Sustainable Mountain Development & Conservation

Mountains being constantly under threat from the impacts of climate change, excessive tourism, over exploitation, conserving mountains has become a major part under goal 15 of SDGs in target (15.4) which aims to ensure the conservation of mountain ecosystems, including their biodiversity, in order to enhance their capacity to provide benefits that are essential for sustainable development.

Hence globally nations have joined hands to find solutions to conserve mountain ecosystems by 2030.

SMD Targets

  1. a) Global Target ­–
  •  by 2030 to increase survival of mountain ecosystem through restoration of 15 % of degraded mountains
  •  By 2030 for protecting mountain area to get at least 17 % area under protected area
  • to reduce loss of natural forest by half till 2030
  • by 2030 to reduce the loss of genetic and biological diversity of mountains through biodiversity convection.
  1. b) National Target ­–
  • to develop policies to reserve protected areas and check the progress by 2025.

An overview of worldwide mountain protected area 

Mountains cover about 22 percent of the earth’s land area and are home to some 915 million people. They host more than 85 percent of the of the world’s species of amphibians, birds and mammals. As per FAO region wise proportion of the mountains is:  

  • Oceania is the region with the highest proportion of green mountain cover, at more than 95 percent.
  • Sub-Saharan Africa has a mountain cover of 92 percent
  • followed by Eastern and Southern Asia at 85 percent and Latin America and the Caribbean at 81 percent.
  • Northern America and Europe and Central and Southern Asia have green mountain covers between 65 and 67 percent.
  • Western Asia and Northern Africa has the lowest cover, at approximately 55 percent.


  • The data on mountain green cover index is taken from Our World in Data website. The visualization on mountain protected areas is taken from Our World in Data website. The mountain green cover index and Protected areas data is further analysed for visualization.
  • Based on the given data colour codes were assigned to regions to identify where mountains are more vulnerable.
  • In the table, to denote low green cover regions red colour has been used.
  • For moderate and high green cover regions yellow and green colour have been used respectively.
  • Also, the statistical data of indicators is based on UN SDG Report, 2021 Statistical Annex 

From the table, it can be observed that regions like Norther Africa, South America and Western Asia have low green cover with less than 50 % green cover. On the contrary, the developed regions of the world like Europe, Oceania and tribal region like eastern Asia, Caribbean have above 90% green cove index.

Reasons for low green cover in mountains in the concerned regions

As we can see from the table, green cover on mountains is alarming in regions like Norther Africa, South America and Western Asia, making mountain ecosystems especially in these regions vulnerable to climate change. Some obvious reasons behind this are as follows:

  • Intensive land use ­- This rich biodiversity in the mountains is a basic source for future food, agro -diversity, medicine and tourism development. that is why mountain land is intensively used. For example, African mountains have intensive land-use with more than 33 persons per km2 – and as high as 500 people per km2 in some areas, mountains are significantly contributing to regional food security.
  • Mining activity in mountains ­- Africa Policy Brief  stated that a related concern is the spectre of downgrading and downsizing, of protected areas to allow mining prospecting and development. On an average mining companies extract ores for an average of 30 years and when the coal deposits are depleted, companies simply move on to the next location. Therefore, leave environmental degradation. Let’s take the example of, the Mount Nimba Biosphere Reserve, a World Heritage Site, was downsized by 1,550 ha to allow for iron-ore prospecting.
  • Industrial activity in protected area – The expansion of roads and railways driven in part by extractive industries remains one of the biggest threats to natural habitats and wildlife populations. Because it will increase access to some of the world’s most biodiverse ecosystems, including the eastern Congo rainforests, the miombo and guinea woodlands, and the rift valley savannas and mountains. Reason is that mines are available only in deep forests. Let’s take an example like in Gabon the Belinga iron-ore deposit sits deep within the Congo rainforest, and will require the construction of a 240-km railway line.
  • Tourism development and mountains – Winter and summer tourism and recreation activities can have negative environmental impacts, such as trampling of vegetation, introduction and spread of weeds, littering, and nutrient enrichment of soils and water.
    • According to a survey conducted by of Australian alps by Australian alps liaison committee (AALC), the report said that ski resorts are an intensive form of tourism development in mountain areas resulting (in an Australian setting) in clearing; road construction; slope grooming; provision of utility services (water, sewage treatment, power supplies); accommodation services; and other tourism infrastructure, such as golf courses, tennis courts, swimming pools, and other facilities.
    • Such development often leads to large, unavoidable environmental impacts.

Impact of Low Green Cover on Mountain Biodiversity Worldwide

  • Impact on biodiversity in Africa mountains – Human intervention in mountains is threatening the survival of endemic species. For example, the Fynbos Biome in South Africa is home to 6,200 endemic plant species Ethiopian highlands have centres of high endemism as well.

As per research conducted by Science Advances in which they, conducted a continental-scale preliminary conservation assessment of 22,036 vascular plant species in tropical Africa using a novel approach aligned with IUCN Red List criteria. The results underline the high level of extinction risk of the tropical African flora.

Thirty-three percent of the species are potentially threatened with extinction, and another third of species are likely rare, potentially becoming threatened in the near future. Four regions are highlighted with a high proportion (>40%) of potentially threatened species: Ethiopia, West Africa, central Tanzania, and southern Democratic Republic of the Congo.

  • Industrial activity impact on biodiversity – More than a quarter of 4,151 recorded mineral occurrences are concentrated in three regions of biological endemism the Cameroon-Gabon Lowlands, Eastern DRC Lowlands, and Albertine Rift Mountains and that most of these sites are currently unprotected.

An analysis of the distribution of 4,151 mineral occurrences (Hammerbeck et al. 2008), spanning 21 commodity types (excluding coal), relative to centres of bird endemism (restricted-range species; Birdlife International 2005) and existing protected areas (IUCN & UNEP 2010)

A specific example is in the Manu National Park in Peru. Manu, although technically protected as a national park and as a reserve for indigenous Nahua and Kirineri communities, is now under planned natural gas exploration by oil and gas corporation Plus petrol. If these explorations are allowed to continue, the wildlife and the communities on which it survives, will be devastated warns The Society for Conservation Biology & Panorama

Solutions/ targets Introduced to Conserve Mountain Biodiversity – The mountain partnership has launched a global initiative in order to progress Sustainable Development Goals 15 of the 2030 Agenda and to achieve the global target of restoration of 15 % of degraded mountains by 2030. Under this initiative target have been introduced some to be fulfilled by 2030 and some by 2025 to contribute to sustainability of mountain ecosystem and meet the SDG goal. These targets are as follows:

  • By 2030 Governments should review and update their development policies with the aim to integrate appropriate strategies for sustainable mountain development and mountain ecosystem conservation.
  • By 2025 to report on a regular basis on the achievement of the above commitments and develop a methodology to analyse and monitor their long-term social, economic and environmental impacts at global, regional and national level.
  • Take stock, by 2025, of the impact and the results achieved, by providing recommendations to its members.

These targets apply to entire world. Apart from these some targets have also been framed for definite regions where mountains are vulnerable.

Suggested Measures to Conserve Mountain Biodiversity

  • Adoption of the indigenous methods of crop produce from Mountain women who are the custodians of genetic resources for food security.
  • Widespread awareness among the tribes regarding the importance of protecting forest resources through awareness campaigns.
  • Adoption green economy by collective decisions among countries for sustainable development.
  • Carrying out recreational activities at moderate level by empowering eco-tourism.
  • Keeping a check on infrastructural activities on mountains like dam construction and mining activities.

At last, we need to fasten the speed of balancing our needs with mountain resources individually. To make this sustainable development goal a reality lets come together now to respect the ‘earths water towers’ the mountains and its vibrant species so that we can give our next generation the gift of a healthy planet.


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