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How can we protect the world’s mountain ecosystems?

19 July 2021

6 minute read

Mountains play a huge part in Kilian Jornet’s life. In recognition of that, he launched the Kilian Jornet Foundation in 2020 to help protect the world’s mountain environments. Barclays ‘In Switzerland’ magazine spoke to him about his motivations, why mountains are so important to everyone on the planet and what people can do to help protect them.

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Kilian Jornet
Ski mountaineer

Kilian Jornet is a professional sky-runner, trail-runner, ski mountaineer and long-distance runner. He has come first in the long-distance Skyrunner World Series six times and has won some of the world’s most prestigious ultramarathons, including the Ultra-Trail du Mont-Blanc.

He’s also achieved the fastest known times for the ascent and descent of mountains including Matterhorn, Mont Blanc, and Everest, and holds the world record for uphill skiing in 24 hours at 23,864 metres.

How did you become so passionate about mountains?

Mountains have always been my playground – I’ve been climbing them and crossing glaciers my whole life. I grew up in a mountain hut 2000m high in the Pyrenees and my parents taught me to love and respect nature from a very young age, so I guess it was just natural that I became passionate about them.

It’s in the mountains where I’ve lived the best and the worst moments of my life, so to me, it’s really like a love story between us. I’m hugely grateful for the opportunities that they’ve presented to me.

I also learned at a very young age that it’s our responsibility to protect the environment. I’ve done as much as I can as an individual over the years, but during my amazing adventures in the mountains, it became clear to me that that wasn’t enough. That’s why I set up the Kilian Jornet Foundation.

Why are mountains so important?

Mountains cover around 27% of the world’s land mass and directly support the 22% of the global population who live in mountainous areas. For example, they provide them with water – over 60% of the world’s freshwater is stored in mountain glaciers – essential products such as timber and renewable energy.

Mountains have a big role to play in combatting climate change. Snow and glaciers reflect solar radiation, and mountain forests absorb huge amounts of CO2. They’re also major cradles of biodiversity.

What does the Kilian Jornet Foundation do?

Our goal is to work towards a durable, solid, and long-lasting cooperative engagement and collective action to preserve mountain environments. In practice, this means we get involved with projects that aim to preserve biodiversity in mountainous regions, reduce CO2 emissions, cut down on pollution in mountains and promote the sustainable use of natural resources and ecosystems. We also want to help foster the development of a more sustainable mountain use.

For example, we want to protect mountains from intensive land use and unsustainable leisure activities and to deepen the public’s knowledge of how climate change is devastating mountain ecosystems.

We’re trying to achieve these goals by concentrating on three main areas: direct actions, raising awareness and education, and research. Direct actions involve projects to protect, clean up or rebuild mountain ecosystems, or helping fund projects carried out by others who are aligned with our aims.

Educating individuals and groups about mountain environments is a vital role that we play, as many people simply aren’t aware of the importance of mountains to the whole world. And research is key as we seek to find the best way to approach the different actions we need to take to protect mountain environments.

What could happen if we don’t do enough to preserve these environments?

Mountain environments are at risk from climate change. The changes the planet is undergoing are directly affecting mountainous environments and everything that depends on them: animals, plants, and humans. The direct consequences of climate change include rising sea levels due to melting glaciers, more frequent natural disasters such as avalanches and floods, and a loss of biodiversity. Uncontrolled deforestation on mountains is resulting in more landslides and mudflows.

All of these things are making life more difficult for the people living in and around mountainous areas, contributing to global inequality.

What impact can investors have by supporting your foundation?

We need to protect mountains because they’re key to our survival. There are many things that we can do to protect these environments, but some of them are expensive. For example, our first project involves researching one of the biggest problems facing mountain regions today: glacier retreat.

We’re buying several measurement stations for the World Glacier Monitoring Service based in Switzerland, so they can monitor glacier surface melting processes over shorter timescales than ever before. This will give us more understanding of how global warming effects glaciers. Unfortunately, these stations don’t come cheap at around EUR 10,000 each, and our goal is to buy 20 of them.

Receiving a big investment could really help us make a difference as we move along the path that we all must take: protecting our planet before it’s too late.

What can people do to support mountain environments?

There’s so much that people can do! Many of us want to be part of the transition to a more sustainable planet but don’t know where to start. We believe that it’s better to be an imperfect activist than to stand by as a spectator and that taking a first step – even a small one – is always beneficial, and often leads to further steps.

So, when you go to the mountains, make sure you respect the environment. Don’t leave any rubbish and don’t be tempted to take away any souvenirs. Vote for policies that support the fight against climate change.

Each time you buy something, remember that it has an ecological footprint – by choosing more sustainable products and services you’re telling producers that you want change. Carry out volunteer work or make donations towards projects that aim to preserve mountain areas and their ecosystems. Support organisations that act to preserve the environment, like the Kilian Jornet Foundation, and don’t forget to tell your friends and colleagues that you’re doing so.

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In Switzerland

We wanted to celebrate our 35 years in Switzerland by publishing a collection of interesting stories from some of our clients and partners with whom we work.