Nature and Biodiversity

This is why mountains matter more than you think

Flowers are pictured in front of the snow covered Bettelwurf mountain summit in the western Austrian village of Absam April 29, 2015. REUTERS/Dominic Ebenbichler - GF10000077542

Among other things, mountains provide the majority of the world’s fresh water. Image: REUTERS/Dominic Ebenbichler

Charlotte Edmond
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Mountains have long held a certain mystique for those living in their shadows.

From the Mayans and Greeks to Japan’s Shinto religion, mountain gods appear in cultures and belief systems throughout history and around the world.

They’re also loved for their beauty, and revered for the great physical challenge they present to those attempting to scale them.

But one aspect of mountains is often overlooked: their power as a water, food and energy supply. In fact, more than half the world’s population benefits in some way from their resources.

They are a fragile ecosystem: habitats for plants and wildlife are particularly susceptible to climate variations, and are being disrupted, while glaciers are melting with accelerating pace.

Meanwhile, as humans venture further and higher for recreation and resources, habitats are being destroyed and degraded. Rare plants and animals are living in diminishing areas, and mountain people - often among the world’s poorest - are facing increasing hardships in what many scientists believe is a preview of what is to come for lowland areas.

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Here are 5 reasons why we need to celebrate our peaks:

1. Thirteen percent of the world’s population lives in the mountains. As well as providing resources and sustenance for 915 million mountain-dwelling people - 90% of which are in developing countries and 1 in 3 of which is food insecure - there are indirect benefits for billions more people.

2. Many mountains have been designated as UNESCO World Heritage Sites and biosphere reserves, recognising they play a key role in sustainable development and conservation of biodiversity. Mountains host 25% of the world’s biodiversity on land, and are home to highly specialised species that wouldn’t survive elsewhere.

3. Maize, potatoes, barley, sorghum, quinoa, tomatoes and apples - six of the 20 plant species that supply most of the world’s food - originated in mountain areas. Many high-value and high-quality foods are also produced by mountain communities, such as coffee, cocoa, honey, herbs and spices, improving livelihoods and boosting local economies.

4. Almost a third of the world’s forests can be found in mountainous regions, containing a diverse range of specialised trees that can’t survive in the lower reaches. As well as providing a home and supporting unique ecosystems, these trees play a vital role in regulating the regional climate. Absorbing huge quantities of rainwater, they are also crucial to preventing erosion, landslides and rockfalls.

5. The majority of the world’s fresh water comes from mountains: cities including Melbourne, Nairobi, New York, Rio de Janeiro and Tokyo are dependant on mountains for fresh water. This water is also vital in the production of hydropower. Some countries rely almost exclusively on mountain regions for hydropower generation.

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Nature and BiodiversitySustainable DevelopmentClimate Action
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