United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization
Mountain Summit opens in Kyrgyzstan - Climate change the focus of UNESCO initiative

Bishkek - UNESCO's Director-General Koïchiro Matsuura today announced a new UNESCO initiative to use its unique network of biosphere reserves to monitor global climate change.

In his opening address to the Global Mountain Summit that kicked off today in Bishkek (Kyrgyzstan), he pointed out that mountains are proving to be extremely sensitive to global change. And out of 408 biosphere reserves in 94 countries, 138 are in mountain areas. "Mountain biosphere reserves are ideal natural research centers for studying global change and monitoring its effects on the socio-economic conditions of mountain people" said Mr Matsuura".

The sensitivity of mountains to global climate change has gradually emerged over the past few decades, but has only recently received wide recognition. One of the most dramatic signs is that glaciers in most of the world's mountains are melting. The famous snow-capped peak of Mount Kilimanjaro (Tanzania) has already lost some 82% of its permafrost since 1912 - and a third of this in the past two decades. Glaciers in mountain ranges around the world, from the Alps to the Andes and the Rockies, tell a similar tale.

The increased rate of glacial melting has caused vast lakes to develop, only held back by precarious dams formed of boulders that had been captive in the frozen water for thousands of years. If the water breaks through the dyke, it can inundate towns and villages below. Only this summer, emergency workers pumped out a 16-hectare lake formed by the Belvedere Glacier on Monte Rosa in Italy that posed a threat to the Italian village of Macugnaga.

The new project is being carried out in partnership with the scientific community through a number of existing programmes, including the Mountain Research Initiative (MRI) based in Berne (Switzerland), the International Human Dimensions Programme on Global Environmental Change (IHDP), and the International Geosphere-Biosphere Programme (IGBP). With these partners, UNESCO is currently selecting biosphere reserve sites from each of the major mountainous regions of the world as the focus for this new global climate change monitoring programme.

The Bishkek Summit, organized by Kyrgyzstan is the culminating event in the International Year of the Mountain that draws to a close in December. Over 400 delegates will be meeting for the next four days to discuss strategies for the sustainable development of mountains.

As well as being home to some 500 million people, mountain areas are the source of water for more than half of the world's population. Because of their difficult accessibility, mountains are also rich sources of cultural and biological diversity. And while they are often areas of major conflict, they have been places for spiritual retreat since ancient times. "Mountains," said Mr Matsuura, "have great potential for becoming places of dialogue."

The International Year of the Mountain was the result of a suggestion by the President of the Kyrgyz Republic, Askar Akayev. At the opening of the Summit, Mr Matsuura presented Mr Akaev with a certificate officially recognising the second biosphere reserve in Kyrgyzstan, Issyk Kul, which was added to the World Network of Biosphere Reserves last year. "This spectacular site, rising from Lake Issyk Kul to over 7,000 metres above sea level, comprises important conservation areas for flora and fauna, as well as significant cultural sites," said Mr Matsuura. "But most importantly, it is a model site for demonstrating that the conservation of the environment can be accomplished through promoting sustainable development in partnership with and for the benefit of the people inhabiting the area. It is a living example of how the integration of science, education and culture can be a moving force for enhancing sustainable development."

UNESCO is supporting a range of ecotourism initiatives in three countires in Central Asia (Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan and Tajikistan) and in neighbouring India, Iran, Nepal, and Pakistan. The network aims to help poor communities, mainly in mountain areas, to use tourism as a sustainable source of income while promoting conservation.

In Bishkek, contact: Peter Coles
Bureau of Public Information, Editorial Section
Tel: +33 6 1469 5498

For more information on the conference see:


Source Press Release No.2002-84
Website 1 (URL) Web: The MAB Program - International Year of Mountains
Website 2 (URL) Web: Global change and mountain regions - the mountain research initiative
Website 3 (URL) Web: Global Terrestrial Observing System
Website 4 (URL) Web: International Geosphere-Biosphere Programme
Publication Date 28 Oct 2002
© UNESCO 1995-2007 - ID: 7323