Mountainous regions – sustainable development and adapting to climate change

People on a mountain in the Vilcanota range, Peru.
The SDC supports mountainous regions. In Peru it is helping upland populations cope with climate change. © FOEN

Mountains are home to one-fifth of the world’s population and the source of fresh water for half of all humanity. Mountainous regions are especially vulnerable to the impact of climate change. Switzerland is committed to the sustainable development of mountainous regions with an eye on climate change. To this end, the SDC works closely with Swiss and international partners.

The SDC's focus

As a mountainous country, Switzerland has a great deal of experience in harnessing the potential of its mountainous regions and in facing the challenges of sustainable (mountain) development. The SDC’s focus in this area is three-pronged:

  • Supporting initiatives and projects that promote sustainable mountain development with the aim of improving the living conditions of mountain communities and strengthening resilience against climate change.
  • Enhancing support for mountainous regions as vulnerable ecosystems that are essential to human needs and incorporating this support in global processes such as the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development.
  • Fostering knowledge generation, dialogue and sharing of information and experience between stakeholders at all levels.

In Nepal, for example, Switzerland has been helping better the living conditions of impoverished highland populations for over 50 years by supporting and improving infrastructure. Some 500 kilometres of roads and over 5,000 suspension bridges have been upgraded or built with Swiss support.

In Peru the SDC is engaged in a project to reduce the vulnerability of the Andean population to the impacts of climate change. The people here mainly subsist on small-scale agriculture, which is especially hard-hit by the effects of climate change. The SDC supports effective adaptation mechanisms to mitigate the negative impacts of climate change on the local population.

Through its global mountain programme, the SDC supports major regional mountain centres in different parts of the world, particularly the Andes, Africa, the Caucasus Mountains and the Hindu Kush Himalayan region. These regional knowledge centres contribute to the political dialogue on development of mountainous areas. Available knowledge is applied at these centres to develop concrete sustainable mountain development policies. At the same time, the SDC helps these centres to make this regional knowledge available to global networks so that other mountainous regions can benefit from it quickly and at little expense.

Background

Mountains are home to one-fifth of the world’s population and the source of fresh water for half of all people. Sustainable mountain development means making sensible use of mountain ecosystems for the present generation while preserving them for future generations.

Mountains were recognised as vulnerable ecosystems of global importance as early as the 1992 UN Conference on Environment and Development in Rio. The importance of mountains was reaffirmed at the UN Rio+20 conference in 2012. The protection of mountainous regions is also enshrined in the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development.

Mountain ecosystems are extremely diverse. They are also highly sensitive to climate change, natural disasters, industrial exploitation, migration (especially upland-lowland migration) and mass tourism. These phenomena often threaten entire mountain regions, putting the livelihoods of many people at risk. Most affected are highland populations that rely directly on local water, soil, flora and fauna. But people at lower elevations also benefit from healthy ecosystems in the mountains: for example, the water supply of roughly half of the world’s population depends on water resources from mountainous regions.

The retreat of glaciers due to climate change will exacerbate water scarcity in the medium and long term. The SDC sustains various scientific projects in the Andes, the Himalayas and in Central Asia studying glacier shrinkage and its consequences in key partner regions. Switzerland too is seriously affected by the retreat of glaciers and is therefore able to share where needed its experience in observing glaciers and their influence on water supply. By training glaciologists in partner countries it is spreading this knowledge and helping these countries to adapt to climate change. Switzerland has an important contribution to make to the scientific dialogue on climate change and is successful in putting forward its position in the international political dialogue.

Facts and figures

  • Mountainous regions make up 24% of the Earth's surface and are home to 12% of the world's population in 120 countries. 
  • 281 or a third of all UNESCO Cultural World Heritage Sites are situated entirely or partially in mountainous zones. These include the ruins of the 15th century Inca city, Machu Picchu. 
  • 15–20% of worldwide tourism takes place in mountainous regions, with an annual turnover of USD 70–90 billion.
  • Threatened ecosystems: Mountain ranges are a source of life for around a third of all plant species. Across the globe they are home to half of the most important zones for biodiversity. 
  • Diversity of species: Six of the 20 plant species that provide 80% of the world’s staple foods originate in mountainous regions. The potato was first domesticated in the Andes; some 200 local varieties are cultivated there. Thousands of varieties of quinoa are also produced there. The cultivation of maize began in the Sierra Madre ranges in Mexico and millet was first grown on the high plateau of Ethiopia. Farmers in the mountains of Nepal cultivate some 2,000 varieties of rice. 
  • The retreat of glaciers: In the Cordillera Blanca in the Peruvian Andes, 755 glaciers stretch across 528 km2. Since the first national glacier inventory was compiled in the 1970s, this area has shrunk by around 27%. 
  • Mountain cities: People in mountainous regions do not necessarily live in remote areas but also in large towns or capital cities. Kathmandu (Nepal) has some 3.4 million inhabitants, Quito (Ecuador) 2.7 million. La Paz (Bolivia) at 3,640 metres above sea level, with its population of circa 900,000, is the highest capital city in the world. 
  • Glacier shrinkage in Switzerland: Over the past 10 years, a fifth of Switzerland’s remaining glacial ice has disappeared. For the 1,500 or so Swiss glaciers, a total loss of some 1,400 million cubic metres of ice has been estimated for the hydrological year 2017/18. This means that the currently existing glacier volume declined by more than 2.5% in 2018.

Documents

Current projects

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Promoting efficient, affordable and clean cooling for everyone (PEACCE)

01.08.2024 - 31.07.2028

The Promoting Efficient, Affordable and Clean Cooling for Everyone (PEACCE) project contributes to mobilising global support and political will for scaling up sustainable cooling solutions in sub-Saharan Africa by supporting the Sustainable Cooling programme of the Sustainable Energy for All organisation. With its support, Switzerland aims to leverage its experience in passive cooling and nature-based cooling solutions both within sub-Saharan Africa and globally.


Responsible Business Fund Plus (RBF+)

01.07.2024 - 30.06.2028

Myanmar’s post-coup conflict escalation and economic turmoil has led to financial and economic instability and destabilised the agrifood industry. Also, extreme weather and climate change further impact farmers and agricultural processors. The Responsible Business Fund Plus project aims to support agrifood businesses while reducing their environmental impact and thus deepening Switzerland's commitment to private sector engagement and an inclusive green economy.


Climate Services for a Resilient Albania (ALBAdapt)

01.06.2024 - 31.12.2030

The project will increase Albania’s adaptive capacity and climate resilience through the effective generation and use of climate information and services. It will develop an innovative Multi Hazard Impact Based Early Warning System in line with international standards. The MeteoSwiss expertise will be of added value in leveraging the Green Climate Fund engagement and complementing the SECO contribution to this large strategic project.


Building Damage Assessment in Albania

01.04.2024 - 31.12.2027

The devastating earthquake in 2019 revealed that Albania has a weak policy and institutional framework and low public awareness on building damage assessment. The Swiss project will support Albania in strengthening its disaster risk management institutions at national and municipal level to provide sustainable and effective building damage assessment services, leading to safer living conditions and a more disaster resilient business environment.


8th Global Platform for Disaster Risk Reduction, Geneva, June 2025

01.03.2024 - 31.12.2025

The Global Platform for Disaster Risk Reduction is the most important international conference to discuss progress in the implementation of the Sendai Framework for DRR. The eighth session of the Global Platform will be hosted by Switzerland in Geneva in June 2025. It will review advances in the realisation of the calls to action made in 2023 by the United Nations General Assembly on the midterm review of the Sendai Framework and will be key for the identification and support of measures to accelerate DRR implementation and improve coherence with the Agenda 2030 and the Paris Agreement.


Addressing Climate and El Niño-related Risks in Southeast Asia

01.02.2024 - 31.07.2025

Through an innovative partnership with the Asian Disaster Preparedness Centre (ADPC) and Geoneon, the SDC will support the creation of high-quality geospatial data products to support riskinformed and climate-smart decision-making in development cooperation and DRM in priority subnational areas in Lao PDR and Indonesia, contributing to and complementing efforts under the SERVIR Southeast Asia project implemented by ADPC and supported by USAID and NASA.


Climate & Socially Resilient Livelihoods’ Support (CSRLS)

01.02.2024 - 30.04.2028

The climatic challenges exacerbate Afghanistan's already fragile socio-economic condition. The project by the Afghan NGO, The Liaison Office, aims to sustainably improve lives and livelihoods of the poorest households in selected provinces by strengthening the natural resource base, climate change resilient and diversified livelihoods, relationships within and between communities, as well as joint climate action.


Green Climate Fund Core Contribution 2024-2027

01.01.2024 - 31.12.2027

Designed as an operating entity of the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC)’s financial mechanism, the Green Climate Fund (GCF) is the largest multilateral climate fund financing exclusively climate mitigation and adaptation projects in developing countries. Switzerland advocates in the GCF governing board for high impact climate projects with maximum development cobenefits, social inclusion and conflict-sensitivity.  


EmPower II: Women for Climate Resilient Societies

01.12.2023 - 31.12.2025

With EmPower II, SDC contributes to a SIDA-funded project of UN-Women and UNEP promoting  climate-resilient development for women and other marginalized groups. SDC’s support enables disaggregated data products for gender-responsive DRR and climate strategies and enhances capacities on the subnational level among policy-makers and CSOs. SDC’s support also facilitates financial access and literacy on renewable energy in Cambodia, Bangladesh and Indonesia.


IND: BeCool single phase

01.12.2023 - 30.11.2028

BeCool aims to improve access to cooling through passive measures in buildings in urban India to reduce the impact of heatwaves on human health and productivity, while decreasing energy requirements, costs and greenhouse gas emissions linked to active cooling. The mitigation and adaptation aspects will be addressed through heat mapping, availability of financing mechanisms and capacity building to strengthen implementation in collaboration with the government and private sector.


GLO: Adaptation to CC in mountains

01.12.2023 - 31.01.2028

Mountain societies and ecosystems are particularly vulnerable to climate change and targeted adaptation measures are needed to increase their resilience. Building on SDC’s extensive expertise and experience as a leading player in the field, the programme will inform decision makers and practitioners about climate change impacts and adaptation solutions in mountains and support concerted cross-border collaboration in major mountain regions worldwide to advance adaptation policy, planning and implementation. 


Contr. UNECE Water Protection Single Ph.

01.12.2023 - 31.12.2026

The project will strengthen Uzbekistan in water and sanitation with a focus on protection of water resources. This contribution is designed in the frame of the UNECE led and implemented Assistance and Cooperation Program and shall support Uzbekistan’s accession to and implementation of the Protocol on Water and Health and the Industrial Accidents Convention as part of protecting human health, well-being and the environment through improving water management, the protection of water eco-systems, and reducing water-related diseases.

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