The topic of the first Global Mountain Sustainability Forum was “Sustainability Governance: International Frameworks and Local Contributions”. The conference was organised by the Global Mountain Safeguard Research programme (GLOMOS: a joint initiative between UNU-EHS and Eurac Research) and the Eurac Research Center for Advanced Studies. Researchers from around the world came together to discuss global developments and critical issues in sustainability in mountain regions, including natural resources, tourism, and governance. Due to the COVID-19 pandemic, this two-day conference (5–6 October 2020) was held online.
The pandemic not only influenced the format of the conference, but was also an important point of discussion. Dr. Julia Klein (Department of Ecosystem Science and Sustainability, Colorado State University) emphasised the importance of not losing sight of climate change during the current health crisis, cautioning that the inhabitants of mountain regions must be involved in the creation of a sustainable and just post-COVID world. Though mountain regions are less densely populated than many other areas, they encompass 50 percent of biodiversity hotspots and they hold 60 percent or more of the world’s fresh water; their protection is crucial.
“Mountains are considered among the most sensitive regions with regards to global warming and intensifying climate variability. It is very likely that climate change has particularly fast and direct consequences on the frequency and intensity of natural hazards occurring in these regions,” emphasized UNU-EHS Director Shen Xiaomeng.
A recurring theme touched upon by speakers was how science can interact with local knowledge. Sustainable development in mountain areas can only be successful if it includes the people who live there. Also, locals inhabitants often have a deep understanding of the risks around them, such as the markers that mean an avalanche might occur soon.
One aspect that was discussed in depth was what sustainable tourism could look like. Onespeaker emphasised that it’s not necessarily tourism itself that hurts the mountains, but the concentration of the tourists in popular and scenic spots. A better way to distribute mountain tourism, noted another, would be to go beyond the “well-branded mountains”, such as the Swiss Alps, and visit, for example, less well-know mountains such as those in Africa.
Dr. Dirk Glaesser of the World Tourism Organization brought the discussion back to COVID-19, saying: “The pandemic has been a shock to the tourism industry worldwide. But maybe instead of an interruption, after which we pick up where we left off, we need to see it as the beginning of a structural change”.
In the final keynote address, Nobel Prize laureate Dr. Joseph Stiglitz concluded that the COVID-19 crisis has shown that global cooperation and solidarity in science can lead to great advancements, but has also revealed the weaknesses of our society and economy. A new start after the pandemic needs to focus on a greener, more sustainable and more equitable society.
To read more about the Global Mountain Sustainability Forum, visit the Eurac Research website or read the original forum news story on the UNU-EHS website. You can alsoread more about the Global Mountain Safeguard Research (GLOMOS) programmeon the UNU-EHS website.