Capping a week of activities marking the successful climb of the 8,611-metre peak from Pakistan by an Italian team in 1954, the two governments announced the establishment of an Italian-funded station near the base of K-2 to help UN research on the formation and distribution of “atmospheric brown clouds,” the layer of soot and other airborne pollutants that may have significant impact on weather patterns, agriculture and human health. Climate change, natural hazards and other forces are threatening the complex webs of life that mountains support. “You have helped remind us of the great beauty of the mountains and the role they play as the water towers and biological storehouses of the world, providing socio-economic benefits not only to those who live in them and but all of us who are downstream,” UN Environment Programme (UNEP) Executive Director Klaus Toepfer said. He pledged continued support for initiatives to protect mountain areas, which cover 26 per cent of the Earth’s land surface, host 12 per cent of its people and provide essential resources for both mountain and lowland people, including fresh water for at least half humankind, critical reserves of biodiversity, food, forests and minerals. K-2, on the border of Pakistan and China, is regarded as the world’s most difficult mountain with only 198 people having climbed it and 56 dying in the attempt, a fatality rate three times worse than Mount Everest. Several expeditions successfully reached the summit over the past celebratory week, the first to do so for three years. As part of its mountain conservation mission, UNEP worked closely with the UN Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) in contributing to the UN International Year of the Mountains in 2002 and setting up the International Mountain Partnership secretariat. It has helped seven European countries negotiate a framework convention on the protection and sustainable development of the Carpathian Mountains. And it works closely with the International Centre for Integrated Mountain Development in the Hindu Kush-Himalayas – particularly on a project to predict and mitigate glacial lake outburst floods, which can devastate mountain communities and lands and appear to be increasing in frequency due to melting of glaciers caused by global warming.