This photo essay is part of a series on the planet’s major ecosystems, a topic that will be discussed at the Global Landscapes Forum New York on 28 September.
Mountain environments cover 27 percent of the Earth’s land surface and are found in 53 countries across every continent. About 1 billion people live in mountain areas globally, making them key centers of biological and cultural diversity and home to a wide variety of languages, ethnic groups, religions and belief systems.
However, mountain dwellers are disproportionately likely to live in poverty, and in developing countries, about one in three mountain people is at risk of food insecurity.
Mountains provide 60 to 80 percent of our planet’s freshwater. In effect, they’re the water towers of the world. But mountain ecosystems are extremely fragile and under threat from climate change, land degradation and natural disasters.
Mountain areas are also increasingly important for recreation and tourism, making up 15 to 20 percent of global tourism. Particularly in mountainous developing countries, tourism is an important source of growth and employment but also poses risks for surrounding ecosystems.
Climate change has caused glaciers to melt, resulting in devastating landslides, flooding, and loss of vegetation and soils. Inappropriate agricultural and forestry practices and extractive industries also pose a major threat to many mountain environments.
Read the rest of our ‘fast facts’ series on ecosystems below.