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Mountain ecosystems are in urgent need of protection

Mountains host about half of the world’s biodiversity hotspots, and action is urgently needed to protect these ecosystems. According to Professor Robert Marchant at the University of York, these critically important habitats should be prioritized in biodiversity policies.

Professor Marchant is calling on national governments to focus on mountain ecosystems while addressing the climate and biodiversity crises. He says that national policy simply isn’t keeping pace with land use change, development, population growth and the impacts of climate change on global mountain systems.

“Government environmental and business policies are rarely joined up and we are seeing continued widespread land degradation in mountain habitats. This includes uncontrolled grazing, deforestation, or overdevelopment – and much of it is resulting from weak policies and changing tenure laws,” explained Professor Marchant.

Even though mountain ecosystems are particularly vulnerable to climate change and human development, they do not receive the necessary attention and investment from their governments. 

In Kenya, for example, the area around Mount Kilimanjaro has endured a major increase in population density and agriculture over the last two decades. Companies have bought land to drill boreholes and extract water from the mountain’s aquifer.

“Once you’ve paid for that borehole, that water is a free resource to you. But these services are provided by nature – and no one is presently paying for either the water resources or for stewardship of that land. Asking companies to pay for this kind of service, by issuing controllable permits for example,  would be a step towards treating our mountain resources with more respect.”

Professor Marchant is calling on countries to invest more in mountain ecosystem restoration activities, and to develop effective climate change policies. His policy brief will be presented later this month at the United Nations Biodiversity Conference (COP15) in Montreal, Canada.

“We are hoping for some progress at COP15, but what is really needed is an international treaty or code of practice that accepts the value of our mountain ecosystems, and I suspect that is some way off.”

By Chrissy Sexton, Editor

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