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Episode 3.3: What are the United Nations (UN) Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) and why are mountain landscapes integral to achieving these goals?


Annie Webb


Jul 5, 2021


Jul 5, 2021


What are the United Nations (UN) Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) and why are mountain landscapes integral to achieving these goals? In 2015 the UN adopted 17 SDGs for all member countries to achieve by 2030. These goals are focused on promoting peace, prosperity and halting unsustainable development, and consider all aspects of sustainability, from people, nature and the environment to climate, culture, equality and poverty. Each SDG has a number of targets and indicators to measure progress. The achievement of the SDGs depends on the implementation of practical localized action that truly focuses on the betterment of humans, the environment and the economy from a rights-based perspective.

But how does this impact mountains? On this podcast episode, Dr. Pamela Shaw, Courtney Vageouis, and Jenica Ng-Cornish, three researchers working with the Mount Arrowsmith Biosphere Region Research Institute (MABRRI), discuss the UN SGDs and why preserving mountain landscapes is vital to achieving these goals. They also tackle the implementation of the SDGs and why they matter to Canadian mountain ecosystems, and what kind of work is ongoing to achieve these goals.

Mountains cover 26.5% of land on Earth and 24% of Canada’s land mass. Yet mountain landscapes have limited representation in the 17 SDGs, with mountains mentioned in only two of these goals. Mountains are thought of as the ‘water towers of the world’ supplying almost half the world’s population in freshwater. Mountains are especially vulnerable to the climate crisis, which threatens the biodiversity, communities and livelihoods that are dependent on them. 

Mountains also supply resources like timber, minerals, tourism, recreation but also provide spiritual values to local communities. Many are Indigenous mountain communities that have maintained deep complex relationships with the land for millennia. All these aspects have their own place in the SDGs.

As mountains are critical systems for supporting sustainability, the Canadian Mountain Network (CMN) emphasizes how important mountain regions are to reaching the SDG targets. CMN is a collection of federally funded projects addressing the sustainability, health and resilience of mountain peoples and places. CMN integrates local and Indigenous knowledge into its research, which promotes inclusiveness and increased benefit to the wider landscape and moves us closer to wholistic ideals of conservation and sustainable development.

Dr Shaw’s CMN project, The View from 2117: Human Actions, Consequences, and Perspectives on Mountain Regions, focuses on the interconnectedness of people, economies, cultures, and environments, and takes a long-term approach to addressing the needs of First Nations, communities, and ecosystems within the Mount Arrowsmith Biosphere Region. The goal of this research is to have an impact on policy, procedural, best practice, and regulatory environments that shape human actions in fragile ecosystems.

Listen to the podcast here

Learn more about mountains and the SDGs

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