the great Aletsch Glacier in Switzerland
The Great Aletsch Glacier. © gevision_Shutterstock

The UNITWIN/UNESCO chairs programme supports over 800 university chairs worldwide that address UNESCO’s key priority areas. The UNESCO Chair on Natural and Cultural Heritage for Sustainable Mountain Development is co-chaired by Theresa Tribaldos, researcher at CDE and the Institute of Geography at the University of Bern, and Boniface Kiteme, director of the CETRAD research center in Kenya.

The purpose of this UNESCO Chair is to:

  • Establish an international network for the protection of large mountain areas
  • Apply novel inter- and transdisciplinary approaches to conserve the natural and cultural heritage of mountain regions and support its valorization with a view to sustainable development
  • Educate and train professionals and academics in mountain regions
  • Promote sharing of knowledge and information among different world heritage sites
  • Foster awareness of World Heritage sites in the European Alps and mountains worldwide, focusing on the North–South context and using open access online tools.
Mount Kenya
Mount Kenya. © Urs Wiesmann

Regional focus on Swiss Alps Jungfrau-Aletsch and East Africa

The Chair is based at the World Nature Forum in Naters, Switzerland. The World Nature Forum also hosts the information and visitor centre of the Swiss Alps Jungfrau-Aletsch World Heritage site. With its co-holder based at CETRAD in Nanyuki, Kenya, the Chair is ideally positioned to strengthen collaboration between Swiss Alps Jungfrau-Aletsch and World Heritage sites in African mountain regions. In 2018, this collaborative network was expanded to include a protected area in Chile, and further expansion to other world regions is planned, with the aim of supporting sustainable mountain development worldwide.


Newsletter UNESCO Chair at CDE 2023

newsletter front page

In the March 2023 newsletter, the UNESCO Chair at CDE reports on the major events of the past year, as well as current and planned activities in 2023.

Newsletter.pdf (PDF, 1.1 MB)

Neue BSc- und MSc-Arbeiten

Inwieweit lebendige Traditionen zu einer nachhaltigen Regionalentwicklung im Welterbegebiet Jungfrau-Aletsch beitragen können, hat Elena Paganoni in ihrer Masterarbeit untersucht. Um diese Traditionen zu erhalten, schlägt sie vor, die Wertschätzung durch Sensibilisierungs- und Aufklärungsarbeit, Nachwuchsförderung sowie die kontinuierliche Entwicklung der Kulturgüter zu steigern. ǁ Wie ist Nachhaltigkeit im Ernährungssystem des Lötschentals verankert? Dieser Frage ging Yanara Giachino in ihrer Bachelorarbeit auf den Grund. Dafür sprach sie mit verschiedenen AkteurInnen entlang der Wertschöpfungskette. Ihre Schlussfolgerungen zeigen: Das UNESCO Welterbe-Label könnte vermehrt einbezogen werden, um die Verarbeitung der Nahrungsmittel im Tal zu stärken. ǁ Noé Balsiger schliesslich entwickelte in seiner Masterarbeit einen Lernpfad für die Sekundarstufe II zum Thema «Nachhaltiger Tourismus in der Jungfrau-Aletsch Region». Aufgrund von Expert*innen-Gesprächen konnte er zeigen, dass sich Nachhaltigkeitskompetenzen der Schüler*innen durch den Lernpfad fördern lassen.

Masterarbeit Elena Paganoni (PDF, 477KB) Bachelorarbeit Yanara Giachino (PDF, 245KB) Masterarbeit Noé Balsiger (PDF, 113KB)

Newsletter UNESCO Chair at CDE 2022

Of traditions and perspectives – insights into Sustainable Mountain Development: In the March 2022 newsletter, the UNESCO Chair at CDE reports on the major events of the past year, as well as current and planned activities in 2022.

Newsletter (PDF, 1.5 MB)

CDE scientist Theresa Tribaldos appointed UNESCO Chairholder

CDE scientist Theresa Tribaldos was appointed holder of the UNESCO Chair on Natural and Cultural Heritage for Sustainable Mountain Development by the UNESCO Secretariat in Paris in mid-February 2022. She succeeds Stephan Rist. The UNESCO Chair is based at CDE and the Institute of Geography, University of Bern, Switzerland, and co-held with CETRAD in Nanyuki, Kenya.

New project: Traditional irrigation in Europe as cultural heritage

Traditional irrigation systems created and continue to create unique cultural landscapes across Europe. In many places, they are still actively maintained or are preserved as historical artefacts – also thanks to numerous local initiatives and sponsors. In a new project, CDE and the Institute of Geography, University of Bern, are researching and documenting these systems in collaboration with the International Centre for Traditional Irrigation as Cultural Heritage of Europe (IZTB) and the Swiss Landscape Conservation Foundation.

Highlighting sustainable food systems in mountains for the UN Food Systems Summit 2021

Mountain agriculture and food production sustain the livelihoods of 1.1 billion people living in the mountains and those of a much larger number of people in the lowlands that depend on healthy mountain ecosystems for freshwater and for the conservation of key plant and animal biological diversity.

Call to action (PDF, 244KB)

Developing indicators for sustainable regional development in mountain areas

At the Symposion on mountains, Swiss Geoscience Meeting 2020, CDE researcher Theresa Tribaldos hold a presentation on "Developing indicators for sustainable regional development in mountain areas".

Dissertation provides impetus for renewal and further development of UNESCO World Heritage sites and protected areas

Photo: Helen Gambon

In her PhD dissertation titled “Constitutionality processes and social-ecological dynamics in the Pilón Lajas Indigenous Territory and Biosphere Reserve”, Helen Gambon shows that sustainable development of protected areas that takes into account human needs is possible if the principles of bottom-up institution-building – also known as constitutionality – and of cognitive justice are applied. The research was carried out under the co-supervision of the UNESCO Chair as well as CDE and the Institute of Geography, University of Bern, in the Pilón Lajas UNESCO Biosphere Reserve in Bolivia. It provides previously unconsidered ideas and fresh impetus for the renewal and further development of UNESCO World Heritage sites and protected areas.

PhD thesis (PDF, 5.0 MB)

UNESCO extends the UNESCO Chair on Sustainable Mountain Development for another four years

Following establishment of the Chair on Natural and Cultural Heritage for Sustainable Mountain Development, with an initial term of four years, UNESCO has extended the Chair for another four years. One of the main research emphases will be how to implement, monitor, and assess the UN Sustainable Development Goals in mountain regions. Another focus will be that of developing a research agenda for issues of traditional irrigation systems, their maintenance, and challenges.

Photo: Gaby Allheilig

Maintaining traditional irrigation systems

The programme “Traditional Irrigation as European Cultural Heritage” seeks to document the last remaining traditional irrigation systems and to preserve them as cultural heritage for the future. The aim is for irrigation systems in Austria, Belgium, Germany, the Netherlands, and Switzerland to receive UNESCO World Cultural Heritage status. Numerous participants are involved in the programme, with the University of Bern supporting the Swiss-European initiative through an accompanying research project. Its aim is to identify how past and present experiences with shared water use can assist sustainable governance of public goods in the future.

Photo: Raphael Schmid, UNESCO-Welterbe SAJA

Pilot project with Swiss Alpine Club huts in the pipeline

How can the goals of the UN 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development be implemented, monitored, and evaluated in mountain regions? To answer this question, the UNESCO Chair is launching a pilot project with mountain huts in Switzerland. Together with hut keepers, questions around sustainable, regional food will be discussed. In particular, the project will examine how mountain huts contribute to sustainable regional development and how regional products can increase the appeal to visitors.


Inauguration of the first 100% energy self-sufficient nature reserve in Chile

The first 100% energy self-sufficient nature reserve in Coyhaique, southern Chile, is the result of a Swiss–Chilean project funded by the REPIC platform. The opening of the nature reserve in October 2018 was attended by numerous representatives from politics, state authorities, and civil society organizations – including Arno Wicki, Swiss Ambassador to Chile, and the President of the Regional Government.
More about the project

Human Ecology

“The Power of Participation”: special issue on bottom-up institution building in natural resource governance

It is possible to build institutions for the management of natural resources through legitimate bottom-up participatory processes – if the concept of constitutionality is applied. This conclusion emerges from a series of research articles that has its origins in a collaboration between the University of Bern’s Institute of Social Anthropology, CDE, and Institute of Geography. The articles were published in a special issue of Human Ecology on the links between societal structures, power relations, and participation – a hotly debated topic in the field of sustainability governance.
Human Ecology

Two of the articles deal specifically with constitutionality in UNESCO biosphere reserves:
Article on Pilón Lajas Biosphere Reserve, Bolivia
Article on Mount Carmel Biosphere Reserve, Israel