Launch of International Year of Mountains (IYM)

11 December 2001, UN Headquarters, New York, USA

Highlights for Tuesday, 11 December 2001

International Year of Mountains Briefing Note

Editor’s Note: This Briefing Note was prepared by Alison Ormsby, [email protected], 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 were prepared by Franz Dejon, [email protected], and are available at

HTML version of International Year of Mountains is available at:  

Right photo: The dias of the launch of the UN International Year of Mountains listening to an alpenhorn player.

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. Above photo (L-R): Jane Pratt with Kurmanbek Bakiev, Prime Minister, Kyrgyz Republic


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. Listen to Adolf Ogi's Opening statement.

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. 
Listen to Murari Raj Sharma's opening remarks on behalf of the President of 56th UN General Assembly.
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. Listen to Nitin Desai's opening remarks on behalf of the UN Secretary General.
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.
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, Austria, 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 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.
Jack Ives, Carleton University, Ottawa, representing the Rector, United Nations University (UNU), highlighted research on interactions between highland and lowland systems.
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.

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

Uma Lele, (far left) 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?
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.

Listen to ENB Writer, Alison Ormsby interviewing Jane Pratt and Lhakpa Sherpa about the IYM Launch. 

Official Website of the International Year of Mountains
FAO and the International Year of Mountains
Mountain Institute

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