Mountains and well-being world’s population

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SPECIAL TO ISLAMABAD POST

Viladimir Norov

December 11 is International Mountain Day established by the UN General Assembly in 1992 and adopted by Agenda 21 during the UN Conference on Environment and Development.

The main purpose of this holiday was to educate the general public about the need to effectively use and protect mountain ecosystems and biodiversity in order to solve global environmental problems in mountain areas and rural development besides to strengthen the achievements of mankind in this sphere.

International Mountain Day is celebrated in many countries around the world, where people care about mountainous areas. Each year is dedicated to a new theme. The theme for this year’s celebration is mountain biodiversity. On this day the UN General Assembly encourages the world community to organize conferences, seminars, round tables, and other events at all levels.

Mountains, including mountain ranges and mountain systems, occupy nearly one-fourth of the planet. It includes a huge part of the world’s freshwater reserves and endangered species of fauna and flora. Mountains are also a popular destination for hiking and mountain climbing.

Half of the world’s biodiversity areas are located in mountains and mountainous areas, where more than 15% of the world’s population lives. About half of the world’s population depends on the water, food, and energy resources that mountains contain.

Most of the people of the Earth inhabiting mountain valleys live below the poverty line, constantly suffering from natural disasters. In the absence of developed infrastructure, they are at risk of food security and employment opportunities, as well as has no access to adequate health care, education, and quality public services.

As a rule, the inhabitants of these areas, feeling their insecurity in the face of modern challenges, are forced to migrate to the cities.There is a decline of agriculture, degradation of arable land and loss of cultural diversity, knowledge, and dying national traditions and historical heritage.

The Shanghai Cooperation Organization fully supports the celebration of International Mountain Day. With the continued degradation of life-sustaining natural resources of mountains: water, land, biological, mineral, recreational, and others, their protection and rational use are at the forefront of the national security system of the SCO countries.

Undoubtedly, mountain systems in the SCO area are an invaluable source of water, energy, and biological diversity. Our countries contain vast uplands, the main mountain systems of the Earth, where large glaciers are located.

In recent decades, there is an increasing trend of melting of mountain glaciers and their catastrophic reduction, which may lead to their disappearance in many areas of the world. The melting of glaciers has become particularly noticeable in the Tibetan Plateau. Glaciers in the Himalayas are losing up to 8 billion tons of ice annually, and the rate of melting is increasing at an alarming rate.

The glaciers of the Tien Shan mountain system, which stretches from east to west across China, Kyrgyzstan, Kazakhstan, Tajikistan, and Uzbekistan, have lost about 27% of their mass and more than 18% of their area in the last half-century. Of the 8,200 glaciers in the Tien Shan, more than 2,000 have melted in the recent past. The international experts using the newest methods of climate forecasting have pointed the fact that half of the ice cap of Tien Shan will melt by 2050.

According to scientists, global warming will melt the ice caps of all mountains and glaciers in the next hundred years. Scientists note that the melting of many glaciers has accelerated in recent years. For example, the Jacobswan Glacier on Greenland Island has doubled its rate of melting after six years and is now shrinking at a rate of about 12 km per year.  A group of European scientists said that Everest could lose up to 96 percent of its glaciers by 2100. Such scientific research was published in the journal “The Cryosphere”. All this is due to the development of industrialization, the neglect of human nature, expressed by an increase in emissions of harmful substances into the atmosphere, drying up of rivers and reservoirs, as well as deforestation, which is a natural shield against pollution.

Scientists and environmentalists are seriously concerned about these phenomena, since such destruction of the ice cover may contribute to other environmental problems throughout the region, including a significant reduction in freshwater supplies.

It is also worth mentioning that one of the most well-known and at the same time major environmental problems – the drying up of the Aral Sea, which is closely related to this phenomenon. Scientists note that the salt from the bottom of the Aral Sea is carried by wind currents towards mountain ranges and settles on glaciers, thereby accelerating melting of the glaciers. Restoration of the Aral Sea ecosystem is a very difficult task, requiring financial investment and considerable efforts on the part of the world community.

The disappearance of glaciers can completely change the climate of the region, which will have a negative impact on the animal and plant life, as well as on many aspects of the socio-economic life of the population of mountainous areas.

Member States attach great importance to the integrated solution of mountain development problems. In particular, at the plenary session of the UN General Assembly, which was held on December 19, 2019, a resolution “Sustainable Mountain Development” presented by Kyrgyzstan and Italy was adopted. The resolution was also co-sponsored by 80 UN Member States including the SCO countries. The resolution stresses the importance of preventing glacier melting, reducing biodiversity and environmental degradation to ensure and maintain an acceptable standard of living for the residents whose economic activities depend entirely on the natural resources of mountain ecosystems.

The resolution also mentions initiatives of UN Member States to promote sustainable development of mountain areas, such as the proclamation, on the initiative of Kyrgyzstan, of the International Mountain Day in 2003 and the International Year of Mountains in 2002, the establishment of the Group of Friends of Mountain Countries, created in August 2019 in New York.

Considering the need to intensify work on systematic monitoring of mountain glaciers in 2009 at the conference on climate change in Copenhagen, Tajikistan initiated the establishment of the International Fund for the Protection of Glaciers and invited developed countries and international organizations to provide financial and technical assistance to developing countries to monitor and protect glaciers. The importance of this initiative was also noted during the meeting of the Council of Heads of Government (Prime Ministers) of SCO Member States held on November 30, 2020.

It is important for our Organization to comprehensively study the interconnectedness of environmental problems, exchange information and experience between specialized institutions, take conservation and restoration measures, diversify mountain economies, preserve specific mountain ecosystems, conduct scientific environmental research in mountain and hilly areas, and identify vulnerable mountain areas. In this context Kazakhstan’s initiative to make a register of environmental problems in SCO is timely.

An undoubted priority for the preservation of mountain ecosystems and the improvement of the well-being of the local population of mountainous areas is the use of environmentally safe technologies.  The parties are considering Uzbekistan’s initiative, the SCO Green Belt Program, which is designed to unlock our countries’ potential for the use and priority implementation of modern resource-saving and environmentally friendly technologies, exchange experience in manufacturing, installation, operation, and maintenance of modern energy-saving equipment, use of environmentally friendly technologies, creating new jobs, and improving the quality of life of the citizens.

Currently, one of the main normative documents of the Organization is the Concept of Cooperation of SCO Member States in Environmental Protection, which contributes to maintaining the ecological balance, ensuring environmental safety, promoting “green” development, and financing environmental projects and programs.

It should be noted that in 2019, for the first time, the SCO launched a mechanism for the Meeting of Heads of Ministries and Agencies of Shanghai Cooperation Organization Member States Responsible for Environmental Protection

During the meeting held in Moscow on September 27, 2019, the member states discussed a wide range of environmental issues and agreed on the possibility of establishing thematic Expert Groups of SCO Member States in the field of biodiversity conservation, climate change adaptation, and mitigation, waste management. The parties stressed the need to raise the level of environmental education and awareness at all levels, and to carry out environmental research, including in mountainous areas.

The SCO is interested in interacting with the UN Environment Programme to jointly implement the environmental component of sustainable development. The organization will promote integrated management and protection of mountain ecosystems, taking into account the activities of relevant international and regional organizations.

Global climatic changes, widespread warming, are posing a direct threat to the ecosystem of mountains which urgently require the activation of efforts of the world community to adopt a set of socio-political, environmental, economic, and other measures to mitigate the consequences of this phenomenon.

To address these problems, the Shanghai Cooperation Organization, together with the international community, will contribute to implementing the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development.

The Writer is the Secretary General of SCO.