International Mountain Day Celebration at the United Nations

On Tuesday, December 11th, 2018 people around the world celebrated International Mountain Day (IMD). Established in 2002 by the United Nations, IMD serves to remind about successes, best practices, and challenges mountain communities and countries face around the world. Mountains make up one third of the earth’s surface, and over one half of the world’s population relies on water that originates in the mountains. Mountains communities have to play an integral part in the 2030 agenda on sustainable development, but, unfortunately, they are neglected on national and international levels.

Utah Valley University (UVU) celebrated IMD on December 5th, 2018 for the ninth time and is the only institution in North America to do so. The event was hosted by the Utah International Mountain Forum (UIMF), a coalition of student clubs at UVU. UIMF has actively supported the sustainable mountain development (SMD) agenda since 2011 and played a role in adopting three mountain targets during the establishment of the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs). IMD allowed for UIMF celebrate accomplishments of promoting the SMD agenda in 2018, most notably at three ECOSOC forums, and discuss plans in the following year, including making statement and hosting a parallel event at the 63rd session of the Commission on the Status of Women.

Samuel Elzinga, the president of Utah International Mountain Forum, and Andrew Jensen, the President of the Model UN Club, also contributed to the side event titled Tackling Climate Change and Building Resilience for Mountain and Rural Communities. The event took place at the UN headquarters on December 11, 2018. It was chaired by Ms. Carla Mucavi, Director of the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations (FAO-UN) Liaison Office in New York. For the opening address, Her Excellency Mrs. Mirgul Moldoisaeva, the Permanent Representative of the Kyrgyz Republic to the UN, remarked about IMD’s importance in Kyrgyzstan at the side event followed by His Excellency Mr. Jan Kickert, the Permanent Representative of Austria to the UN, emphasizing that Austria was committed to promoting the SMD agenda as well, citing the need to protect Austria’s mountains and glaciers in particular. Then Mr. Joan Lopez, Deputy Permanent Representative of Andorra to the UN said about Andorra’s continual commitment to the SMD agenda and his country’s emphasis on sustainability. Following opening remarks, Mr. Landry Rjba from the Ministry of environment of Andorra explained in greater detail Andorra’s policies regarding environmental sustainability and the need for Andorra to diversify economically to continue sustainable development.

After him, Dr. Benjamin Orlove, one of the four co-directors of the Center for Research on Environmental Decisions (CRED) at Columbia University, discussed the importance of water in the mountains and the cultural significance mountains hold in communities around the world. Following these presentations, Mr. Giorgio Grussu, Project Coordinator of the FAO- Mountain Partnership Secretariat presented on the Mountain Partnership’s efforts to highlight how mountains matter. Then Ms. Yoko Watanabe, Global Manager of GEF Small Grants Program for the UNDP, spoke on UNDP’s experience in promoting the livelihoods of mountain communities. After their presentations, Mr. Grusso and Ms. Watabe made an official announcement about a joint project between the two UN institutions relating to providing UNDP’s small grants program for the mountain communities.

(L to R) H.E. Louise Blais, Ms. Yoko Watanabe, Andrew Jensen, and Samuel Elzinga during the side event.


Samuel Elzinga and Andrew Jensen briefed the audience about UVU’s successes through the student engaged learning model to advocate for the mountain targets during three ECOSOC forums on different sustainable development goals. They also announced about hosting a side event on mountains at the United Nations Department of Public Information conference that will be held in Salt Lake City in August 2019. Closing remarks were given by Her Excellency Mrs. Louise Blaise, Deputy Permanent Representative of the Canada to the UN, who emphasized how important events like this are necessary to promote mountains and their role in the 2030 agenda. Because of UIMF’s long and distinguished history of promoting the sustainable mountain development (SMD) agenda at international forums, Samuel and Andrew were given this platform to represent youth at this important UN gathering. The event was an excellent way for both students to not only network with UN officials, but also to learn about all the ways the SMD agenda is being implemented around the world.


As a follow-up to this meeting, Ambassador Jan Kickert, PR of Austria to the UN, visited UIMF to discuss the mountain targets. To read more about their meeting and student reflections, click here.


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