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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Cocoa value chain

Cocoa Chain Value Family

01.01.2018 - 31.12.2023

Actors in the Central American cocoa value chain improve their productivity, establish public-private alliances, respect economic, social and cultural rights, and reduce their environmental impact. Thanks to the program 4,500 producer families will increase their net annual income by at least 10%, while 4,000 young adults and 2,000 women gain access to sustainable jobs. This will boost the local economy in the poor and peripheral areas in which cocoa is grown.  


Global Energy Efficiency and Construction Outreach Programme (GLECOP)

01.12.2017 - 31.12.2021

GLECOP contributes to low-emission, energy-efficient and resilient development at a global scale. It supports two multilateral initiatives, the Energy Efficiency in Emerging Economies (E4) Programme implemented by the International Energy Agency and the Global Alliance for Buildings and Construction. Through its support, Switzerland aims to enhance knowledge and capacities, to leverage successful practices and to strengthen policies on energy efficiency with a focus on the construction sector.


Contribution to the International Centre for Integrated Mountain Development (ICIMOD)

01.12.2017 - 31.12.2022

The International Centre for Integrated Mountain Development (ICIMOD) is a regional intergovernmental learning and knowledge sharing centre serving its member countries of the Hindu Kush Himalayan Region. The SDC support will contribute to climate resilient and inclusive development of vulnerable mountain communities through strengthening ICIMOD’s regional role and capacity in climate science and relevance in regional policy dialogue.


Public Investment in Energy Efficiency Phase 2 (PIE2)

Openning launch of the thermofitted kindergarden in Songinokhairhan district

01.12.2017 - 31.12.2021

PIE2 aims to increase effectiveness of Public Investment Management (PIM) and of Public Finance Management (PFM) replicating and upscaling the achievements of PIE1 in the two poorest districts of Ulaanbaatar city. Improved PIM and PFM capacities, practices, procedures and regulations will be applied to the thermoretrofitting of public buildings, i.e. 20 schools and kindergartens, aiming for demonstration effect for replication. The need to improve education facilities corresponds to a top priority for UB citizens.


Gobernanza del riesgo en Centroamérica

01.12.2017 - 31.12.2021

Centroamérica es vulnerable al cambio y la variabilidad climática así como a otras amenazas geológicas que ponen en riesgo la vida de alrededor de 19 millones de personas y su desarrollo económico. El proyecto promueve la gobernanza regional para mejorar la efectividad en la reducción de los desastres y la adaptación al cambio climático para contribuir al desarrollo resiliente. Promueve acciones de preparación y respuesta a desastres, así como la formación especializada y de calidad en reducción de riesgos de desastres en carreras universitarias seleccionadas.


Strengthening the Climate Adaptation Capacities in the South Caucasus

10.11.2017 - 14.11.2023

The project will (i) facilitate the development of multi-hazard mapping and risk assessment methodology enabling 1.7 million inhabitants’ reduced exposure towards climate-induced hazards in Georgia; (ii) contribute to the safer livelihoods and infrastructure of 373’800 residents in ten municipalities by developing response and preparedness plans; and (iii) foster evidence-based policymaking and advocacy on climate adaptation, natural hazards and mountain development in the South Caucasus.


Improving seed systems for smallholder farmers‘ food security

01.10.2017 - 30.09.2021

Smallholders often use informal seed systems to meet their seed needs. The project increases the access, availability and necessary diversity of adapted seeds to smallholders to reduce their vulnerability to shocks and contribute to their food and nutrition security. In national and global policy dialogues improved and pluralistic seed systems that better respond to the reality and the needs of smallholders are promoted and smallholders will get political recognition for their role in germplasm conservation.



A toolbox for sustainable sefl-reliance

Workers learn how to build stable houses in cyclone-affected Southwestern Haiti.

06.09.2017 - 31.03.2022

Haiti has been repeatedly devastated by earthquakes and hurricanes in recent years. SDC engineers are now working with those affected to build more stable houses from local materials. Five hundred new homes are to be built by 2021.

Country/region Topic Period Budget
Haiti
Climate change and environment
Humanitarian Assistance & DRR
Vocational training
Governance
Disaster risk reduction DRR
Humanitarian efficiency
Vocational training
Public sector policy

06.09.2017 - 31.03.2022


CHF 4'509'500



UN CC:Learn – The One UN Climate Change Learning Partnership

01.09.2017 - 31.05.2021

UN CC:Learn is a partnership of 36 multilateral organizations which supports Member States in designing and implementing results-oriented and sustainable learning to address climate change. The Secretariat for UN CC:Learn is provided by the UN Institute for Training and Research (UNITAR). UN CC:Learn supports countries in developing National Strategies to strengthen human resources and skills to climate resilient development and promotes learning materials including massive open online courses on climate change.


Regional Vulnerability Assessment and Analysis (RVAA)

01.08.2017 - 31.03.2022

The project supports the Southern African Development Community (SADC) and its Member States in reducing vulnerability of households to disaster risks by increasing their preparedness for response and recovery and in strengthening their resilience. This will be achieved through institutionalising and sustaining vulnerability assessments and analyses systems that enhance emergency and developmental responses at national and regional levels.


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