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UNESCO Panel Recognizes Critical Role of Mountain Regions in Water Security

Unesco14 November 2013: Water resources in mountainous areas play a critical role in agriculture, biodiversity, hydroelectricity and water supply, according to a High Level Panel Session organized during the UN Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization's (UNESCO) 37th General Conference. The panel, titled ‘Climate Change Impacts on Water Resources and Adaptation Policies in Mountainous Regions,' recognized the high sensitivity of mountains to climate change and discussed strategies for coping with climate change impacts on water resources in mountainous areas.

Glacier retreat, and its effect on water availability and quality, is among the most significant of environmental changes in mountainous regions, according to the Panel. Glacier retreat increases natural hazard risks, such as floods and landslides and impacts river flow and variability, affecting downstream water supplies. The phenomena also impacts mountain biodiversity, including cloud forests, grasslands, montane forests and wetlands, which plays a critical role in ecosystem services, such as preventing erosion, reducing flood risks, filtering water and improving water quality.

Irina Bokova, UNESCO Director General, underscored the importance of “monitoring glacier mass balance and snow cover” to better understand glacier retreat impacts. UNESCO's International Hydrology Programme (IHP) 2014-2020 programme will, inter alia, evaluate the impacts of climate change on water resources and develop adaptive strategies.

The panel recommended increased collaboration between scientific communities and policymakers to develop adaptation options and strategies. It further recommended that UNESCO-IHP collaborate with scientists around the world to establish a scientific and technical base for the sustainable management of water resources impacted by climate change. Panelists also supported regional cooperation to develop shared monitoring systems on glaciers, snow and permafrost and to exchange experiences across mountain regions.

Also at the event, IHP and the Man and Biosphere Programme organized an exhibition titled, 'Climate change impacts in major mountainous regions of the world,' during the General Conference. The Panel and exhibition represented contributions to the International Year of Water Cooperation. [UNESCO Press Release]