- Representatives from 30 countries meet to share knowledge, create an alliance
- Research group: Mountain areas are responsible for 50% of world's fresh water, biodiversity
- Effect on mountains "varies and is complex," climate change panel official says
- Groups seek to define what constitutes mountain areas and look for ways to protect them
Mountain countries from around the world are seeking a common voice in global climate change negotiations to draw attention to the vulnerabilities of mountain areas.
As part of this effort, government and nongovernmental representatives from 30 countries -- from China to Uganda, Peru to Tajikistan -- met in Kathmandu over the past two days to share knowledge and create an alliance.
"In global meetings of countries, whether in Copenhagen, Cancun or Durban, it was only the few countries from Central Asia and Nepal that raised the issue of vulnerabilities of mountains," said Ilhomjon Rajabov, head of the Climate Change Center of Tajikistan's Ministry of Environment.
According to David Molden of the International Center for Integrated Mountain Development, a Kathmandu-based research and lobby group, mountain areas are responsible for 50% of the world's fresh water and biodiversity.
He hopes that the alliance of the mountain countries will be as strong and influential as the alliance of island nations in global climate change negotiations.
"Governments like India also ignore mountain areas because only a small population lives in the mountains," he said. "They are not vote banks."
One of the reasons that mountain countries do not have a united voice in the global forums is because the impact of climate change on mountains "varies and is complex," said Rajendra Pachauri, chairman of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, which shared the Nobel Peace Prize in 2007 with former U.S. Vice President Al Gore.
"It is easy for island countries to make the world understand that rising sea level is impacting them," he said. "The island countries are also very well-organized."
This is an argument supported by Gabriel Quijandria Acosta, Peru's vice minister of strategic development of natural resources in the Ministry of Environment. "There is a lack of knowledge on how mountains are being affected by climate change," he said.
But Tajikistan's Rajabov is certain that flooding in some parts of his country is caused by climate change, which is making glaciers melt faster. "But in other parts of Tajikistan, there is drought because of less precipitation," he said.
Another problem that hinders a mountain country alliance is the question of definition -- there is no agreement on what constitutes a mountain country. For example, should the definition apply to countries that have altitudes about 1,500 meters, or those above 4,000 meters?
"We want to tell the world how important the mountains are," Peru's Acosta said. "Through the conference, we hope to develop a common position on climate change and sustainable development."
The next stop for the mountain countries will be Rio de Janeiro in June. There, attendees will review the progress in sustainable development since the Rio summit in 1992. After that will be the climate change Conference of Parties, or COP-18, which will take place in Qatar at the end of the year.
"In the next round of the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change, we want the recognition that the fragile mountain ecosystems need attention and protection," said Tajikistan's Rajabov.
In the words of Festus Bagoora of Uganda's Natural Environment Management Authority, "Only when you are united for a common cause will you have an impact in the international forum."
"This is a very good beginning," said Pachauri of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change.