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Climate Change Threatening Mountain Ecosystems

Climate change threatening mountain ecosystems - UN

Global warming is harming mountain ecosystems as melting glaciers increase the frequency of flooding and raise the spectre of conflict, the United Nations Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) warned today on 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.

Mountain areas are especially susceptible to global warming, resulting from rising concentrations of greenhouse gases - generated by human activity - in the atmosphere.

In Bhutan, glaciers are retreating at a rate of 20 to 30 meters annually which has caused flooding downstream leading to loss of life, crops and pasture lands.

The health of livestock and people alike is impeded by higher temperatures. While a warmer climate could mean extinction for some wild animals due to their disappearing climates, humans are threatened as malaria will move to higher altitudes as is already happening in East Africa and the Andes, FAO said.

Meanwhile, a new UN-backed report launched at the world body's Climate Change Conference in Bali, Indonesia, showcases the efforts of one dozen cities worldwide to promote sustainable urban development and curb climate change.

The new study, entitled "Liveable Cities: The Benefits of Urban Environmental Planning," was published by the UN Environment Programme (UNEP), Cities Alliance and ICLEI-Local Governments for Sustainability.

"A modern city can only be truly successful if it can convincingly demonstrate its green credentials by recognizing its natural assets, creating efficient water, energy and transport infrastructure, and protecting its citizens in the face of present and future impacts of climate change," said UNEP Executive Director Achim Steiner from Bali.

Cities' efforts highlighted in the report range from one in Bayamo, Cuba, to utilize horse-drawn carriages in a bid to solve the public transportation shortage, to another in Taiyuan, China, where an emissions trading scheme has been introduced to help reduce the sulphur dioxide concentration in the air.

Clearing, draining and setting fire to peatlands - wetlands storing 10 times more carbon per hectare than other ecosystems - emits over 3 billion tons of carbon dioxide into the atmosphere annually, another UNEP-backed study noted today.

That amount is roughly 10 per cent of yearly global emissions from fossil fuels.

"Just like a global phase-out of old, energy guzzling light bulbs or a switch to hybrid cars, protecting and restoring peatlands is perhaps another key 'low-hanging fruit' and among the most cost-effective options for climate change mitigation," Mr. Steiner said.

Peatlands occur in 180 countries, covering 400 million hectares or 3 per cent of the world's surface.

The "Assessment on Peatlands, Biodiversity and Climate Change" - produced by UNEP and the Convention on Biological Diversity together with the Global Environment Facility (GEF), the Global Environment Centre (GEC) and Wetlands International - called for urgent measures to protect and restore peatlands.


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