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Mountain Communities Need Empowerment

Local community empowerment is essential to building climate change resilience in mountains, concluded participants at a  session moderated by Thomas Hofer, Coordinator of the Mountain Partnership Secretariat, at the Global Landscapes Forum in Warsaw, Poland, during COP16, reads a Mountain Partnership press release. The session, called “Building Climate Change Resilience in Mountains, ” looked at the need to address glacial melt caused by climate change and its far-reaching impacts on the water cycle and the livelihoods of mountain and lowland communities.

Mountain municipal governments must be empowered, have good governance and autonomy so that mountain towns and villages can better face climate change, Hanta Rabetaliana, President of the Malagasy World Mountain People Association, told the gathering of 60 people on the sidelines of the 19th session of the Conference of Parties (COP19) of the UN Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC). She explained that in Madagascar, for example, water comes entirely from mountains yet the National Adaptation Programme of Action for Climate Change (NAPA, 2006) does not call for erosion prevention in mountain areas. Local laws and  development activities can help protect mountain environments, for instance, by curbing runoff from destroying crops, damaging irrigation and drainage systems and contaminating water.

Resilience planning is needed at the local and regional level to complement national disaster risk reduction programmes, affirmed Eklabya Sharma, International Centre for Integrated Mountain Development (ICIMOD) Director of Programme Operations, noting that the Hindu Kush Himalayan region incurs 76 natural disasters that kill 36,000 people per year on average. “Together with balancing development and conservation, promoting sustainable energy production, alleviating poverty  and limiting out-migration, reducing the impact of natural disasters can create climate change resilience in mountain areas,” he said.

“Mountain people, plants and animals are likely to be among global warming’s greatest victims,” warned Eduardo Rojas-Briales, Assistant Director General of the Forestry Department of the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations (FAO), calling for investments in local, national and global resilience planning.

The largest challenge posed to mountain communities by climate change is the change in rainfall – quantity, intensity but also the timing of rainy seasons, according to a United Nations University Institute for Environment and Human Security (UNU-EHS) study presented by Koko Warner. “Changes in rainfall have far-reaching consequences – people eat less, produce less and have less income,” the UNU-EHS Head of Environmental Migration, Social Vulnerability and Adaptation Section said.cioban-sureanu

Water harvesting, more efficient use of available water and diversification to drought-resistant or other crops were identified as ways local communities can build climate change resilience in mountains. “Watershed management approaches need to be institutionalized and water-use efficiency improved,” Eduardo Durand, Director of Climate Change of the Ministry of Environment of Peru, said. Watershed management is especially pertinent in mountain areas, which provide most of the freshwater in many countries.

Several panelists recommended diversifying livelihood options so that mountain residents are not entirely dependent on just one that could be damaged or destroyed by climate change. “Ecosystem-based approaches (such as watershed management and climate-smart agriculture) can both build resilience to climate change and deliver multiple benefits” explained Keith Alverson, Head of the Climate Change Adaptation and Terrestrial Ecosystems Branch, United Nations Environment Programme.

Organized by the Mountain Partnership Secretariat (MPS),  ICIMOD and FAO with support from the World Bank, the session was part of the Global Landscapes Forum, a two-day forum of 1,200 participants from 120 countries that hailed the “landscape approach” to rural development as a way to bring together the agricultural, forestry, energy and fisheries sectors to come up with collaborative and innovative solutions to ease increasing pressure on the world’s resources, which are threatened by climate change. Landscapes may be defined as the products of the interaction between human societies and culture with the natural environment. The landscapes approach provides a broad framework that can fully integrate mountain ecosystems into a sustainable development agenda.

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