On December 11th, 2019, the Utah International Mountain Forum, a coalition of student clubs at Utah Valley University (UVU) was invited for the second time to contribute to the observation of the International Mountain Day (IMD) at the United Nations headquarters and promote sustainable mountain development (SMD) agenda of the United Nations. The event was hosted by the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations (FAO-UN), Mountain Partnership, and the Group of Friends of Mountainous Countries, headed by the Permanent Mission of the Kyrgyz Republic to the UN. The event was attended by diplomats, representing over 20 members of the Group of Friends of Mountainous countries. This year’s theme of IMD was titled “Mountains Matter for Youth,” and UIMF was the only student group invited to the event. This was also the first time when UIMF represented the United Nations Association of the United States of America (UNA-USA), as recently established chapter of that prominent NGO on my campus. UNA-USA is one of the oldest and prominent NGOs in the United States which promotes values of the UN nationwide.
The event was moderated by Ms. Carla Mucavi, the director of the FAO liaison office in New York, who reminded everyone in attendance of the importance of mountains and those who call them home. Mountains are home to over 1 billion people and provide food, water, and resources to billions more. Despite their importance globally, mountains are often left out of global discussions on climate change. Her Excellency Mrs. Mirgul Moldoisaeva, Permanent Representative (PR) of the Kyrgyz Republic to the United Nations, also reiterated the importance of mountains globally and to her home country while also informing those attending of her country’s initiatives to promote youth engagement in the SMD agenda.
The first part of the event featured a panel of PRs of different mountain nations accredited to the UN as keynote presenters. PR of Norway to the UN Ms. Mona Juul, PR of Canada to the UN Mr. Marc-Andre Blanchard, PR of Andorra to the UN Mrs. Elisenda Vives Balmana, PR of Bhutan to the UN Mrs. Doma Tsering, PR of Nepal to the UN Mr. Amrit Bahadur Rai, PR of Greece to the UN Mrs. Maria Theofili, Deputy PR of Austria to the UN Mr. Hans-Joachim Almoslechner, and Deputy PR of Italy to the UN Mr. Stefano Stefanile spoke on what their country do to empower youth in mountainous regions. Most notably, Austria is including special dialogues in their youth parliament about sustaining and preserving alpine culture, Canada’s youth board is additionally holding special discussions on supporting unemployed youth within the mountainous regions of Canada, Andorra has integrated the SDGs into their school curriculum, Bhutan has plans to cut youth unemployment by half in their country in 2023, and Greece is in the process of developing a specific and coordinated policy to support youth in rural mountain villages.
During the second part of the event Assistant Secretary General of the UN, Head of the United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP) New York Office, Satya Tripathi spoke on the importance of mountains and the dire need to protect them. He reminded attendees that mountains sustain half of the world’s population through their resources, and unfortunately, are the first indicators of climate change. He remarked that the international community has not acted in 10 years, and we need to scale up the international solutions.
During my presentation, I spoke about successes UIMF has had since its establishment in 2011 in implementing the SMD agenda in the state of Utah and globally through the inclusive student engaged learning (SEL). SEL, an educational philosophy employed by my university, allows students to gain practical skills through real-world experiences as a group when faculty serve them as mentors.
I spoke how from 2013 to 2015, through this model, students advocated for the adoption of mountain targets at sessions of the UN Open Working Groups on Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs); the fourth International Women of the Mountains conference on October 7-9, 2015. I reminded the audience that UIMF members have advocated for the implementation of mountain targets at forums of the UN ECOSOC on sustainable development such as the 52nd session of the Commission on Social Development; the 62nd session of the Commission on the Status of Women (CSW62) and CSW63; and the 2018 High-Level Political Forum on Sustainable Development. I also highlighted how students were able to include language about mountain communities for the first time in the final document of the 68th UN Civil Society Conference, held in Salt Lake City, Utah on August 26-28, 2019. The Preamble of the Conference’s Outcome Document stated the need to address the specific conditions of mountainous areas and small island developing states. At the conference, UIMF also hosted a workshop and an exhibition about the student engaged learning model to advocate for mountain women and targets at the United Nations.
Our next priority is to advocate for mountain women and girls at the CSW64 this march, which will assess the implementation of the Beijing Declaration and Platform for Action. The Declaration and Platform does not specifically mention mountain women and girls. However, it includes actions critical to empower such vulnerable groups, in particular through education. Our delegation will be comprised of students from UVU, Brigham Young University, and Utah State University. It will also provide them an opportunity to conduct the advocacy campaign jointly with mountainous nations accredited to the United Nations. We hope to both learn and share experiences in mountain targets implementation with the newly created Group of Friends of Mountainous Countries.
I remarked that UIMF has already achieved the following:
- Through the Russian Academy of Natural Sciences and Utah China F.I.S.H.D.C, NGOs accredited with ECOSOC and Mountain Partnership members, requested in written statement to include mountain women and girls in the final document of CSW 64.
- A parallel event scheduled at CSW 64 on March 19, 2020 about mountain women and girls advocacy through the student engaged learning and a similar request about them to be included in the final document of CSW 64.
- Plans to make an oral statement and intervention from the floor during CSW64.
I also urged the members of the Group of Friends of Mountainous Countries to include:
- In the draft of the CSW64 final document a language about bringing mountain women and girls in the focus of 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development;
- In national review reports about their actions about empowering mountain families and women.
- Members of UVU delegation to their side event, if they are hosting the one during the second week of the CSW64;
After my presentation, Dr. Orlove of Columbia University spoke about his research in compiling data on the effects of climate change in mountainous regions. He reiterated the importance of taking action to protect these unique ecosystems. Overall, it was an important event raising an awareness about challenges experienced by mountain communities worldwide, and I am grateful for the chance to have participated. I would like to also thank the UVU College of Humanities and Social Sciences, and the History and Political Science Department, for co-sponsoring this trip on such short notice as well as other initiatives of UIMF to advocate SMD since 2011.
Samuel Elzinga, President, UIMF
MEDIA ABOUT UIMF AT IMD