The impact of climate change on mountain regions was one of the core topics discussed at the 2019 UIAA General Assembly (GA) in Cyprus. This scope of this statement is to provide a summary of the UIAA’s longstanding commitment to the protection of the mountain environment and climate action, and its future goals.
The mountain environment occupies around 22% of the Earth’s land mass and is home to 13% of the world’s population. Mountains provide fresh water for billions of people across the planet in every continent. They are powerful and imperious. Yet at the same time incredibly and increasingly fragile. Climate change has made the weather unpredictable and is changing our landscape. It has a critical impact on the biodiversity of mountain regions, on the lives of mountain communities and ultimately on the future of the planet. The impact of climate change, notably glacial retreat, is also creating newer and greater risks for those pursing mountain activities and is a direct threat to the activities of the UIAA and its members. Ever since its foundation in 1932, the UIAA has been a keen advocate for mountain protection. Since 1969, the UIAA has elected a dedicated Mountain Protection Commission. A summary of their half century of achievements can be found here.
Through its global projects and platforms, presence at major international conventions, influence in groundbreaking papers and treaties and position as the international climbing and mountaineering federation, the UIAA aims to encourage all mountain stakeholders, including climbers and mountaineers, to engage in concrete measures to mitigate and adapt to climate change effects.
The UIAA’s climate action goals include:
- Undertaking systematic efforts to promote greater environmental responsibility;
- Reducing the overall climate impact;
- Educating about climate action;
- Promoting sustainable and responsible consumption; and
- Advocating for climate action through communication.
The UIAA has committed not only to communicate on these subjects but also to act. The federation has conducted its first annual Carbon Footprint Calculations (for 2018) and is closely monitoring the findings of this report.
The results of these Carbon Footprint Calculations will have a direct impact on the organization of the UIAA’s activities – notably travel, meetings, conferences with the scope of drastically reducing the federation’s CO2 emissions. Furthermore, the UIAA will work closely with its member associations – 87 bodies in 67 countries – to ensure these measures have a global impact. A separate article covers the UIAA Carbon Footprint Report for 2018.
The UIAA has established a number of sustainability goals – some already achieved or in progress – and others in development. Each goal includes a Climate Action plan. The key focus of these goals are transparency, global coordination and concrete action.
The goals include:
- Raising awareness about environmental issues and furthering education on mountain conservation and sustainable practice.
- Supporting concrete actions taken by UIAA member associations that aim to preserve the mountain environment in its natural state.
- Encouraging the adoption and respect by all of international declarations, including UIAA’s own ethical guidelines, in order to preserve mountain ecosystems and cultures.
- Liaising with international organisations on access and conservation issues and providing assistance, when requested, to member federations on such issues within their own countries.
- Promoting sustainable mountain region development and rewarding innovative initiatives in recreation, adventure tourism and mountain conservation.
- For the UIAA to act on its own findings and recommendations.
These goals are achieved by the following commitments, partnerships and projects:
- The annual UIAA Mountain Protection Award, founded in 2013, offers a platform to raise awareness about a number of climate action goals in relation to mountaineering and mountain-based sports. The global showcase includes projects in conservation of biodiversity; sustainable resource management such as energy and water; sustainable waste management and disposal; adaptation to/mitigation of effects of climate change and the protection of the environment through culture and education. From 2020, the project welcomes a new international partner, BALLY.
- The Respect the Mountains initiative forms part of the UIAA’s longstanding commitment to sustainability and mountain protection. It is governed by the 7- Ways to Respect the Mountains and aims at raising awareness about sustainable environmental and socio-cultural practices; setting an example and spreading the word within the outdoor community, as well as educating the next generation of mountain explorers and empowering them to be effective sustainable future mountaineers. The project features an international calendar of mountain clean-up activities, a tool which unites similar climate action projects across the world and directly engage climbers and mountaineers in this process.
- The publication of declarations on environmental issues, which date back to the early 1980s and the Kathmandu Declaration. One of the UIAA’s core declarations – the UIAA Environmental Objectives and Guidelines (1997) – which provides an environmental framework for all of UIAA’s activities, declarations and policy decisions is currently under revision to become more closely aligned with its current objectives and the latest research. It was last reviewed and edited in 2002.
- Advocacy and representation at the following major international conferences on climate change, including:
- UNFCCC Conference of Parties (COP)
- Sustainable Summits Conference (SSC)
- International Symposium for Research in Protected Areas
- International Federations Forum
- IUCN Biodiversity Conservation Workshop
- Mountain Partnership Global Meeting
- Mountain Research Initiative (MRI) Scoping and Networking Workshops
- Close collaboration with the International Olympic Committee (IOC) and other international federations on climate action. The UIAA’s Mountain Protection Award and Respect the Mountains Series have been held up as model case studies for other sport federations and associations by the IOC.
- Continued partnerships with international organisations such as:
- International Union for the Conservation of Nature (IUCN)
- UN World Tourism Organisation (UNWTO)
- Mountain Research Initiative (MRI)
- Mountain Partnership
- The Mountain Institute
- Including Memorandums of Understandings with the International Federation of Mountain Guides Associations (IFMGA) and the UN Environment Programme (UNEP)
THE UIAA ON CLIMATE CHANGE:
Frits Vrijlandt, UIAA President
“As climbers and mountaineers, the mountains of the world are our playground. It is in our interest to take care of them and to ensure that there never arrives a point from which we can’t turn back. Mountains are beautiful environments, we love spending time in them, exploring them and engaging with mountain communities. They are also the water towers for much of the world and owing to the impact of climate change, increasingly fragile. It is our duty and privilege as the UIAA to be at the forefront of both discussions and action concerning mountain protection. This is something the UIAA has done since its very beginnings. The time though has come to engage more in direct action, in supporting institutions and projects making a difference and as climbers and mountaineers to review the impact of our own activities. Furthermore, climate change, caused by factors like the aggressive retreating of glaciers, is having a direct impact on the safety of mountain activities and this is something the UIAA through its dedicated Commissions will continue to address. This is an issue which unites different areas of the UIAA’s activities and expertise.”
Dr Carolina Adler, UIAA Mountain Protection Commission President
“Addressing climate change is an important part of a broader set of actions and responsibilities that we as mountaineers and as members of the UIAA must engage in if we are to remain true to mountain protection – both as a principle and deed. Our shared convictions on climate change and mountain protection should now translate to concrete action. With a membership of some three million members worldwide, and counting, the potential for impact is there to be realized. We need to seize this opportunity while we still have time, for our generations today and our future generations to come”.