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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Solar Irrigation for Agriculture Resilience (SoLAR)

01.01.2020 - 31.07.2027

To adapt to climate change farmers rely increasingly on irrigation, ultimately depleting groundwater resources and raising energy demand. The project aims to address these challenges by promoting solar irrigation, water efficient agriculture and groundwater governance. The project will harness Swiss expertise on hydrogeology and technical innovations to contribute to climate resilient agriculture and facilitate knowledge sharing in South Asia and at the global level.


Chinese Zero Emission Buildings with Swiss Know-How (ZEB China)

01.01.2020 - 28.02.2025

By upgrading building emission standards, supporting demonstration buildings and enhancing capacities of professionals with Switzerland’s leading know-how on sustainable construction, the project will support low-carbon development of China’s building sector, which is the biggest in the world. It will also benefit the public health by improving the thermal comfort of buildings and reducing air pollution resulting from heating and cooling. 


African Risk Capacity (ARC)

10.12.2019 - 31.12.2022

The African Risk Capacity is a disaster risk management pool and early response mechanism established by the African Union member states against natural disasters like drought, flood, and tropical cyclones, and the outbreak of highly contagious diseases. Its drought insurance and the new insurance products for flood and tropical cyclones enhance the safety nets of smallholder households and thus contributes to food security in Africa.


Clean Air Project in India (CAP India)

01.11.2019 - 30.06.2027

India is one of the most severely affected countries by air pollution in the world. This project will contribute to India’s new National Clean Air Programme, with the aim to improve air quality with co-benefits on public health, environment and climate change. Capacity building and technical assistance through Swiss expertise will support data measurement and analysis, city level clean air action plans and awareness raising campaigns to take precautionary measures and mitigate air pollution.


Grassroots women building resilience and peace in Central America.

01.10.2019 - 31.12.2022

The project enables two thousand grassroots women and their families to implement effective climate adaptation practices and strengthen their voice and leadership to influence related public plans and policies. The exchange of good local practices will be fostered among women in the region, thus increasing their resilience to climate change and variability.


IGGE : Inclusive Green Growth in Egypt

01.09.2019 - 31.12.2023

The main barriers to the competitiveness of the total 2.5 million micro-small-medium enterprises in Egypt are a lack of affordable funding and a mismatch between the needs of the market and the skills available. With its proven expertise in micro-small-medium enterprises Switzerland supports economic growth and more efficient use of resources in Upper Egypt through the model of green economy such as utilizing agricultural waste to create jobs and strengthen livelihoods of communities.


Andean Forest and Climate Change Programme (ANFOR) – Phase II

01.09.2019 - 15.11.2021

The second and last phase of the Andean Forest and Climate Change Programme (ANFOR) will consolidate, share and scale-up validated best practices on how to safeguard mountain forest ecosystems to further shape national forest policies aiming at enhanced resilience of Andean mountain forest ecosystems and increased human wellbeing. The Programme will inform the concerned regional and global dialogue and contribute to an effective implementation of national policies related to environmental integrity.


Landscape Fire Management in the Western Balkans

01.09.2019 - 28.02.2025

Due to a changing climate and unsustainable land use practices, landscape fires have been on the rise in the Western Balkans, while fire management remains generally weak and not adapted for mounting challenges. This initiative will improve capacities in landscape fire management through regional cooperation and strengthen policy and action at national level by articulating the region with multilateral efforts and Swiss know-how and expertise. Local communities, most concerned by landscape fires, will be an integral part of the initiative’s approach to facilitate the establishment of long-term strategies for resilient landscapes.


Capacity Building for Low Carbon and Climate Resilient City Development in India (CapaCITIES)

16.07.2019 - 15.07.2023

India is rapidly urbanizing. The growing Indian cities are affected by climate change but are also important emitters of greenhouse gases. Phase 2 of CapaCITIES aims at enabling climate responsive urban planning in eight cities and two states. Swiss expertise in waste management, transport, water and climate finance will support development of solutions for low-carbon and climate resilient cities. The results of the project in India will be shared through global reporting mechanisms and city coalitions.


Climate Ledger Initiative (CLI)

01.06.2019 - 31.05.2022

The Climate Ledger Initiative (CLI) addresses one of the world’s most pressing problems, climate change, with one of the potentially most promising technological innovations – blockchain. Through its platform function CLI brings together a variety of stakeholders from private and public sector to test pilot applications of the still new distributed ledger technology for effective climate action and development achievements. With its contribution to CLI SDC fosters innovation, development gains through applied technology development in developing countries and contributes to the global norm setting in this rapidly evolving field. 


Waste Collection and Transportation Management in Ulaanbaatar (WCTM)

View of Ulaanbaatar city

01.04.2019 - 31.03.2023

The project aims to contribute to an effective, efficient and financially sustainable collection and transportation system for solid waste in Ulaanbaatar, based on Swiss and international practices. The intervention will contribute to improve the services, introduce a transparent tariff system and support the implementation of the new law on waste management. It targets the underserved and least developed areas of the capital (ger areas) where most poor people reside, aiming at decreasing inequalities.


Municipal environmental management

01.04.2019 - 31.03.2023

Based on its significant expertise in the field of sustainable waste and wastewater management Switzerland supports Bolivia in addressing its environmental challenges by consolidating models of sustainable management of wastewater treatment services and solid waste management for small and intermediate cities. In coordination with the Ministry of Environment and Water, it contributes to the implementation of public policies reinforcing the quality and efficiency of environmental services, involving local populations and institutions. This will reduce harmful effects on the health of the population.

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