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Climate Change Impacts in Major Mountainous Regions of the World

Mountain ecosystems are particularly sensitive to the impacts of climate change and are being affected at a faster rate than other terrestrial habitats. The need to design science policy specific to these regions gained momentum in a final workshop held at UNESCO on 23-24 January 2014. The Science Policy Workshop: “Climate Change Impacts in Major Mountainous Regions of the World: Multidisciplinary Network for Adaptations Strategies (Africa, Asia, Latin America, and Europe)” assembled policy-makers, experts and stakeholders to review climate change policy recommendations for vulnerable mountainous regions around the globe.

Climate change has a profound effect on the biosphere and diverse impacts on the world’s resources. Future climate predictions are expected to herald significant changes in mountainous regions, the birthplace of the globe’s largest rivers. 40% of the world’s population rely indirectly on mountain resources for drinking water, agriculture, biodiversity, and hydroelectricity – making climate change policy for the globe’s mountainous regions vital to a sustainable future.

The two-day science policy synthesis workshop brought together the inputs and policy recommendations from three previous workshops organised in the framework of UNESCO’s Climate Change Platform Project “Climate Change Impacts in Major Mountainous Regions of the World”. The regional policy recommendations from Asia, Africa, and Latin America were incorporated into a science policy brief that will be put forward to governments and UN agencies. This final workshop served as an opportunity to deliberate and refine key recommendations to governments for effective climate change policy in mountainous regions.  

“Specific adaptation strategies for climate-resilient development in mountain regions are needed”, said Ms Jiménez-Cisneros, Secretary of the International Hydrological Programme (UNESCO-IHP), in her opening remarks, highlighting the importance of mountain regions for water supply and regulation. “In its next phase (IHP VIII - 2014-2021), IHP will further focus on providing member states with policy advice, and on the development of science-policy interfaces to increase understanding of uncertainties in water resources decision-making”. This project is part of UNESCO-IHP’s commitment to provide a platform for scientific networking on the assessment and monitoring of changes in snow, glaciers and water resources.

Key policy recommendations, synthesised from regional inputs, included improving trans-boundary cooperation and recognizing mountain specificities at both local and regional policy-levels. An improved science-policy platform was recommended to guide ecosystem research, academic and NGO sectors. Institutions would therefore need an increased capacity for data collection and dissemination of usable knowledge. This would be coupled with enhanced feedback mechanisms for monitoring and evaluating policy impacts. 

To enhance the resilience of mountain ecosystems and mountain communities, the workshop concluded that ecosystem-based adaptation will need a stronger scientific and political foundation. Mountainous regions are assessed as not only being vulnerable biophysically, but vulnerable regarding natural hazard risks, human livelihoods, and biodiversity. Ultimately, the goal for sensitive mountainous regions is climate change resilience adaptation. 

Emphasis was also placed on incorporating more local knowledge. “We forget that in mountain areas local people have experience over generations dealing with harsh environments and climate variability. They have very practical knowledge they can offer,” remarked Mr Hofer, of the Mountain Partnership Secretariat. “These communities have solutions that could go beyond mountain areas.” 

Even though the workshop was a step forward for more refined policies, there are some challenges in assembling global data into a policy brief; discussion surrounded how to effectively translate scientific results into policy-making documents. This includes the difficulty of presenting a concise policy proposal that is also applicable to local specific cases. Each region presents its own environmental dynamics, and ecological and socio-economic challenges.

“Because of their high sensitivity, mountains can perform an important role as global early warning systems”, explained Ms Wendy Watson-Wright – UNESCO Assistant Director General for the Ocean and coordinator of the Climate Change Platform. “The protection, sustainable management and restoration of mountain ecosystems will be essential”. She thanked IHP and partners for the successful organization of the regional workshops, and their valuable contributions to the Climate Change Platform project. These workshops were organised by UNESCO-IHP, in cooperation with the Man and the Biosphere Programme (UNESCO-MAB), the United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP), the Mountain Partnership Secretariat hosted by the Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) and International Centre for Integrated Mountain Development (ICIMOD). 

A final document will be revised and consolidated to be presented to member states, policy-makers and managers, but there was discussion of having broader inputs. The outcomes of the project could contribute to the 2014 United Nations Climate Change Conference (CoP 20) taking place in Peru in December.

Anil Mishra, UNESCO-IHP, reiterated UNESCO’s commitment to follow-up on the recommendations and outcomes of the workshop. Part of this will be done through a new project that the Programme is launching for 2014-2016: “Addressing Water Security: Climate Impacts and Adaptation Responses in Africa, Asia and Latin America and the Caribbean”.

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