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Published by the International Institute for Sustainable Development (IISD)

Wednesday, 12 December 2001

International Year of Mountains Briefing Note

Editor's Note: This Briefing Note was prepared by Alison Ormsby,, for the International Institute for Sustainable Development (IISD). Funding for the preparation of this Note has been provided by The Mountain Institute. Digital photos and streaming audio from the event are available at


On 11 December 2001, nearly 100 people gathered at the UN Headquarters in New York to launch the International Year of Mountains. The UN General Assembly Resolution 53/24 of November 1998 declared 2002 as the International Year of Mountains (IYM), with the goal of raising international awareness about mountains, their global importance, the fragility of their resources, and the necessity of sustainable approaches to mountain development. The IYM builds on the process initiated by the 1992 UN Conference on Environment and Development (UNCED), or the Earth Summit, in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil. Chapter 13 of UNCED's major outcome, Agenda 21, highlights the urgency for action to achieve sustainable mountain development. The IYM is intended to reinforce the implementation of Chapter 13 and initiate new, practical, grassroots-level action in mountain development and conservation. 


Launch Chair Adolf Ogi, former President of the Swiss Confederation, officially opened the event, proclaiming, "May the sound of the alpenhorn be heard far beyond the confines of this room and help to create understanding across long distances." Ogi noted that mountains are home to one tenth of the world's population yet provide water for more than half of the world. He called for careful management of mountain areas to avoid long-term impacts of increasing tourism. Thanking Kyrgyzstan for raising, during the Earth Summit, the initial proposal to have IYM, Ogi urged the consideration of mountains not as barriers, but as unifying features. 

Murari Raj Sharma, Acting president, 56th session of United Nations General Assembly and permanent representative from Nepal to the NY UN Mission, on behalf of Han Seung-soo, Republic of Korea, president of the General Assembly, expressed hope that the IYM will lead to concrete actions and that the international community will benefit from the momentum created by the IYM to ensure true sustainable development of mountains and take advantage of the 10-year anniversary of the Earth Summit in the same year. In personal comments, Sharma noted that Nepal is home to eight of the ten highest mountains in the world and hopes they will provide inspiration to think big and create the beautiful. He described the many stresses facing mountains and the urgent need to address these problems and enhance awareness of the role of mountains in daily life. 

Nitin Desai, Under-Secretary-General for Economic and Social Affairs, on behalf of Kofi Annan, UN Secretary-General, noted that mountains provide vital natural resources and are under increasing risks, including loss of indigenous knowledge and traditions, and noted the need for effective cross-sectoral cooperation to achieve a balance between development and preservation. 

Jacques Diouf, Director-General, Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO), commented that, just as a mountain is made of innumerable particles, so too the IYM has come about from the painstaking efforts of many women and men. Observing the diversity present, he expressed belief that it reflects an increasing awareness that we all depend on mountains for life. He described mountains as both "fragile and fierce, beautiful and brutal." Noting accomplishments made since UNCED, he emphasized the goal of IYM, "to ensure the well-being of mountain peoples by promoting sustainable development of mountain ecosystems" and stated that the IYM provides an extraordinary opportunity to increase awareness of mountain ecosystems and cultures. Observing that mountains are the sites of most of the armed conflicts in the world and some of the most impoverished people, Diouf said peace and food security are prerequisite conditions for achieving IYM's goal. 

Kurmanbek Bakiev, Prime Minister, Kyrgyz Republic, expressed hope that the IYM will foster the elaboration of strategies on all levels and foster social and economic development and sustainable use of natural resources. He detailed national programs adopted by the Kyrgyz Republic for 2002, highlighting the summit that will be held in Bishkek in the autumn of 2002. 

Alan Wagner, Ambassador of Peru to the United States and former Minister for Foreign Relations, on behalf of Diego Garcia-Sayan, Minister for Foreign Affairs, observed that mountain populations and ecosystems around the world share similar conditions, including poverty and isolation, and are sources of water, energy, biodiversity and traditional knowledge. He lamented the gradual loss in the level of Andean ice caps due to the phenomenon of global warming and called for the strengthening of sustainable tourism and mining. 

Alberto Gagliardi, Under-Secretary of State for Regional Affairs, Prime Minister's Office, Italy, noted that mountains occupy one fifth of the world's land area, and Italy's mountain chains represent 54% of its territory and an important part of Italian identity. 

Gerard Pfanzelter, Ambassador of Austria to the UN, on behalf of the Minister for Environment, reported that nearly 70% of Austria's landscape is dominated by mountains, which influence many aspects of culture and daily lives, including the national anthem that starts with "land of the mountains." He stated that Austria is eager to share their efforts and successes, including the approach used in the development of the Alpine Convention, with developing countries. 

Louis Besson, Member of Parliament and Mayor of Chambery, and Member, IYM National Committee, France, called for the creation of self-development tools and adoption of legislative and regulatory approaches for mountains. He noted that France supports the preservation of mountain spaces and development by mountain communities of these resources. 

Jack Ives, Carleton University, Ottawa, representing the Rector, United Nations University (UNU), highlighted research on interactions between highland and lowland systems. He challenged the past paradigm of Himalayan environmental degradation that blames local people for environmental destruction, calling for more research in the socio-political arena. Noting that mountain areas have had to carry an enormous burden from military activity, Ives urged research in this area. He cautioned against over-generalization about the complex mountain landscapes of the world. 

Adnan Amin, Director, UNEP Liaison Office, New York, representing the Executive-Director, explained that the UNEP headquarters in Nairobi has observed the effects of melting of the Kilimanjaro icecap. He said that as a result of changes to mountain ecosystems, vital sources of freshwater are disappearing, and most mountain areas suffer from the 'commons' syndrome. He announced that UNEP is conducting a wide assessment of mountain areas, has established a new mountains program, and has chosen the slogan for World Environment Day 2002 as: "Mountains for life on earth." 


Nitin Desai chaired presentations on the conditions for sustainability in mountain development. 

Uma Lele, Senior Adviser, World Bank, posed the challenge, what can be accomplished within the IYM one-year time period in the face of long-term problems? She highlighted several important potential outcomes: mobilizing useful knowledge; fostering existing networks; focusing on known successful strategies; and mobilizing stakeholders with diverse perspectives while reconciling conflicts. 

Jim Enote, tribal member representing the Zuni Nation, Native American Nation, detailed his activities on a typical morning that he stated is probably echoed in many parts of the world, and proposed that his interpretation of reality and beliefs are also duplicated around the world, where there are many ways of knowing mountains. His people believe that mountains are where cloud beings live and if people are deserving, water will come. He noted that throughout the world, mountains are significant places, referenced in prayers regardless of political boundaries and distances. He described beliefs as fulcrums to action, the knots that hold mountain worlds together. He hoped that through the IYM, cultural beliefs and values will be the means to achieve conservation and development as well as peace. 

Yolanda Kakabadse, President, World Conservation Union (IUCN), noted that she is from the mountains of Ecuador where people think of lakes and mountains as gods and goddesses. She highlighted the issues of icecap melting and water as an energy and emphasized the importance of integrating the three aspects of sustainable development-economic, environment and socio-cultural. 

Bruno Messerli, University of Berne, Switzerland, praised the progress made in the mountain agenda in the 10 years since Rio. He challenged the statistic claiming that ten percent of the world's population lives in mountain areas, saying that new research models have found that 26 percent of the world's population lives on or within 50 kilometers of mountains. He also raised the issue of water scarcity as a significant concern, noting areas that are reliant on snowmelt as a primary water source. 

Lhakpa Sherpa, Manager, Qomolangma Conservation Programme, The Mountain Institute, on behalf of the communities he works with, urged active involvement of mountain people in implementing mountain activities in 2002, because in the past the concerns of mountain people were largely ignored. He described the increasing trend of young people leaving mountain regions, comparing a young mountain child to a butterfly attached to a stick by its mother -- as soon as they get wings, they fly away, never to return. He also called for continued commitment to the cause of mountain people, for without their involvement, it is impossible to break the cycle of poverty. 

Monica Opole, Centre for Indigenous Knowledge Systems and Products (CIKSAP), Kenya, explaining her work with native plants, urged people-centered solutions to forest degradation, stating that gene banks, frozen libraries, and museums are not effective strategies. She explained that in her country, there is no distinction between what is defined as food and medicine. 

Hugo Li Pun, Deputy Director-General, International Potato Center (CIP), Peru, identified agriculture as a key income generation activity in mountain areas. He outlined efforts to improve water conservation and harvests, and called for strengthening of efforts to preserve genetic diversity of main food crops and achieve food security. 

Bernadette McDonald, Vice President, Banff Centre, Canada, touched upon the variety of reasons people value mountain areas and called for the sharing of information and experiences. She announced that her centre will host a symposium on earth sciences in mountain regions in October 2002 focusing on the challenges and influences of extreme landscapes. 

Gabriel Campbell, Director-General, International Centre for Integrated Mountain Development (ICIMOD), Nepal, observed that we all rely on mountains and are affected by them, we all live downstream and upstream, yet there is a disproportionate level of poverty and conflict in mountain areas. He urged that the IYM strive to meet the three conditions of sustainable development by: galvanizing new policies and financing processes for real sustainability; fostering new cooperation between states, provinces and countries that share mountain resources; building new institutions, networks and rights of access to resources; and appreciating mountain people and their cultures. He announced that ICIMOD will host a global conference, "Celebrating Mountain Women," in Kathmandu in May 2002. 

Faanya Rose, President, Explorers Club, explained that the club is a multi-discipline organization, including a focus on mountains and conservation. She expressed that it is critical that local people are involved in initiatives to achieve poverty eradication, noting that we have to apply the human touch to conservation or there will be nothing left to explore. 

Alejandro Camino, Secretary, Mountain Forum, invited participation in the Mountain Forum, an international organization with 3000 members from over 100 countries and 150 institutions, a network of networks that is open and free and conducts activities around the world representing all sectors. 

Catharine Cooke, President and CEO, The Mountain Institute (TMI), saluted immediate past TMI president Jane Pratt for her work in coordinating the IYM. 

Larry Hamilton, Commission for Mountains, IUCN, urged participation to carry the mountain agenda forward in upcoming events, including: the international year of ecotourism (also 2002); the international year of freshwater and IUCN's World Parks Congress in 2003; and the Convention on Biological Diversity's 7th Conference of Parties in 2004 that will consider mountains. He supported the opportunity to promote peace through mountain area transboundary peace parks, noting existing successes and future possibilities. 

Erhard Loretan, climber of the world's highest mountain peaks without oxygen support, called for the need to define poverty vis a vis happiness, and expressed his opinion that the small number of mountain residents is not afraid to come to grips with big problems. 

In closing, Chair Adolf Ogi thanked everyone involved, particularly the Kyrgyz Republic for starting the IYM initiative, and expressed his conviction that this launching is the first in a long series of events to be held around the world in 2002.

� IISD 2001

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