change faster than any other terrestrial habitat, providing a unique indicator of global warming. “We see this in the Everest, the Nigardsbreen, the Kilimanjaro, the Andes, where most of the glaciers are experiencing a rapid decline in mass. This will have considerable consequences on the large, often vulnerable, populations of these regions and their livelihoods”, explained Irina Bokova. “This will have an impact on river flows, their variability, and on biodiversity. It may lead to increased frequency of droughts and floods. We need to know more, much more about these impacts.”

The exhibition was organized by two UNESCO programmes that play a key role: the International Hydrological Programme is a platform for scientific collaboration to contribute to monitoring changes in water resources, including glaciers and snow; The Man and the Biosphere programme provides the scientific basis needed to improve relationships between people and their environments. The exhibition demonstrates that reducing the knowledge gaps in mountain systems would contribute to a better understanding of global climate change and its likely impacts at the local scale, thus informing policy to implement the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development.

Many partners made this exhibition possible through their generous contributions, notably the Government of Flanders, Belgium, the Permanent Delegation of the French Republic to UNESCO, the Japan Aerospace Exploration Agency (JAXA), the United States Geological Survey (USGS), the World Glacier Monitoring Service (WGMS), the United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP), the Government of Austria, Federal Ministry of Agriculture, Forestry, Environment and Water Management , GRID-Arendal and Wild Touch.

The exhibition will be shown at the Cité universitaire de Paris, France, during the United Nations Climate Change Conference (COP 21).

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