Although they are not always specifically referred to in strategies, Mediterranean mountains are an essential part of the regional conservation priorities for most national and international conservation organizations dealing with terrestrial ecosystems in the region. This becomes especially evident when considering that:

  • Most Mediterranean biodiversity hotspots are concentrated in mountain areas.
  • Mediterranean mountain biodiversity is highly linked to traditional cultural management systems of mountain resources.
  • Mediterranean mountains provide basic goods and services for the regional human population as a whole, with a critical role in scarce resources, like water supply.
  • Mediterranean mountains are amongst the most vulnerable areas to climate change in the world. 

Mountains play a key role in the water cycle, influencing climate and precipitation regimes, and modulating the runoff regime. Mountain vegetation and soils store rainfall water and regulate the gradual flow of water and sediments downstream, which fertilises lowland plains, replaces coastal sediments, and recharges groundwater aquifers in lowland areas where the demand from population centres, agriculture and industry is high. Healthy mountain systems are therefore not only vital for their inhabitants - humans and wildlife - but also for the prevention and mitigation of risks from natural hazards, such as landslides and avalanches, for the maintenance of ecological processes, and for the provision of goods and services to lowland users.

This outstanding ecological diversity in mountain areas is also reflected in the high cultural diversity and varied land-use practices, resulting from a long adaptation to the specific environmental conditions and resources. For this reason, mountains are also rich reservoirs of traditional knowledge, and cultural and spiritual values.

International Agreements

Conservation and sustainable development in mountain chains became a high priority since 2002, the International Year of Mountains, when several governments, international organizations, scientific and research institutions and NGOs significantly raised awareness on the importance of mountains to life and the need to improve mountain environments and the livelihoods of mountain people. Since then, mountains have been gaining an increasingly high profile on agendas at the national, regional and international levels. National committees have been set up and important international mountain cooperation frameworks have been strengthened. The Mountain Partnership was launched at the World Summit on Sustainable Development (Johannesburg, South Africa, September 2002), and a number of large-scale mountain conventions and initiatives have followed since.

The 2004 IUCN World Conservation Congress (Bangkok, Thailand) considered the outstanding biodiversity and cultural values of Mediterranean mountains, and the unique role that these systems play in ensuring the maintenance of vital resources and services to the societies and economies bordering the Mediterranean basin. The IUCN resolution 3.039  “The Mediterranean Mountain Partnership”, approved in Bangkok, called on national, regional and local institutions to promote national and - where appropriate - trans-national plans of action, for each of the major mountain ranges of the Mediterranean basin for the conservation and improved status of their richness in biological, landscape and cultural diversity.

IUCN-Med aims to play a central role in defining a Mountains' Agenda with information distribution channels and cross-cutting cooperation networks to ensure that information reaches land managers. For this IUCN is working with partners to identify pilot areas where long-term adaptation policies can be carried out, and to evaluate and monitor adaptive management measures in conjunction with managers and scientists. This work takes account of the biophysical aspects of climate change and the socio-cultural variables of the use of the land and its associated resources, including farming practices and forest ecosystem and soil restoration activities in specific areas, which necessarily involves local people with the ultimate aim of helping reduce poverty.