Were mountains the big absent at COP28? 

by | Dec 15, 2023 | MOVING

Author: Carla Lostrangio (AEIDL)

After two weeks of negotiations, on 13 December nearly 200 countries agreed on 43% emissions cut by 2030 Parties at the 28th United Nations Climate Change Conference (COP28) in Dubai. While different actors are still digesting the positive (and negative) drawbacks of the final agreements, this article reflects on the role and space given to mountains at the COP28.  

What is at stake?  

In March 2023, the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) published the 6th Assessment Report warning on the inadequacy of current climate action and scale. As stated in the report, global warming has so far reached 1.1 °C above 1850-1900 and the IPCC warned that it is the world’s last chance to secure a liveable future. Without no surprise, the COP28 was highly expected to raise global climate ambitions and highly welcomed by the European Commission.  

Held yearly, the Conference of the Parties (COP) brings together 198 Parties to determine the global climate ambition and duties, as well as to assess and identity needed climate measures to meet the goals of the Paris Agreement (2015) and the UN Framework Convention on Climate Change (1994).  

This year the COP28 rolled out under the contested Presidency of the United Arab Emirates (AUE), which, despite the claimed conflict of interests, managed to involve over 70,000 delegates and close this climate summit with an agreement on a 43% emissions cut by 2030 and a loss and damage funds for most climatically hit countries.  

The Global Stocktake report was presented for the first-time ever at the COP28 and fueled into highlights of 3 high-level events. This report’s results confirm the 6th IPCC assessment and underlines that global emissions are not aligned with global mitigation pathways. It also calls for further action to scale up climate action both by governmental actors within their National Determined Contributions and National Adaptation Plans- as well as from non-Party actors (e.g. business, CSOs).  

In addition, the Global Stocktake report commends for system change across crucial sectors – in particular industry, transport, building -, stronger international cooperation and a loss and damage mechanism to build resilience within the most vulnerability communities.  The Global Stocktake will be run every five years, and since 2024, countries will have to report on actions taken and progresses under the Enhanced Transparency Framework every two years.  

What positions were defended by the European institutions at the COP28?  

Ahead of the COP28, the Council adopted its conclusions on the EU preparation for COP28 (16 October 2023). In this document, the Council expressed deep concerns on the impacts of climate change, including on mountain areas, and the lack of serious commitments in the Nationally Determined Contributions (NDCs) to limit global warming within the 1.5 ºC limit. Furthermore, the Council called for phasing out fossil fuels and transitioning towards a climate-neutral economy, with a tripling of installed renewable energy capacity by 2030 and the setup of a new loss and damage mechanism for climate emergencies.   

Further, an European Climate Stocktake was carried out and delivered on 27 October in Brussels, and 10 key messages to feed the COP28 discussion were presented. Clean energy transition, international cooperation and concrete financial investments are particularly emphasized in the text as means to bridge the gap to the Paris Agreements’ level of ambition.   

From 30 November to 12 December, the EU’s positions were defended by Presidency of the Council and the European Commission, who are in charge of representing the Union in these climate summits. More than 90 side climate-related events were also hosted by the European institutions in Dubai and in Brussels, as publicised on a dedicated COP28-website.  

The final results of the COP28 summit were marked by the resident of the European Commission Von Der Leyen as a ‘success’. Similarly, several Member of the European Parliament (EP) celebrated its outputs during the EP’s plenary meeting in Strategy on 14 December.  

The EU’s ambition to be ‘a global leader in climate action’ is not a secret, and regularly repeated by its head representatives. These ambitions are rooted in the EU’s Green Deal and its following actions, including the binding EU’s Climate Law,  as well as the LULUCF regulation and the EU Emissions Trading Systems and the EU Adaptation Strategy.  

It is remarkable to underline that, since 1990, the European Union ‘cut its greenhouse gas emissions by 32.5% […] while growing its economy by over 60%’. Beyond criticisms of whether this has happened through real cuts or just deindustrializing its economy, it is unclear whether the expected European elections in June 2024 might curb EU’s climate action under the lead of realpolitik and anti-climate political groups.   

What was the role of mountains at COP28?  

Mountains cover 27% of the earth’s land area and host 15% of the world’s population. It is worth underlining that 90% of mountain people are living in developing countries (FAO, 2022). Mountains are crucial providers of several ecosystem services for both highland and lowland communities of undeniable relevance for human existence, such as water, food and biodiversity provision.  

Mountains are also seriously impacted by climate change. Snow cover, glaciers and permafrost are expected to decline (or even disappear in many regions). Weather extreme events, such as landslides, extreme forest fires and droughts, are altering vital cycles, compromising ecosystem functions and affecting the resilience of mountain communities. A recent MOVING report across 23 mountain regions in Europe shows that climate alteration is one of the top threat for mountains.  

In its 6th Assessment Report, the IPCC clearly states that a 1.5 ºC overshooting would bring irreversible adverse impacts on mountain ecosystems. The 2023 State of the Cryosphere Report warns most glaciers might be gone by 2050 even with the current climate conditions. In 2022, a full IPCC cross-chapter was even devoted on mountains.  

Given this, what importance was given to mountains in the framework of the COP28 and preparatory meetings?  

Whereas Carbon Brief’s article claims that mountains were given less attention than planned in the COP28 agenda, it should be recognised that a number of events targeted mountains. On 2 December 2023, the 16th Focal Point Forum shed light on knowledge gaps for mountain adaptation and proposed concrete steps for intervention in 2024 under the Nairobi Work Programme (NWP). On the International Mountain Day (11 December), the UN FAO Mountain Partnership organised the high-level event at the Agri-Food Pavillon of the COP28. Restoration of mountain ecosystems, the shift towards nature-positive solutions and investments targeting ecosystem and livelihood resilience to climatic events were at the core of this event, and the UN Global Framework of Actions for the Development of Mountains Regions (2023-2027) was presented. Other events were organised such on closing adaptation knowledge gaps, leveraging funds for mountain adaptation. Furthermore, the High-level Global Stocktake Committee referred to mountains in the high-level events summary to call on their potential to deliver adaptation through nature-based solutions, and the need to provide focused solutions.  

Mountains are also one of the key themes of the Glasgow–Sharm el-Sheikh work programme Global Goal on Adaptation (GGA). Created for the first time at the COP26 (2021), the GGA aims to enhance adaptative capacity and strengthen climate resilience. Mountains are one out of the key thematic areas of the GGA, and resilience building in such ecosystem was addressed by an ad-hoc workshop held from May 2022 until September 2023, ahead of the COP28.   

The AUE declaration on food acknowledged that a specific attention should be given to small farmers and rural communities, which certainly include many mountain territories. 


Mountains have not been the big absent to the COP28 in Dubai. Key events were organised to promote and trigger actions with an emphasis on mountain adaptation, with the contribution or participation of national governments and the UN FAO. It is however regretful to notice that most outcomes from AUE Declarations fail to acknowledge a ‘territorial’ factor’ to climate action. Going beyond global North/South logics, it is crucial to acknowledge the Global North counts several marginalized territories, such as remote rural areas and mountains. 

Overall, these territories often lack financial means of non-marginalised territories, as well as suffering from political inattention, declining human and social capital, and limited infrastructure. It is crucial that worldwide and European climate measures give the right importance to mountain ecosystems whose presence is key to providing a number of essential services and products, above all water, biomass and clean air.  

The technical and economic feasibility of climate adaptation is the biggest challenge, claim mountain actors in Europe. Capacity building, financial investments and economic measures should be adequately developed at both global and European levels.  

Existing initiatives and organisations, such as the FAO Mountain Partnership, Mountain Research Initiative, ICIMOD, NEMOR and Euromontana are putting efforts on accompanying mountain actors in this journey. Successful stories also come from some running projects such as MOVING, MountResilience and Adaptation@Altitude.