Managing climate change in mountains
Until recently, economic, political or social changes such as globalization and migration were taken to be the main drivers of change in mountains. Today, it is increasingly realized that climate change and its consequences are likely to have similar or even greater impacts. As this is a relatively new insight, climate change has so far not been adequately included in planning and decision-making processes – this is also true for mountain regions.
However, there is a growing body of adaptive action relating to climate change in mountains. These include technological measures, such as prevention of glacial lake outburst in the Himalaya, or safeguards against slope instability due to permafrost decay in the Alps and northern Europe. Mountain resorts in Europe and North America have started diversifying their services to compensate for the loss of winter tourism caused by the lack of snow – an example of adaptive management in the face of climate change. At the policy level, a number of countries are reviewing land use plans and zoning, a crucial measure for both mountains and surrounding lowlands, as floods, landslides and avalanches are likely to become more severe and affect areas so far considered safe.
Adaptation will have to be supported by mitigating measures that address the root causes of climate change: the emission of greenhouse gases and other substances that might cause global warming. Key issues are the reduction of these emissions and the improvement of energy efficiency. Promising recent actions include:
• the shift from road to rail of long-distance freight transport including Alpine transit traffic;
• the development of emission-free energy production, such as medium-size or micro-hydropower, as promoted in China, India and Nepal.
The involvement of economic and population centres outside mountain regions in industrialized, emerging and developing economies will be critical for achieving a tangible reduction of emissions, as a significant proportion of the greenhouse gases are released in these areas. One way is through Payment for Environmental Services (PES) relating to watershed management, biodiversity conservation, carbon sequestration and water regulation for hydropower. There are a growing number of PES programmes where mountain communities are benefiting in implementing adaptation measures to maintain environmental services of mountain ecosystems.