International Mountain Day and climate change


In 2002, the General Assembly of the United Nations designated 11th December as the International Mountain Day to highlight the significance of the highest natural landscape and the urgent need to protect it from further degradation. Mountains cover 22%  of the Earth’s surface area and house 13% of the global population.

Mountains are diverse in its offerings to the world. They are not just tall with expansive peaks adorned with snow, rather they flaunt discrete identities. Besides tropical rainforest mountains like Pico da Neblina in the Amazon rainforest and desert mountains like the one in west-central Nevada, there are a plethora of mountain ranges.

Promoting mountain products for better livelihood’ was the theme for the 2015 International Mountain Day which was observed amid ceaseless negotiations among nations for a climate deal to replace the current legally-binding Kyoto protocol.

This, important and yet not-too-popular day dedicated to promoting the mountains, comes at a crucial time when Paris witnesses the much awaited COP 21.

A member of the mountain family – the Tibetan Plateau, the world’s highest and largest plateau – in Paris was a consortium of Tibetan activists.  In the COP 21, they emphasized the importance of the ‘Roof of the World’ as plateau has over 46000 glaciers.

These enormous glaciers are the source of major rivers including Brahmaputra, Sutlej, Indus, Irrawady, Salween and Mekong.  It might be mentioned that these rivers are the lifeline of countries including India, China, Pakistan and Bangladesh.

The 14th Dalai Lama in a video message weighed in on the importance of protecting the Tibetan plateau ‘not only for Tibetans but for the health and sustainability of the entire region’.

His message is indeed symptomatic of the growing anxiety surrounding climate change and its adverse impact on the world in general and especially the mountains. The mountains form natural habitats for a diverse wildlife which is rapidly transforming into an unknown homeland. The only option available to the hapless flora and fauna of the mountains is quick adaptation or face extinction.

But the most urgent concern is the direct effect of climate change on the mountain people. Not only do they inhabit in the mountains but also derive their sustenance from it. Flooding, untimely rain and the habitat loss of wildlife are immediate concerns for the mountain people.

Heralding ominous signs of the impact of such changes was the unprecedented cloudburst in Uttarakhand  in early 2013 and the deluge caused by the swelling of the Jhelum river in 2014 which claimed several thousand lives and rendered several lakhs homeless.

Anticipating further deterioration and increasing vulnerabilities of the mountain people, the UN sought to bring the plight of the people before the world by promoting a sustainable model of development. In doing so, it highlighted the abundance of mountainous products such as coffee, cocoa, honey, herbs, spices and the handicrafts of the mountain people. In turn, it increased the market for such products and supplements the livelihood of the mountain people.

While we display concern for the rising seas and its incidental impact on the littoral states let us not forget those living at the other end of the world.

(Inputs by Rajesh Ghosh)