Current Assessments of Sustainable Mountain Development

The first two presentations, by Fang Yiping and Chagat Almashev, focussed on two specific assessments, the first on all Chinese mountains, of which there are many, and the second on the mountains within the Altai Republic of the Russian Federation.  Fang’s work delineated his definitions of landform (plains, hills, mountains, plateaux). He then overlaid this coverage on counties, labelled counties with more than 40% upland areas as mountainous, then summarized economic data (GDP per capita, income per capita, and GDP/km2) to create a taxonomy of Chinese mountainous counties.  Almashev did not present data but explained that his assessment combined many different kinds of data to address the cost of being a mountainous area in order to influence government budgets.

Reinmar Seidler, working in Gorkhaland in West Bengal, questioned if one could perform adequate assessments on the basis of households alone or if one needed to have data on individuals within the household, especially stratified by gender. Such basic data could then be summarized to quantify within household variation, between household variation, between village variation, and cross-border variation. The policy or program focus of his work is the implementation of several national (or perhaps state) statutes involving rural employment.

Michael Minch of Utah Valley University described SUMMIT (the Sustainable Mountain Development and Conflict Transformation Global Knowledge and Action Network) as repository of knowledge, accepting many data types, and which will be, when launched the largest such database in the world.

Christian Huggel and Erin Gleeson both provided critical overviews of assessment efforts. Christian provided a definition of assessment (from Rik Leemans) that involves the judgment of experts applied to existing knowledge to provide credible answers on policy-relevant questions. He noted salience, credibility and legitimacy as key features of assessments. He drew on his experience in the Andes and on the IPCC, and distinguished between quantitative, qualitative and research-based assessments, and noted a lack of standards for expressing uncertainty in qualitative assessments. Areas of improvement include the consistency in framing assessments, sustained interaction among actors, data availability, interdisciplinary and monitoring and evaluation of subsequent actions.

Erin Gleeson reviewed a number of SMD-related efforts obtained through a call to the MRI mailing list as part of the SDC financed SMD4GC program. She outlined MRI’s use of the “three capitals” approach, then summarized findings about the different efforts related to the central policy questions, the use of data and the relation to the three capital approach. Policy questions ran from very specific concerns with vulnerability or project impacts to broader questions about SMD to quantitative indicators of the three capitals. Data were not the problem that one might expect. Indicators and especially their relationship to SMD and its three component capitals were only occasionally clear. She concluded that the desire for policy relevance or policy pronouncement seems to have occasionally overridden the need to amass data and translate them into indicators. While rhetoric is still useful, evidence in the form of data is required. More data exist than one might expect, but clarity about the relationship of data to indicators to SMD is rare. There are nonetheless helpful examples of such work (e.g., MONET from Switzerland).

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