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A meeting for the mountains: High-altitude innovation for biodiversity and livelihoods

Photo by wirestock on Freepik

Conference showcases sustainability solutions for mountain communities

Mountains frequently inspire awe and wonder – and, perhaps more importantly, provide essential services for people and ecosystems, such as the provision of freshwater, livelihoods for local communities, and habitats for unique biodiversity. However, they’re also particularly vulnerable to degradation and the impacts of climate change. Within this critical context, Mountain Futures is a global initiative that aims to promote the well-being of people in the mountains; enhance the diversity, stability, and sustainability of mountain ecosystems; and construct and share green mountain development solutions.

In 2022, the United Nations declared an International Year of Sustainable Mountain Development, which contributed to growing the visibility of these fragile ecosystems. The Third Mountain Futures Conference, ‘Mountain Communities in the Kunming-Montreal Global Biodiversity Framework’, took place just before the official close of this International Year, from 16-18 April 2023, at the World Horti-Expo Garden in Kunming, China. It was organised by the Kunming Institute of Botany (KIB) at the Chinese Academy of Sciences (CAS) and co-sponsored by several national and international organisations; over 200 representatives attended from 20 countries across the globe.

The conference explored pathways to the implementation of innovative actions for biodiversity conservation and rural revitalisation in mountain communities under the new Kunming-Montreal Global Biodiversity Framework, which was launched at the 2022 United Nations biodiversity conference (UNCBD COP-15). Discussions revolved around the sustainable utilisation of biodiversity (Article 6), ecological health and restoration (Article 10), the participation of Indigenous Peoples, local communities, and other stakeholders (Article 15), public education, economic transformation, and lifestyle changes (Article 16). It showcased cutting-edge solutions based on natural, cultural, and interdisciplinary approaches; shared case studies from both scientific frontiers and grassroots communities; and addressed the challenges of biodiversity conservation under globalisation by developing a global action plan for the future of mountain communities.

“The Mountain Futures Conference was an opportunity to share experiences and network among many stakeholders and Mountain Partnership members on how to accelerate action in the mountains at a local, regional and global level,” said Sara Manuelli, Advocacy Officer for the Mountain Partnership Secretariat at the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations (FAO). “Different interventions showed that mountains are also incredibly rich in cultural heritage and biodiversity.”

Jianchu Xu, who is the regional coordinator for East & Central Asia at the Center for International Forestry Research and World Agroforestry Center (CIFOR-ICRAF) and the director of the KIB’s Mountain Futures Research Centre, presided over the opening plenary. John Dore, the chief water expert at the Australian Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade, introduced the background of the conference. Elizabeth Maruma Mrema, the former executive secretary of the Convention on Biological Diversity (CBD) and current deputy executive director of the United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP); Qu Dongyu, the director-general of the FAO; and Wang Xiaojun, the director of the United Nations Office for South-South Cooperation, also delivered video speeches.

During the three-day conference, global scientists and inhabitants of mountain communities engaged in in-depth discussions and exchanges on four themes: scientific exploration, ecological restoration, Indigenous wisdom, and future living. There were 22 keynote speeches from representatives of a wide range of local and international institutions, including KIB, CAS, the Yunnan Provincial Department of Science and Technology, UNEP, the Chinese Academy of Agricultural Sciences, CIFOR-ICRAF, the International Centre for Integrated Mountain Development (ICIMOD), and more. The event also featured 65 parallel sessions and 72 poster presentations.

Over the course of the conference, many presenters touched on the challenges faced by mountain communities in achieving sustainable development and original solutions based on scientific research and traditional local knowledge. The event closed with a resounding call for more attention and resources to be devoted to mountain biodiversity protection and restoration.

This sentiment was echoed by Manuelli, who said, “mountains need political attention and investment to promote sustainable development and improve the livelihoods of mountain people through international processes, governance, research and increased awareness.”