Mountains and Climate Change

Climate change is a reality today, and some of the best evidence such as melting glaciers comes from mountain areas. Many scientists believe that the changes occurring in mountain ecosystems may provide an early glimpse of what could come to pass in lowland environments, and mountains thus act as early warning systems (Kohler T. and Maselli D. (eds) 2009). In tropical mountains for instance, the melting of glaciers as exemplified by the receding ice caps on Mount Kilimanjaro, Mount Kenya, Ruwenzori Mountains, etc. provide a good evidence of how temperatures have been rising steadily over the years and the consequences on the communities in the areas surrounding these mountains are catastrophic. As an example, Mount Kilimanjaro provides water to millions of population in Arusha and Kilimanjaro regions and it is predicted the climate and land use change are going to jeopardize the mountain’s capacity to keep providing this important service. In the neighbouring Kenya, the vast underground lakes and a large network of rivers originating from the Mount Kenya supply water to more than two million people in surrounding rural areas as well as to the approximately three million inhabitants of the nation’s capital, Nairobi. It also provides close to half the flow of water into the Tana River, which produces 50% of the hydropower generated in Kenya. All these water towers are being threatened by climate change which will put more strain both on urban water supply as well as agriculture and energy sectors. Given the crucial role played by mountains from their life-sustaining services such as water provision and recreational services; their fragility to climate change poses serious concerns because the degraded flow of these services is going to have a big impact on mountain communities’ livelihoods and national economies especially in developing countries. The recent earthquake in Nepal and the ensued landslides across the country which claimed countless lives and damaged millions worth of property attest to the mountains’ fragility to natural disasters and the predicted increased extreme weather-related events such as floods, landslides and storms are going to put mountains’ communities and their livelihoods under an ever increasing pressure. Fortunately, as also demonstrated by the joint disaster relief response brought by different stakeholders in the wake of Nepal’s event, cross-sectoral collaboration and adapted early warning systems can greatly enhance resilience of mountain communities in the face of increasing natural disasters including climate change induced weather extremes as well as other predicted impacts of climate change in mountains. This theme will take into consideration the involvement of local population and integration of local knowledge in national strategies to maintain critical services of mountain ecosystems which form the basis of the ecosystem-based adaptation, an approach much adapted for these mountains environments. Discussions will also explore options for disaster risk reduction in mountains areas in relation to climate induced hazards affecting these areas as well as look at needed international response particularly in the context of the implementation of UNFCCC COP21 outcomes which is promising to bring the world together against this most difficult challenge humanity has had to face ever. For more information, please read the theme's brochure here.

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