Mountain Research Initiative
  • Date submitted: 30 Oct 2011
  • Stakeholder type: Major Group
  • Name: Mountain Research Initiative
  • Submission Document: Download
Keywords: Water (3 hits),

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Inputs for the Rio +20 Compilation Document with particular focus on Sustainable Mountain Development

Prepared by
Dr. Gregory Greenwood, Director Mountain Research Initiative Institute of Geography University of Bern Bern, Switzerland
with inputs from Dr. Thomas Kohler, Centre for Development and Environment, University of Bern, and Dr. Daniel Maselli, Swiss Development and Cooperation Agency, Bern Based on material provided participants in the World Mountain Conference held in Lucerne, Switzerland
11-12 October 2011

Our review of the past twenty years of history in the various mountain regions of the world leads to the following.

I. Problem Statement

Since 1992, mountain regions, which constitute nearly a quarter of the land area of Earth, have not performed up to their potential. Instead of playing a vibrant role in the life of the nations within which they are found, mountains have, with some notable exceptions, failed to match their surrounding areas in terms of the growth of environmental, social and economic capital. All too frequently, mountains have experienced losses of environmental capital through pollution and erosion of soil and biodiversity, losses of social capital through breakdowns in family and social disintegration, and losses of economic capital with stagnant economic growth, increasing poverty and destruction of infrastructure.

This fate is however not inevitable for mountain regions. Few observers of the Alps in the early 1800s, when they were characterized by severe environmental challenges, poverty and emigration as are other mountain regions today, could have imagined the Alps in 2011, when they play a central role in the life of Europe and offer benefits to both residents and visitors. While the development trajectory of the Alps cannot be followed by all other mountain regions, the high level of environmental, social and economic capital of the Alps shows that marginal regions can achieve sustainable development and enter more fully into the life of nations.

II. Principles of Sustainable Mountain Development

Pertinent to 3b. What are the comments, if any, on existing proposals: e.g., a green economy roadmap, framework for action, sustainable development goals, a revitalized global partnership for sustainable development, or others?

Innovation: Sustainable mountain development (SMD) is fundamentally about the search for the comparative advantage of mountain regions in the life of nations. The comparative advantage of mountains is not a given but is in fact discovered and indeed created by actors through innovation, the pursuit of novel actions. The development of the Alps was not ordained by any government or organization but rather discovered and constructed by myriad actors over two centuries. Thus a first principle in SMD is to promote ability of stakeholders to innovate, to conduct the search for the comparative advantage of their region.

Exchange: The very notion of comparative advantage implies exchange with the larger world. The nature of this exchange is central to SMD, spelling the difference between being a colony and an equal member within the nation. But exchange, rather than autarky, is a fundamental premise. Investment: Taking advantage of the comparative advantage without destroying capital necessarily requires investment in at least one of the three dimensions, and more likely in all three. New enterprises and more broadly, new roles for mountains in the life of nations will require investment. Mountains have not seen the nature and level of investment in environmental, social and economic capital necessary to achieve on-going sustainable development. In addition, wealth created from mountains has seldom been reinvested in the mountains themselves but has been exported to distant centers. A central outcome of Rio+20 must be the steps needed to define and obtain that investment and especially, re-investment.

Security and Justice: Investment will not be forthcoming if civil disturbance and the absence of law make returns on investment unlikely. Unfortunately, war, conflict, drug interdiction and the absence of law characterize far too many mountain regions and make a mockery of any development efforts. Sustainability: If it is to result in sustainable solutions, the search for comparative advantage must conducted within the three dimensions of environmental, social and economic capital. Sustainable solutions are those that create capital in one or more dimensions without sacrificing capital in any of the others. All three of these dimensions must be enshrined with the law.

Enfranchisement: The importance of different types of capital is unavoidably a measure of the political importance of those who hold those values. For decades, the relatively powerlessness of those who held environment values meant that environmental values were deeply discounted in the social calculus. Similarly, to the degree that indigenous populations in mountains are disenfranchised, and particularly when their ownership of resources is dismissed, the values that they hold dear will figure little in the decisions taken. For the dimensions of environmental, social and economic capital to be meaningful, stakeholders must be enfranchised within the political economy both to promote the development of truly long-term solutions and to participate in the trading and compensation that inevitably accompanies change.

III. Guidance for Sustainable Mountain Development

Pertinent to 4a. "Contributions could include possible sectoral priorities (e.g., (e.g., energy, food security and sustainable agriculture, technology transfer, Water, oceans, sustainable urbanization, sustainable consumption and production, natural disaster preparedness and climate change adaptation, biodiversity, etc.) and sectoral initiatives that contribute to integrate the three pillars of sustainable development could be launched and endorsed at Rio+20."

Sustainable mountain development requires multiple actions by the government, by the private sector and by civil society.

Public Responsibilities

The government responsibility is to create an enabling framework, one that facilitates the search for a better future while respecting the boundary conditions for sustainability. The government can seldom perform the search by itself, but must instead bring all the actors within society to participate in the solution.

- Establishing peace and the rule of law. Unless and until mountain regions are secure and basic legal rights ensured, the investment required for sustainable mountain development will not be forthcoming. This requirement affects not only zones of civil conflict such as Afghanistan and Pakistan but also areas such as the Tropical Andes, where drug interdiction campaigns create conditions not dissimilar to combat.

-Providing legal and procedural recognition of three dimensions of sustainability. If the law does not require an impartial assessment of the impacts of decisions on environmental, social and economic capital, governance lacks the information essential for an informed decision. In nations with environmental disclosure laws, such laws should be expanded to include the other two dimensions. In nations without such laws, they should be legislated. In addition, on-going measurement and periodic assessment of all three dimensions is essential for governance to monitor results and readjust trajectories.

-Clarifying the tenure rights of mountain communities. The ownership of mountain resources sets the stage for all subsequent steps in sustainable development. Those who have little or no ownership rights, regardless of their historical claim, will have no standing to contest decisions and will be excluded from any negotiations that lead to compensation. In the absence of clarity, powerful, often external, actors can monopolize and in the broadest sense, mine what were heretofore community resources. The solution is not obvious as many actors both within and outside mountains have plausible claims to resources, with Water and minerals being only the most obvious examples. However, long-term investment, again by actors both within and outside mountains, requires clarity of tenure. On-going efforts to establish or to protect already legal tenure is a fundamental requirement for sustainable mountain development.

-Promoting investment in all three forms of capital. While not solely a government responsibility, investment in human resources through education and health is central to sustainable mountain development. Certain key sectors especially communications, transportation and banking to facilitate exchange, and renewable energy to increase productivity and lower environment degradation generally require government support. Government policies can also encourage the investment of private capital through preferential tax treatment, advanced land and utility planning, and even the location of government jobs and services in mountain regions. Finally government decisions on parks and protected areas set the stage for both protection in core areas and tourism development in buffer areas.

-Ensuring physical security of life and property. Mountains are particularly hazardous regions with glacial lake outburst floods, landslides, mudflows, avalanches, floods, and earthquakes, all of which expose important investments, not to mention lives, to risk. Governments should make appropriate investments in hazard zoning, early warning systems and emergency incident command.

-Protecting diversity. Mountains are areas of high biological and social diversity, as evidenced by many different crop varieties and a plethora of languages and ethnicities. This diversity is an important resource in the search for comparative advantage. Crop varieties from mountains may be the source of useful genes lost from current cultivars. Techniques inherited from more self-sufficient societies may be key in achieving a less consumptive global society. Governments should ensure that this diversity is not lost.

Private Responsibilities

The private responsibility is to invest in innovation, to launch enterprises that create wealth and employment. The private sector should rightly focus on generating wealth, subject to the other two dimensions of sustainability, as mountains must cease to be seen as backward areas burdening the rest of society.

Innovation should focus on achieving higher incomes through higher productivity and added value while lowering exposure to both endogenous and exogenous shocks. Important foci include:

? Traditional export products that are likely to remain or increase in importance in the future, such as energy, Water, minerals, tourism and trade routes;

? Improved subsistence cropping regimes that increase yields and food quality, lower risk and otherwise improve food security. Hedging risk through a combination of cash and subsistence agriculture is likely to remain important in mountain regions for the foreseeable future. The key is to offer choices to farmers so that they can pick the best combination for their households.

? Improved or novel subsistence and cash products from grazing and forestry, which in mountains are generally managed as common property regimes, even in developed countries.

? Novel products such as additional ecosystem services in the form of reduced sediment, or increased carbon sequestration, and indeed, products that we cannot even imagine now but which mountain entrepreneurs will discover.

Crosscutting innovations include

? Improved banking and insurance services, especially to facilitate the use of remittances from the mountain diaspora;

? Improved communication services include mobile networks;

? Vertical integration, so that producers are more attuned to the desires of distant consumers;

? Branding of mountain products to distinguish them from similar products and to capture additional value of mountain products;

? Cheap and renewable energy, which will lower the pressure on vegetation and enhance capacity to add value.

Civil Society Responsibilities

The civil society responsibility is to give voice to mountain people and to provide critical oversight to government and private decisions.

-Gaining representation of mountain communities in governance. If mountain communities are not represented in government, and more broadly, in the governance of the resources that are central to their existence, then their interests will not be considered in decisions and they will be excluded from the flows of wealth generated from mountain resources. It is thus essential that mountain communities create entities that represents their interests and can influence governance not just through government itself, but also through the media and other cultural forums. This is not a role for the government, nor for the private sector (which certainly already has its lobbyists), but for nongovernmental organizations and for other civil societies organizations.

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