he United Nations University (UNU) acts as an international community of scholars engaged in research, postgraduate training and knowledge dissemination in furtherance of the purposes and principles of the Charter of the United Nations. UNU undertakes multidisciplinary research on pressing global problems, provides advanced training through workshops and postgraduate fellowships, and disseminates knowledge by way of conferences, publications, and other information vehicles. We conduct these activities through a multidisciplinary network of its own research and training centers and programmes, and of individual scientists and institutions the world over.
Background of the UNU's Activities
UNU has been actively involved in mountain-related issues over the past two decades since the launch of its project on "Highland-Lowland Interactive Systems" in 1978, later renamed "The Mountain Ecology and Sustainable Development" programme. This programme led by UNU project coordinators Professors Bruno Messerli and Jack D. Ives, brought together scientists, practitioners and policy-makers to deal with the pressing development and environmental problems facing mountains, mainly in developing countries. It is these research contributions that have been, in part, responsible for inclusion of Chapter 13 in Agenda 21. Since then UNU has been actively participating in Inter Agency Group for Chapter 13, which is coordinated by FAO. The publication Mountains of the World: A Global Priority (edited by Bruno Messerli and Jack D. Ives) in 1997 further contributed to the much needed world-wide awareness of the mountain issues. Since 1981, UNU has maintained its leadership role in the journal Mountain Research and Development. This journal has become the most important medium for the publication of the proceedings of mountain-related seminars and conferences, and many high-quality research papers. UNU is a founder member of the International Mountain Society (IMS) newly-reformed with the Centre for Development and Environment (CDE) at the University of Berne. Additionally, we have published mountain calendars and pictorial books on mountains of the world to raise awareness of the general public.
In several related activities, UNU also brings in a close focus on mountains. For example, the UNU project: "People, land management and environmental change (PLEC)" has focused on several mountain regions of developing countries of Asia and Africa to develop practices for conservation and sustainable use of biodiversity in managed ecosystems. A recently-developed programme on managing land degradation in dry areas similarly focuses on land degradation and biodiversity conservation efforts in selected mountain ecosystems.
Why mountains ?
One of the most significant decision regarding mountains since the Earth Summit in Rio de Janeiro in 1992 was in November 1998 when The United Nations General Assembly designated the year 2002 as the International Year of Mountains. This weighty recognition of the importance of sustainable development of mountain areas of the world must bring satisfaction to the global mountain community that has been working toward this goal.
The importance of mountain issues has been recognized by the international community as one of the world's most vulnerable bio-geographical areas susceptible to land degradation, having variable climates, heterogeneous habitats often with the unique fauna and flora. Mountainous areas are frequently considered as 'water towers' for fresh water resources and areas suffering from loss of indigenous culture and traditions. We should also take into account the uncertainty of this fragile environment which might call for some short term measures to save certain critical biodiversity. For instance, the Global Environment Facility (GEF) Operational Strategy identifies mountains as one of the priority ecosystems where biodiversity needs to be conserved.
UNU's Role in Mountain Ecosystems
UNU in partnership with IMS and CDE at University of Berne is developing, by assembling a Working Group, a comprehensive programme on sustainable mountain development which will be operated through the network of institutions supervised by the UNU/CDE Focal Point in Berne.
Through high-quality and multidisciplinary research, UNU shall contribute to the improved understanding of the status of different mountain systems in relation to global change, the pressures these mountains are exposed to, including their consequences on different resources (human, natural, economic), and the responses created by different social groups and mountain societies. By identifying the potentials of social systems embedded in specific economic environments, by considering their dynamics, and by adhering to existing innovative solutions, UNU will also contribute to mitigation of mountain problems.
UNU will also enable local research institutions to develop partnerships with other institutions in their countries and abroad, thereby developing their competence and capacities, while UNU will itself function as coordination and information centre for mountain research for the international scientific community.
Through its activities and partnerships, UNU will contribute to the development of local institutions and societies at large, particularly in developing and transition countries. UNU will achieve this by strengthening their positions vis-à-vis national and international research communities and network agendas, as well as co-operation agencies, by introducing up-to-date methodologies to address mountain problems and by development of strategic and applied research to help these institutions find sustainable solutions within their local context.