Global Agriculture

COP28: FAO marks International Mountain Day 2023 with focus on restoring ecosystems

New report offers uplifting cases of successful restoration projects amid the climate crisis

12 December 2023, DubaiThe Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations (FAO) today marked International Mountain Day 2023 with a high-level meeting at the UN Climate Conference COP28 in Dubai and the launch of a report that offers recommendations and uplifting examples of successful mountain ecosystems’ restoration projects.

International Mountain Day 2023 underscores the huge relevance of mountain ecosystems for the entire planet. This year’s theme, “Restoring mountain ecosystems,” calls for nature-positive solutions, best practices and investments that build resilience of ecosystems and livelihoods, reduce vulnerability and increase the ability of mountains and their people to adapt to daily threats and extreme climatic events.

With mountains covering around 27 percent of the Earth’s land surface, this year’s celebration comes amid signs of the growing recognition of mountains in global discussions relating to the climate crisis. A forum on the role of mountains within the context of the Nairobi Work Programme was held on 2 December at COP28, while key countries have now joined forces to push for the Dubai conference to hold a political and technical dialogue on mountains and climate change during its plenary sessions for the first time.

Meanwhile, the UN General Assembly has proclaimed 2023 to 2027 as the Five Years of Action for the Development of Mountain Regions. Activities planned for the period are designed to enhance the international community’s awareness of issues affecting mountain countries and to drive effective change aimed at addressing their challenges.

The high-level event at the FAO pavilion in Dubai was addressed by the Director-General of FAO, QU Dongyu, who highlighted how healthy mountains can protect and help us adapt to the impacts of climate change.

“Today’s event is an opportunity for COP28 to reflect on how we can turn the tide on the climate crisis by restoring mountain ecosystems,” Qu said. “As we celebrate International Mountain Day, I urge all stakeholders, from governments and NGOs to local communities and individuals, to join hands in a renewed commitment to restoring our mountains and including mountain regions in the political agenda.”

Other speakers included Ambassador Nurlan Aitmurzaev, Kyrgyzstan’s Special Envoy on Mountain Issues; Carles Miquel, Andorra’s Secretary of State for Energy Transition, Transportation and Mobility; Francesco Corvaro, Italy’s Special Envoy for Climate Change at the Ministry of Foreign Affairs and International Cooperation; and Bruno Pozzi, Deputy Director of the Ecosystems Division at the United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP).

Some of the key messages highlighted during the event include the notion that resilient mountain ecosystems are key for adaptation to climate change, since mountain forests and grasslands cool local temperatures, increase water retention, provide a vital carbon store, and reduce the risk of erosion and landslides.

Host to about half of the world’s biodiversity hotspots, as well as rare plants and animals such as snow leopards and mountain gorillas, healthy mountains are also crucial for the preservation of biodiversity.

Finally, the event highlighted that mountain farmers and pastoralists play a critical role in the sustainable management of mountain ecosystems, and activities such as sustainable tourism can create jobs and increase awareness of the value of the natural environment.

Mountain report

In line with the theme of this year’s International Mountain Day, FAO and UNEP published a report entitled “Restoring mountain ecosystems,” which analyses 10 mountain ecosystem restoration projects and recommends how the UN Decade’s Ten Principles for Ecosystem Restoration can be applied to mountain ecosystems.

The report underlines that mountain ecosystems – and the millions of rural people who depend on them – are under threat and particularly vulnerable to climate change and spells out what needs to be done to preserve and restore mountain ecosystems through case studies from around the world.

For example, restoration efforts in the Democratic Republic of Congo, Rwanda and Uganda have increased the mountain gorilla population, attracting tourists and generating revenue for local communities.

In Kyrgyzstan, the Baiboosun micro-reserve, which covers 14 000 hectares of pastures and glaciers, was established to protect biodiversity and regulate activities like hunting and grazing. Former hunters and fishermen are now community rangers who patrol the protected area and manage camera traps to monitor wildlife, while local shepherds are using modern grazing techniques, enhancing vegetation and vitality in pasturelands. This shift has not only increased snow leopard and ibex populations, but also created new livelihoods.

Such efforts are part of a multi-country flagship initiative by UNEP, the Mountain Partnership Secretariat at FAO and the Carpathian Convention, to restore mountain ecosystems in Kyrgyzstan, Serbia, Rwanda and Uganda.

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