By Faranak Bakhtiari

Let’s treasure natural jewels

December 10, 2021 - 17:18

TEHRAN – Mountains are home to 15 percent of the world´s population and host about half of the world's biodiversity hotspots. So, we should value these natural jewels.

Mountains provide freshwater for everyday life to half of humanity. Their conservation is a key factor for sustainable development and is part of Goal 15 of the sustainable development goals (SDGs).

Unfortunately, mountains are under threat from climate change and overexploitation. As the global climate continues to warm, mountain people — some of the world’s poorest — face even greater struggles to survive. The rising temperatures also mean that mountain glaciers are melting at unprecedented rates, affecting freshwater supplies downstream for millions of people.

This problem affects us all, and requires a reduction of carbon footprint and taking care of these natural treasures.

The increasing attention to the importance of mountains led the UN to declare 2002 the UN International Year of Mountains. The first international day was celebrated for the first time the following year, 2003.

Its roots date back to 1992 when the document “Managing Fragile Ecosystems: Sustainable Mountain Development” (called Chapter 13), was adopted as part of the action plan Agenda 21 of the Conference on Environment and Development.

The theme of this year's International Mountain Day (IMD) on December 11, will be sustainable mountain tourism.

Sustainable tourism in mountains can contribute to creating additional and alternative livelihood options and promoting poverty alleviation, social inclusion, as well as landscape and biodiversity conservation. It is a way to preserve the natural, cultural and spiritual heritage, promote local crafts and high-value products, and celebrate many traditional practices such as local festivals.

Mountain tourism attracts around 15 to 20 percent of global tourism. Tourism, however, is one of the sectors most affected by the Covid-19 pandemic, affecting economies, livelihoods, public services, and opportunities on all continents. In mountains, the restrictions of the pandemic have further compounded the vulnerabilities of mountain communities.

This crisis can be seen as an opportunity to rethink mountain tourism and its impact on natural resources and livelihoods, to manage it better, and harness it towards a more resilient, green, and inclusive future.

Unique global heritage

Referring to the rich biodiversity and unique characteristic of mountains in the world, the ‘mountain biodiversity and global change’ report published by FAO in 2010, calls Iran a great place to see plants you have never seen before; according to which, more than 100 mountain peaks can be found in Iran, some in the Zagros and Alborz mountains which reach altitudes of more than 4000 m.

The upper limit of vascular plants is 4800 m, the highest point where a plant has been found in Iran. A first evaluation of the vascular flora shows that 682 species belonging to 193 genera and 39 families are known from the alpine zone. This zone is characterized by many species of hemicryptophytes and thorny cushions; species numbers decline strongly as altitude increases. The mountain flora of Iran is exceptional.

The Iranian mountains are situated between Anatolia/Caucasus and the Hindu Kush; their flora contains elements from both regions. However, more than 50 percent of these species are endemic to Iran (they occur nowhere else), and some are remarkable relic species, primarily local endemics with a narrow ecological range. These plants need strong conservation and protection management, not only because they are rare but because the ecosystems where they live are fragile, often very restricted, small and isolated in high elevation areas.

These plants adapted to the cold are particularly vulnerable to the impacts of climate change, and intensive grazing over large parts of Iran’s mountains is expected to exert additional pressure on them. Many of these plants are potentially endangered and vulnerable species, and their threatened status should be assessed according to the International Union for the Conservation of Nature (IUCN) criteria.

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