Mountainous regions – sustainable development and adapting to climate change

People on a mountain in the Vilcanota range, Peru.
The SDC supports mountainous regions. In Peru it is helping upland populations cope with climate change. © FOEN

Mountains are home to one-fifth of the world’s population and the source of fresh water for half of all humanity. Mountainous regions are especially vulnerable to the impact of climate change. Switzerland is committed to the sustainable development of mountainous regions with an eye on climate change. To this end, the SDC works closely with Swiss and international partners.

The SDC's focus

As a mountainous country, Switzerland has a great deal of experience in harnessing the potential of its mountainous regions and in facing the challenges of sustainable (mountain) development. The SDC’s focus in this area is three-pronged:

  • Supporting initiatives and projects that promote sustainable mountain development with the aim of improving the living conditions of mountain communities and strengthening resilience against climate change.
  • Enhancing support for mountainous regions as vulnerable ecosystems that are essential to human needs and incorporating this support in global processes such as the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development.
  • Fostering knowledge generation, dialogue and sharing of information and experience between stakeholders at all levels.

In Nepal, for example, Switzerland has been helping better the living conditions of impoverished highland populations for over 50 years by supporting and improving infrastructure. Some 500 kilometres of roads and over 5,000 suspension bridges have been upgraded or built with Swiss support.

In Peru the SDC is engaged in a project to reduce the vulnerability of the Andean population to the impacts of climate change. The people here mainly subsist on small-scale agriculture, which is especially hard-hit by the effects of climate change. The SDC supports effective adaptation mechanisms to mitigate the negative impacts of climate change on the local population.

Through its global mountain programme, the SDC supports major regional mountain centres in different parts of the world, particularly the Andes, Africa, the Caucasus Mountains and the Hindu Kush Himalayan region. These regional knowledge centres contribute to the political dialogue on development of mountainous areas. Available knowledge is applied at these centres to develop concrete sustainable mountain development policies. At the same time, the SDC helps these centres to make this regional knowledge available to global networks so that other mountainous regions can benefit from it quickly and at little expense.

Background

Mountains are home to one-fifth of the world’s population and the source of fresh water for half of all people. Sustainable mountain development means making sensible use of mountain ecosystems for the present generation while preserving them for future generations.

Mountains were recognised as vulnerable ecosystems of global importance as early as the 1992 UN Conference on Environment and Development in Rio. The importance of mountains was reaffirmed at the UN Rio+20 conference in 2012. The protection of mountainous regions is also enshrined in the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development.

Mountain ecosystems are extremely diverse. They are also highly sensitive to climate change, natural disasters, industrial exploitation, migration (especially upland-lowland migration) and mass tourism. These phenomena often threaten entire mountain regions, putting the livelihoods of many people at risk. Most affected are highland populations that rely directly on local water, soil, flora and fauna. But people at lower elevations also benefit from healthy ecosystems in the mountains: for example, the water supply of roughly half of the world’s population depends on water resources from mountainous regions.

The retreat of glaciers due to climate change will exacerbate water scarcity in the medium and long term. The SDC sustains various scientific projects in the Andes, the Himalayas and in Central Asia studying glacier shrinkage and its consequences in key partner regions. Switzerland too is seriously affected by the retreat of glaciers and is therefore able to share where needed its experience in observing glaciers and their influence on water supply. By training glaciologists in partner countries it is spreading this knowledge and helping these countries to adapt to climate change. Switzerland has an important contribution to make to the scientific dialogue on climate change and is successful in putting forward its position in the international political dialogue.

Facts and figures

  • Mountainous regions make up 24% of the Earth's surface and are home to 12% of the world's population in 120 countries. 
  • 281 or a third of all UNESCO Cultural World Heritage Sites are situated entirely or partially in mountainous zones. These include the ruins of the 15th century Inca city, Machu Picchu. 
  • 15–20% of worldwide tourism takes place in mountainous regions, with an annual turnover of USD 70–90 billion.
  • Threatened ecosystems: Mountain ranges are a source of life for around a third of all plant species. Across the globe they are home to half of the most important zones for biodiversity. 
  • Diversity of species: Six of the 20 plant species that provide 80% of the world’s staple foods originate in mountainous regions. The potato was first domesticated in the Andes; some 200 local varieties are cultivated there. Thousands of varieties of quinoa are also produced there. The cultivation of maize began in the Sierra Madre ranges in Mexico and millet was first grown on the high plateau of Ethiopia. Farmers in the mountains of Nepal cultivate some 2,000 varieties of rice. 
  • The retreat of glaciers: In the Cordillera Blanca in the Peruvian Andes, 755 glaciers stretch across 528 km2. Since the first national glacier inventory was compiled in the 1970s, this area has shrunk by around 27%. 
  • Mountain cities: People in mountainous regions do not necessarily live in remote areas but also in large towns or capital cities. Kathmandu (Nepal) has some 3.4 million inhabitants, Quito (Ecuador) 2.7 million. La Paz (Bolivia) at 3,640 metres above sea level, with its population of circa 900,000, is the highest capital city in the world. 
  • Glacier shrinkage in Switzerland: Over the past 10 years, a fifth of Switzerland’s remaining glacial ice has disappeared. For the 1,500 or so Swiss glaciers, a total loss of some 1,400 million cubic metres of ice has been estimated for the hydrological year 2017/18. This means that the currently existing glacier volume declined by more than 2.5% in 2018.

Documents

Current projects

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Soutien au Dispositif National de Sécurité Alimentaire -PRESA-

01.07.2022 - 31.12.2025

Malgré l’excédent céréalier enregistré durant ces deux dernières décennies, l’insécurité alimentaire touche près du ¼ de la population du Mali. La DDC veut renforcer les capacités institutionnelles et organisationnelles du dispositif national de sécurité alimentaire en vue d’améliorer la prévention et la gestion des crises conjoncturelles et accroître la résilience des populations vulnérables à l’insécurité alimentaire et nutritionnelle.


Sustainable Natural Resources Management (NRM) for Enhanced Pastoralist Food Security in the Borana Zone, Ethiopia.

01.01.2022 - 31.12.2027

Natural resources, particularly water and pasture, are among the key determinants of pastoralist livelihoods’ sustainability. The proposed Project contributes to the outcomes of the SDC’s Food Security Domain as stipulated in the Swiss Cooperation Strategy Horn of Africa. It aims at improving pastoralist food security and adaptive capacities in the lowlands of Borana Zone, Southern Ethiopia, through enhancing the sustainable management of natural resources.



Climate and Clean Air in Latin American Cities Plus Programme Phase 2 (CALAC+ 2)

01.08.2021 - 31.07.2025

Phase 2 of the Climate and Clean Air in Latin American Cities Plus Programme (CALAC+) will support the consolidation and implementation of local and national measures to reduce emissions of air pollutants and greenhouse gases (GHG) from urban transport and non-road mobile machinery to protect the climate and human health. CALAC+ will foster normative and technological changes through regional cooperation, building on Swiss expertise, and share the programme’s experience at the global level. 


Voluntary Contribution to the Adaptation Fund (AF)

01.08.2021 - 31.12.2024

The Adaptation Fund (AF) has a proven track record for implementing innovative adaptation projects for those people most in need. AF projects increase overall resilience of vulnerable poor globally and in SDC partner countries and decrease the potential risk, that impacts of climate change could diminish achieved development outcomes across sectors. With this voluntary contribution and due to its recognized climate adaptation expertise, Switzerland ensures its representation in the governing body of the AF and increases its convening power.


Energising Development - Support to the Energising Development (EnDev) Partnership

01.07.2021 - 31.12.2024

Providing sustainable access to needs-based and climate-friendly energy services to households, health centres, schools, and small enterprises improves the livelihoods of beneficiaries through reduced indoor air pollution, improved access to information, enabling of revenue generating activities, and enhanced quality of public services, all while reducing CO2 emissions. Energising Development (EnDev) is an impact-oriented partnership of Switzerland and other donor countries supporting universal energy access.


Promotion de l‘emploi et de revenus non agricoles dans la région des Grands Lacs grâce à la production de matériaux de construction respectueux du climat (PROECCO)

01.01.2021 - 31.12.2024

La forte demande en matériel de construction due à l’urbanisation rapide dans la région des Grands Lacs prédispose ce secteur à la création d’emploi et à offrir une perspective économique au grand nombre de jeunes dans la région. L’introduction par le projet PROECCO de briques améliorées, abordables et neutres en CO2 répondant aux normes de résistance et de durabilité a créé une forte demande. Pour la troisième phase, il s’agit d’appuyer le secteur privé à augmenter la production pour satisfaire la demande et d’atteindre les effets escomptés en emplois et en réduction des émissions de CO2


Contribution to the UN-REDD Pro-gramme (single phase)

15.12.2020 - 31.12.2025

Forests are a central solution to reduce greenhouse gas emissions, their sustainable management is an imperative for the planet but also for millions of vulnerable people. The UN-REDD Programme is a key player in accelerating the implementation of appropriate policies and actions in tropical low and lower-middle income countries to reduce deforestation and restore forests. The contribution will allow for a strong Swiss engagement jointly with the Federal Office of the Environment, and for the capitalization of existing work of the four SDC domains on forest ecosystems and related livelihoods.


Strengthening the climate resilience portfolio of the Global Facility for Disaster Reduction and Recovery

01.12.2020 - 30.11.2024

Climate change is an amplifier of natural hazards and a threat to human lives, sustainable development and poverty reduction. The Global Facility for Disaster Reduction and Recovery (GFDRR) of the World Bank aims to substantially increase investments in disaster risk reduction and climate change adaptation. Building on Switzerland’s role as champion and custodian of climate resilience within GFDRR, it will support climate mainstreaming in all GFDRR activities.


Low Carbon Cement (LCC) - Phase 3 (Exit Phase)

15.09.2020 - 14.09.2022

Cement production contributes significantly to global warming. This phase aims at the commercial deployment of a new cement type (LC3) which emits 15-30% less CO2 compared to standard cements. LC3 was extensively researched by the Swiss Federal Institute of Technology (EPFL) with partners in Cuba and India. Industrial deployment will be achieved through commercial production and application by the construction sector mainly in India and Latin America with support of the project.


Green Climate Fund Core Contribution 2020-2023 (GCF-1)

01.09.2020 - 31.12.2023

The Green Climate Fund (GCF) finances low-emission and climate-resilient development projects and programs with a focus on the most vulnerable countries. The Swiss contribution to GCF’s first formal replenishment period 2020-23 places Switzerland amongst the top ten donors based on per capita contributions. Switzerland advocates in the GCF governing board for impact-oriented projects with maximum development co-benefits, social inclusion and effective private sector engagement. 


Fighting COVID-19 and strengthening the health infrastructure with sustainable energy

01.09.2020 - 30.06.2022

The electrification of healthcare facilities is an important enabler of the quality and functioning of essential health services, including for the diagnosis and management of COVID-19 patients. At the same time, survival of the mini-grid and offgrid industry is key for providing everyone with sustainable energy access. In response to the COVID-19 pandemic, Switzerland supports a joint initiative by the World Bank, Gavi and the World Health Organisation to accelerate electrification of health care facilities and provide liquidity to financially suffering mini-grid and offgrid companies.

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