Climate change causing species disappearance in mountain areas

11 December 2007, Rome – Higher temperatures are affecting mountain ecosystems and their populations, as melting glaciers increase short term water availability but also raise the
likelihood of flooding, species migration and long term water shortage, FAO warned today during the commemoration of the International Day of Mountains.

“As glaciers disappear and snowlines move upwards, river flows are likely to change and lack of water may lead to conflict and affect hydropower generation, forestry and agricultural-based
livelihoods,” said Alexander Müller, FAO Assistant Director-General for Natural Resources.

The services that mountain ecosystems provide often extend well beyond their geographic areas and include water balance, climate regulation, and maintenance of different species of plants and
animals.

The main reason for climate change is increasing concentrations of greenhouse gas emissions. Man-made global greenhouse gas emissions have grown markedly in the past 30 years rising by 70
percent between 1970 and 2004, according to the Fourth Assessment Report of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change. Agriculture, forestry and fisheries are affected by global warming and
mountain areas are highly susceptible.

In Bhutan, for example, glaciers are now retreating 20-30 metres a year with devastating effects downstream as a result of flooding, leading to loss of life, crops and pasture lands. The ice
cap once known as the “sleeping lion” in the Andes of Peru has completely disappeared, resulting in intermittent or dry drainage channels causing herders to move grazing herds and increased
concern for the future of irrigation, electricity generation and mining.

Higher temperatures as a result of climate change may also affect the health of both livestock and people, as malaria is likely to continue moving to higher altitudes as is already the case in
East Africa and the Andes. For wild animals, a warmer climate may mean extinction as their habitats disappear.

Role of FAO – To date, climate-induced changes have led to adaptation through, for example, technological measures such as preventing the bursting of glacial lakes in the Himalayas or
safeguards against slope instability due to permafrost decay in northern Europe. Mountain ski 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. FAO is working with governments on watershed management and use planning and zoning for both mountains and lowlands as floods, landslides and
avalanches are likely to become more severe and affect areas until recently considered safe.

In Bhutan, a National Climate Change Committee has been set up which will identify safe and unsafe zones for settlement in potential flood-affected areas. People in rural areas, for example,
have been given radios as a basic early warning tool.

Measuring the effects on mountain areas – There is a growing need for more data and understanding at the regional and local levels of the impact of climate change and variability on
mountain communities as well as on options for adaptation.

“FAO has a vital role to play in addressing the serious challenges confronting the vast number of mountain communities in developing countries who are often the poorest and most food insecure,”
said Alemneh Dejene, Senior Officer, Environmental Assessment and Management Unit.

This and other issues concerning climate change will be considered by a high-level meeting on World Food Security and the Challenges of Climate Change and Bioenergy to be held at FAO from 3 to
5 June 2008.

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