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Mountains: the water towers of the world

Climate change poses a serious threat to mountains’ ability to provide freshwater and other important ecosystem goods and services for millions of people downstream. On a global scale, glaciers continue to shrink due to climate change.

UNEP, through its Vienna Office in collaboration with the Climate Change Adaptation and Terrestrial Ecosystems Branch of DEPI, has joined forces with the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) hosted in Vienna, who currently implements the multi-year project “Assessing the Impact of Climate Change and its Effects on Soil and Water Resources on Polar and Mountainous Regions”.

The IAEA through its technical cooperation (TC) programme is supporting member states to learn to use nuclear techniques to measure the impacts of climate change. For example, natural tracers – stable or radioactive isotopes – can be used to assess the impact of climate change on communities and the environment around the world, thus providing valuable information to policy makers responsible for the development of climate change mitigation and adaptation strategies.

A first coordination meeting of the IAEA project was held on 2- 6 June in Vienna to discuss the further implementation of the project, including which research needs to be carried out in benchmark sights ranging inter alia from Antarctica to the Andes, from Svalbard to Central Asia, from Caucasus to the Alps. The meeting brought together about 50 people representing a number of different research institutions from all over the world and UN organizations including FAO/IAEA, UNEP and UNU to discuss the actions necessary to identify the impact of climate change on fragile polar and mountainous ecosystems. UNEP and its collaborating centre GRID Arendal (serving as the polar centre of UNEP) will work closely with IAEA on the science-policy interface and communication level, mainstreaming the results into other relevant activities and initiatives, in particular of UNEP’ s mountain portfolio such as the inter-regional project “Climate change action in developing countries with fragile mountainous ecosystems from a sub-regional perspective”, funded by Austria.

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