UN Resident Coordinator Ghulam Isaczai’s speech at the International Conference on “Mountains: culture, landscapes and biodiversity”

Mr Huseyn Baghirov, Chairman of Board of Trustees of Western Caspian University,

Professors and students,

Distinguished guests,


It is a great honour for me to be here today at the International Conference dedicated to “Mountains: culture, landscapes and biodiversity”.

I would like to thank the Western Caspian University, especially its Mountain Culture and Landscape Research Institute, and the International Climbing and Mountaineering Federation, for organizing today’s event.

Allow me to also take this opportunity to congratulate the Government and People of Azerbaijan on the 96th Birth Anniversary of the late national leader, Heydar Aliyev.

Distinguished Guests,

For me the very mentioning of the word “Mountain” reminds me of my native country Afghanistan and brings back some very nostalgic memories of my childhood in Kabul, a city surrounded by mountains.

After leaving the mountains of Hindu Kush in Afghanistan, my affection and association with the mountains did not end as my UN career took me to new heights of the Himalayas in Pakistan, Nepal and Tajikistan, the Jabal Al Shuaib Mountains in Sana, Yemen, the Zagros mountain ranges in Iraqi Kurdistan and now the Caucuses mountains in Azerbaijan.

In addition to their immense ecological, cultural, and socio-economic value, mountains are continuing to play a crucial role in human’s spiritual and mystical well-being as well.

From their mentioning in ancient Greek, Egyptian, Chinese and other mythologies to holy books such as the Bible and the Quran, Mountains have always symbolized power, authority, strength, vitality, energy and life.

Today almost one billion people in the world live in mountain areas, and over half the human population depends on mountains for water, food and clean energy.

Let me highlight why Mountain should matter to us:

  • Mountains are the world’s ‘water towers’, providing between 60 and 80 percent of all freshwater resources for our planet.
  • Mountains attract 15-20 percent of global tourism and are areas of important cultural diversity, knowledge and heritage.
  • Mountains are a vital source of food and important centres of agricultural biodiversity.
  • Mountains are home to many Indigenous Peoples as many mountain areas host ancient indigenous communities that possess and maintain precious knowledge, traditions and languages.
  • Mountains are home to half of the world’s biodiversity concentration.
  • And most importantly, mountains provide early indicators of climate change.

But despite providing these key goods and services, mountains still remain among the ecosystems least documented and least talked about subject.

Today a combination of increasing global demographic and economic pressure makes our mountains vulnerable.

Mountains are under threat from climate change, land degradation, over exploitation and natural disasters, with potentially far-reaching and devastating consequences, both for mountain communities and the rest of the world.

And as global climate continues to warm, mountain people — some of the world’s hungriest and poorest — face even greater struggles to survive.

Considering the crucial role mountains play in providing key ecosystem goods and services to the planet and their vulnerability in the face of climate change, we need to step up action and raise attention to sustainable protection and development of mountains.

The United Nations system in Azerbaijan is closely working with its local partners – government, civil society, private sector and other international organisations – in the field of environmental protection, which is of the strategic areas in the UN-Azerbaijan Partnership Framework.

UNDP has supported mountain landscape sustainability through various projects, such as “Sustainable Land and Forest Management in the Greater Caucasus mountains landscape” and livelihood opportunities to local communities in the high-mountain villages of Ismayilli and Shamakhi in partnership with ABAD.

The Food and Agriculture Organisation of the United Nations (FAO) is working closely with the Ministry of Ecology and Natural Resources to support Azerbaijan in integrating biodiversity and sustainable management of forestry.

Globally, the UN has adopted several instruments and action agendas to protect the fragile ecosystem of mountains.

Agenda 21 which came out of the Earth Summit in 1992 dedicated a whole chapter and programme of action to sustainable mountain development.

During the World Summit on Sustainable Development in 2002 in South Africa, the United Nations established The Mountain Partnership, an international voluntary alliance dedicated to improving the lives of mountain peoples and protecting mountain environments around the world.

Today, the Mountain Partnership has 343 members, comprising governments, intergovernmental organizations and major groups from civil society, NGOs and the private sector.

In the outcome document of the Future We Want adopted at the Rio+20 Sustainable Development Conference in 2012, member states of the United Nations not only recognized the benefits derived from mountain regions, as essential for sustainable development but also warned about the vulnerability of fragile mountain ecosystems to the adverse impacts of climate change and the marginalisation of its communities.

In 2015, the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development and more specifically, Goal 15 “Life On Land” called on countries to protect, restore and promote sustainable use of terrestrial ecosystems including mountains, sustainably manage forests, combat desertification and halt and reverse land degradation and biodiversity loss.

All of these instruments and frameworks invite Member States to increase collaboration, involvement and sharing of experience of all relevant stakeholders, adopt a long-term vision, include mountain-specific policies into national sustainable development strategies, and design poverty reduction plans and programmes for communities in mountain areas.

They also encourage active engagement of mountain people in decision-making processes with a specific focus on women’s role to ensure recognition and inclusion of indigenous cultures, traditions and knowledge in development policy and planning.

Therefore, in view of its importance, the organization of this conference by the Western Caspian University in partnership with the International Climbing and Mountaineering Federation to discuss for the next two days how to protect this precious gift of nature and examine the role of mountains in shaping our echo system and biodiversity is very commendable and appreciated.

Furthermore, the outcome of this conference will be fundamental to research efforts and to improve understanding of the drivers of change affecting mountain regions.

I wish the event a great success.

Thank you!

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September 2020
24 September / Thursday
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