Professor thinks mountain ecosystems should be given priority in biodiversity policies

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More action is urgently needed to protect the world’s precious mountain ecosystems, according to a York University researcher whose policy brief was presented this month at the United Nations Conference on Biodiversity (“COP15”) in Montreal, Canada.

Professor Robert Marchant urges national governments to put mountain environments at the center of climate change and biodiversity policy efforts and actions.

The UN General Assembly has named 2022 the International Year of Sustainable Mountain Development – nearly 20 years after the first International Year of Mountains. But while there was some success at the time, Professor Marchant says national policy has not kept pace with land use change, development, population growth and the effects of climate change on global mountain systems.

“Twenty years later, climates are still changing, populations are still growing, and mountainous environments continue to be developed and transformed;

“Government environmental and business policies are rarely combined, and we see continued widespread land degradation in mountain habitats. This includes uncontrolled grazing, deforestation or overdevelopment, and much of this is due to weak policies and changing tenure laws.”

Mountains cover about a quarter of the world’s land mass. They are home to about half of the world’s biodiversity hotspots. They are an extremely important component of the global water supply because they receive more rain than lowland areas, experience less evaporation at higher altitudes, and contain large reservoirs of water such as snow and ice.

Well-functioning mountain ecosystems are more resilient to extreme climatic changes – they can buffer shocks such as high-intensity rainstorms or prolonged dry periods – and are important stores of carbon and biodiversity.

Despite this, the mountains are not receiving relevant policy attention and investment from their national governments. They are particularly vulnerable to climate change and human interventions that threaten globally important ecosystem services.

For example, the area around Mount Kilimanjaro in Kenya is an area with high population density and rapid economic development. The past two decades have seen a massive expansion in agriculture as the land has been privatized and companies have realized they can drill deep boreholes in the land to extract water from the mountain aquifer.

Professor Marchant said, “Once you pay for that well, that water is a free resource for you. But these services are provided by nature, and no one currently pays for the water resources nor for the management of that land. Companies can do this by, for example, by issuing controllable permits. Asking them to pay for a service would be a step towards treating our mountain resources with more respect.”

Professor Marchant and his co-authors urge countries to invest more in mountain ecosystem restoration activities and formulate effective climate change policies that take into account the unique nature and resources of mountains. There is also an urgent need for more international information sharing and data collection on mountain use, as well as better analysis of current restoration initiatives underway around the world.

“We hope there will be some progress at COP15, but what is really needed is an international agreement or code of practice that recognizes the value of our mountain ecosystems, and I suspect that is a bit far,” he says.

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Provided by York University

Quotation: Professor thinks mountain ecosystems should be prioritized in biodiversity policies (2022, 12 December), retrieved from on December 12, 2022.

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