Biodiversity and Ecosystem Services

Mountains are a storehouse of global biological diversity and endangered species. They support about a quarter of global terrestrial biodiversity, with nearly half of the world’s biodiversity hotspots concentrated in mountains. Mountains have also served as refuges for species from environmental change and form centres of species endemism, with major centres of species diversity in Africa being in the Albertine Rift Mountains, Cameroon Mountains, Usambara mountains, Ethiopian highlands, etc. Half of the world’s population depend on mountain ecosystem services, particularly water. Mountains are the “Water Towers” of the world,providing catchment runoff water to millions of downstream users. In human terms, mountains have also helped to preserve cultural diversity and are among the top destinations for tourism and recreation. Mountains are also important centres of agro-biodiversity, and as such are an important asset for genetic resources and food security. But mountain ecosystems are exceptionally fragile,and are under threat from unsustainable use. Even with an abundance of natural resources, poverty and human vulnerability is higher in mountains than elsewhere, often because of their remote location. This session will broaden our knowledge of mountain ecosystems and the ecosystem services they provide, and the changes affecting them, and discuss approaches for the sustainable conservation of biodiversity and ecosystem services in African mountain areas.

Water, Energy and Food Security Challenges in African Mountains

Socio-economic development and climate change, growing population and limited land resources are causing water stress for growing more food with the same amount or less land, less water, and greater demand for energy. The water-energy-food security nexus is an approach that has sustainability at the heart of the solution. 

African Mountains provide a large amount of water for agriculture and hydropower generation. Yet mountain communities are among the most disadvantaged regarding water and energy access. Mountains are a regulator of climate and repository of agro-biodiversity, but challenges such as climate change, monoculture and non-sustainable agricultural practices are threatening these key functions. It is a requisite for development to ensure both upstream and downstream food, water and energy security in African mountains and dependent lowland areas. Policies and strategies must therefore promote improved management of water resources and related systems.

The session aims to promote better understanding of the inter-linkages among water, energy, and food security, share case studies and experiences, and discuss cross-sectoral strategies and policies for building more resilient and adaptable societies in mountain ecosystems.

African Mountains and Climate Change

The problem of climate change inmountains is of global concern, but also already felt locally. Mountains are among the regions most affected by climate change. In Africa, the melting of glaciers in Mount Kilimanjaro, Mount Kenya, Ruwenzori Mountains, etc. are clear evidence around us.

Increased extreme events such as floods, landslides and storms are observed in African mountains, threatening community livelihoods and national economies. There is a need for adaptation measures, and early warning systems, land use planning and cross-sectoral collaboration to address climate change in mountains. This has to take into consideration the involvement of local population and integration of local knowledge. National strategies for example through the payment for ecosystem services to maintain critical services from the mountains, and preservation of natural hazards but also international cooperation are needed, particularly as we head to the COP20 in Lima, Peru, in December 2014. This session will also include a special focus on UNEP’s inter-regional project “Climate Change action in developing countries with fragile mountainous ecosystems from a sub-regional perspective”

Community Livelihoods and Development

About 10% of the Earth's population lives in mountain areas with higher slopes, while about 40% occupies the adjacent medium- and lower-watershed areas. While mountains provide various services to mountain communities, there is widespread poverty among mountain inhabitants, loss of indigenous knowledge and serious problems of ecological deterioration in these watershed areas.

As a result, most global mountain areas are experiencing environmental degradation. Poverty, unemployment, poor health, food insecurity, lack of access to potable water and good sanitation are widespread in mountain areas. In spite of the enormous amount of indigenous knowledge in the mountains, education and health delivery systems are very poor, particularly in the context of women and children. Mountain communities have been at the periphery of decision-making in the context of overall development in many countries.

The session will share experiences and discuss strategies for better integrated community development in mountain areas through effective participation of local people is a key to preventing further ecological imbalance, increase the productive base, share equitable benefits, sustainably improve the standard of living among the large rural population living in mountain ecosystems, and discuss how mountain-specific development policies should work in Africa.

African Mountains in National, Regional and International Policy Agenda

During the United Nations Conference on Environment and Development (UNCED) in 1992 (Rio Summit),mountain areas received global recognition for the first time as an important, unique and fragile ecosystems that urgently need interventions for sustainable development environment (‘chapter 13’ of UNCED Agenda 21). Ten years later during the World Summit on Sustainable Development (WSSD) at Johannesburg in 2002, the ‘Mountain Partnership’, a voluntary alliance of partners dedicated to improving the lives of mountain people and protecting mountain environments around the world, was launched with the UN General Assembly’s declaration of 2002 as the ‘International Year of Mountains’. Finally, during the UN Conference on Sustainable Development (UNCSD) in June 2012, mountains and their communities received renewed global political attention, with three paragraphs (210, 211,212) of the UNCSD’s Outcome Document entitled the “Future We Want” entirely dedicated to mountains.

Over the last 30 years, many initiatives have taken place, in areas of research, capacity building and networking to enhance the state of knowledge of mountains and push the mountain agenda in face of global change. However, there is still a lack of awareness of the Mountain Agenda and the need to develop specific policies and activities for mountain areas at national level. Integrating mountain agenda in climate change and new SDGs remain a big ask. The global instruments have not in practice influenced the implementation of national strategies that are mountains-pecific. Mountain regions in many parts of the world still lag behind in the development processes.

The African Ministerial Conference on the Environment (AMCEN) met in Arusha, Tanzania, in September 2012 at the 14th session in relation to Africa’s post Rio+20 Strategy for Sustainable Development. The Arusha Declaration on Africa’s post Rio+20 Strategy for Sustainable Development makes reference to mountains in Africa. This session will exchange experiences in Africa at national level and regional level, particularly in the context AMCEN’s agenda to discuss what strategies and policies need to be addressed for sustainable mountain development agenda in Africa, particularly in the context of global climate change regime, with the forthcoming COP20 in Lima, Peru, and post 2015 development agenda. 


Follow us on