Polar and Mountain Environments


The polar and high mountain regions of the world play an important role in the Earth’s climate system, including helping to regulate global temperatures, drive ocean circulation, and store water in the form of glaciers and ice sheets.  In many ways, these regions are the planet’s barometers, telling us a great deal about the present and future effects of climate change.  Some parts of these regions are warming at twice the rate of the global average, producing record levels of multi-year sea ice loss, melting glaciers in all but a few mountain regions, and thawing permafrost. These shifts are bringing profound and rapid change to millions of people living within these regions and beyond. 

The Polar and Mountain Environments Programme works with governments, UNEP and other UN agencies, academic institutions, civil society and local communities to address the challenges of adapting to rapid climate and environmental changes in the polar and mountain regions.

Main Activities in 2016

Examples of our work in mountains regions includes:

  • Generating new knowledge about the impacts of climate change on water availability, food security, ecosystem function, and societies in the Hindu Kush Himalaya;
  • Incorporating climate change adaptation into national development policies and plans in selected mountain regions: Balkans, Caucasus, Central Asia, East Africa, Andes; and working with national governments to promote adaptation action;
  • Promoting sustainable development within mountains by working with national governments and through global processes such as the UNFCCC and the post-2015 sustainable development goals.

Examples of our work in the polar regions include:

  • Promoting the resilience of reindeer herding societies and enhanced governance of protected areas in Mongolia and the Russian Far East;
  • Assisting people and institutions in the Arctic and other vulnerable regions (e.g. Small Island Developing States) to adapt to the effects of climate change and to tell their stories to the world.
  • Supporting the United Nations Environment Programme in the Arctic through our role as a Centre of Excellence on polar issues;
  • Hosting the President of the University of the Arctic (UArctic)

Across the polar and mountain environments, we also work to bring to attention new and emerging environment and climate issues that have regional or global significance.

All of our work is done in partnership with institutions in the regions, and globally through UNEP and its regional offices. Mountain partners include ICIMOD, UNEP-Vienna, CONDESAN and other regional mountain centres. Arctic partners include the University of the Arctic, the International Centre for Reindeer Husbandy (ICR) and other Indigenous Peoples Organisations, Arctic Council, EU-linked institutions such as ECORYS, University of Lapland/Arctic Centre, University of Tromsø, and others.