In an article published this month in the journal Mountain Research and Development (MRD), we outline future directions aimed at supporting and further developing the Mountain Research Initiative (MRI) network – building on the considerable social and intellectual wealth fostered for our changing mountains since the MRI’s beginnings over 20 years ago.

Since our origins in the 1990s, and with the founding of our Coordination Office in 2001, the MRI has striven to achieve a vision in which research to identify and understand drivers and processes of global change in mountains is promoted and linked across disciplines and mountain regions worldwide. Through the MRI Coordination Office’s convening role, over the course of our history we – as a network – have initiated numerous fruitful research collaborations, collectively generating and synthesizing knowledge on global change in mountains that also supports decisions and actions to enable sustainable development.

On strong foundations

So where does the MRI go from here? In an article published in Mountain Research and Development (MRD) in November, the MRI Governing Body outlines the objectives of the network in line with the strategy and work plan for 2019-2023, submitted to the Swiss Academy of Sciences (SCNAT) and successfully funded in 2019. These objectives reflect three long-term and interconnected knowledge needs to which the MRI network can respond: Firstly, to identify and understand mountain social-ecological systems via long-term empirical observations and modelling; Secondly, to identify visions and substantiate targets that reflect and sustain vibrant mountain social-ecological systems, where sustainability outcomes are aspired to and their trade-offs are defined in context; And thirdly, to enable pathways and transformations to sustainability by identifying, assessing, and supporting appropriate decisions, policies, and actions.

The MRI network will continue to be supported in achieving these objectives by the MRI Coordination Office, with a focus on seven key functions: to strengthen the network; bolster research activity; enable capacity building; support thematic advocacy; provide resource opportunities; facilitate science-policy-society interaction; and communicate effectively. Full details of these seven functions and how the MRI Coordination Office aims to fulfil them are outlined in the MRD paper and on the MRI website.

From objectives to action

In working towards our three objectives, the MRI remains active in several key areas. As the MRD paper explains, MRI activities are distinguished into two types: Flagship and Community-Led. Flagship Activities are those activities predominantly led by the MRI Coordination Office, with vital contributions from the MRI network. GEO Mountains (formerly GEO-GNOME) is among them. A Group on Earth Observations initiative, GEO Mountains aims to support three global priority engagement areas: the UN 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development, the UN Framework Convention on Climate Change Paris Agreement, and the UN Sendai Framework for Disaster Risk Reduction. Moving forwards, GEO Mountains will respond to these priority areas by connecting relevant mountain data and information to support monitoring and reporting, fostering capacity building, and increasing the ease with which key stakeholders from academia, policy, practice, and society can access and use such data – thereby also supporting research and other knowledge needs identified by the MRI network. A second important Flagship Activity outlined in the MRD paper is the MRI’s active contribution to regional and global assessments, such as the IPCC Sixth Assessment Report. This ongoing engagement aims to connect relevant research findings with policy knowledge needs and, conversely, also help orient future research and synthesis activities to better address these needs.

The MRI’s Community-Led Activities, meanwhile, are primarily led by researchers, with the MRI Coordination Office providing administrative and communications support. These activities include MRI Science Leadership Council (SLC) member-led incubators, for which seed funding is provided to support groups of SLC members to undertake research synthesis activities, and generate ideas and publications that inspire research agendas. These SLC member-led incubators can also result in the creation of MRI Working Groups – another important MRI Community-Led Activity. MRI Working Groups bring together individual researchers to address research questions and synthesize activities aligned with the MRI’s objectives. These self-organized groups provide a platform for discussion and exchange, with two-year work plans specifying outputs such as peer-reviewed publications, conference presentations, or the compilation of data sets. At present, the MRI has five working groups – open to all members of the MRI network – which are also encouraged to cross-fertilize ideas and create synergies between them. Other MRI Community-Led Activities include synthesis workshops, for which the MRI Coordination Office allocates seed funding to successful proposals that respond to knowledge needs in research and policy, and local/regional exchanges with relevant networks and institutions to address global data and information needs and help enhance local capacity-building. As the MRI Governing Body notes, these combined activities “will support the mountain research community in realizing their potential and the MRI vision in future years.”

Pathways to safeguard our changing mountains

Looking to the future, the MRI has much to look forward to. This is thanks in no small part to the thousands of community members who continue to be part of our shared journey.

 “Our scientific work in mountains continues to advance scholarship and strengthen the value of global change research, considerably improving our knowledge-base and understanding of mountains as social-ecological systems,” writes the MRI Governing Body, in a direct address to the MRI network. “The members of the MRI Governing Body and the MRI Coordination Office look forward to continuing to support you all in making meaningful and fulfilling connections for our changing mountains, and safeguarding them as social-ecological treasures for ecosystems and people worldwide.”

Next year, the MRI Coordination Office turns 20 – a chance to reflect on the past and to look to the future. We build on solid foundations as we move forwards. Here’s to another 20 years.

READ MORE: Adler, C. et al ‘Making Connections for Our Changing Mountains: Future Directions for the Mountain Research Initiative.’ Mountain Research and Development (2020):

The MRI is grateful to SCNAT for its generous ongoing funding support, as well as to the Swiss Agency for Development and Cooperation (SDC), the swissuniversities Development and Cooperation Network (SUDAC), the Office of Foreign Affairs of the Principality of Liechtenstein, and Future Earth for their contributions to MRI Flagship and Community-Led Activities. We also thank our host, the Centre for Development and Environment (CDE) at the University of Bern, for their support.

Cover image: Pixabay User Free Photos.

Newsletter subscription