Kyiv, 13 December 2006 – The Carpathian Convention’s seven member Governments have adopted a wide-ranging programme of work containing immediate measures for promoting environment-friendly tourism and a regional network of protected areas. b_92_70_16777215_00_images_content_news_837.jpg Kyiv, 13 December 2006 – The Carpathian Convention’s seven member Governments have adopted a wide-ranging programme of work containing immediate measures for promoting environment-friendly tourism and a regional network of protected areas.
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Kyiv, 13 December 2006 – The Carpathian Convention’s seven member Governments have adopted a wide-ranging programme of work containing immediate measures for promoting environment-friendly tourism and a regional network of protected areas.

The programme was adopted by the first conference for the Framework Convention on the Protection and Sustainable Development of the Carpathians, which brings together the Czech Republic, Hungary, Poland, Romania, Serbia, the Slovak Republic and Ukraine. Decisions of the First Meeting og the Conference of the Parties to the Carpathian Convention could be viewed here.

Achim Steiner, UN Under-Secretary General and Executive Director of the UN Environment Programme, said: “The Carpathians of Central and Eastern Europe are among the world’s richest regions in terms of biodiversity and pristine landscapes. As such they hold huge potential for nature- and wildlife-based tourism”.

“Today’s decisions recognize this potential and the importance of managing these natural and cultural assets sustainably. I have no doubt that the Carpathians, like the Alps, the Himalayas and the Rocky Mountains, will become world famous for walking, hiking, climbing, wildlife watching, photography and similar leisure pursuits,” he added.

“Sustainable tourism can draw investors and tourists to rural communities. This will assist in conserving and developing livelihoods that until now have been largely isolated from the European economy,” said Mr Steiner, whose organization provides the Convention’s interim secretariat.

It can also provide economic incentives to protect the region’s brown bears, wolves, European bison, lynx, Imperial eagles and other globally threatened birds, and unique plant species such as the Slovak laurel, East Carpathian lilac and Pieniny’s chrysanthemum.

A key result of the Kyiv meeting has been the decision to develop a Protocol on the Conservation of Biological and Landscape Diversity. The Protocol, which will detail concrete measures for strengthening the Convention’s impact on natural resources, is to be adopted “as soon as possible”.

One of these practical measures will be to establish a Carpathian Network of Protected Areas. A conference to advance this Network will be organized in 2007 in cooperation with the already existing Alpine Network of Protected Areas. The Network will be linked to the EU’s Natura 2000 and the Carpathian Wetlands Initiative.

As a complement to these biodiversity activities, the region will establish a ‘Tourist Circuit’. This thematic travel itinerary will empower rural communities to ‘brand’ and promote themselves. The meeting also mandated the creation of the ‘Via Carpati’, a transnational network of trails and mountain huts. Training programmes will expand the available pool of professionals skilled in managing these and other aspects of environmentally sustainable tourism.

In addition, the Governments will assist rural towns to adopt Local ‘Agenda 21’ plans modeled on the global Agenda 21 adopted at the 1992 Rio ‘Earth Summit’ on sustainable development. Recognizing the active participation of civil society as one of the Convention’s fundamental principles, they will also support information centers and other means of informing and engaging stakeholders and the general public.

Meanwhile, the region will benefit from a wide range of new and continuing projects involving a wide range of international partners. The EU-financed Central European, Adriatic, Danubian and South-Eastern European Space (CADSES) project will underpin many of the Convention’s activities.

In addition, the meeting welcomed the ongoing UNDP/GEF project on reversing land and water degradation in the Tisza basin, which straddles Romania and Hungary. It also urged completion of the Carpathian Environmental Outlook, a UNEP-led assessment that will feature maps, data and analyses of key themes. Early findings confirm that the ongoing loss of biological diversity in mountain and wetland ecosystems poses a serious threat to the Carpathian region.

Other projects and activities are being implemented with partners such as the Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) of the UN, Central European Initiative, the Regional Environment Centre, the Worldwide Fund for Nature (WWF) and Austria, Italy, Liechtenstein and Switzerland.

Ministers of Environment from most of the member countries have attended the final day of the Kyiv conference. They formally adopted a Ministerial Declaration that invites the EU to join the Convention and applauds efforts to promote a “Carpathian Space” that would provide a common strategic vision for the countries and peoples of this historically marginalized European mountain region.

Full text of the Declaration of the First Meeting of the Conference of the Parties to the Framework Convention on the Protection and Sustainable Development of the Carpathians is available here.

Spread over some 200,000 square kilometers (an area 10% larger than the Alps), the Carpathians region contains vast tracts of forest that still shelter large populations of brown bear, wolf, lynx and other animals that are rare elsewhere in Europe. For example, some 45% of Europe’s wolves outside of Russia – over 4,000 animals – live in the region.

Once widespread throughout the continent, these and other carnivores have declined dramatically during recent centuries due to conflicts with human development. Around 200 unique plants, found nowhere else in the world, are also a feature of the region.

Many small, rural communities of various ethnic groups and nationalities have adapted successfully to the mountain environment over the centuries. Although separated by national boundaries, the people of the Carpathians are in many ways united by their cultural heritage. Altogether some 16 or 18 million people call these mountains home.

Key threats to the Carpathians include growing unemployment and poverty, which have worsened since the transition from Communism began over a decade ago, as well as unsustainable development patterns, over-exploitation of natural resources, pollution, deforestation, excessive hunting and habitat fragmentation.

The new Convention recognizes the link between environmental protection and the need to bring benefits to the local population through sustainable development. Promoting responsible tourism, for example, which protects landscapes and benefits local communities, would be an example of a win-win approach for the environment and the economy.

Other important people-centered goals involve improving the management of water resources and river basins; promoting sustainable agriculture, forestry, transport, industry and infrastructure; and preserving and nurturing the cultural heritage and traditional knowledge.

The Carpathian Convention will also assist the spread of environmental “best practices”. These include the application of the ‘polluter pays’ principle, an emphasis on public participation and stakeholder involvement, transboundary cooperation, integrated planning and management of land and water resources, and the ecosystem approach (by which biodiversity is managed in a way that meets human needs while maintaining ecosystem integrity).

The Carpathians also play a vital role in ensuring Europe’s freshwater supplies. Runoff from the mountains – which receive twice as much rain as surrounding areas – feeds the Danube, the Vistula and other major rivers that flow into the Black Sea and the Baltic Sea. The Carpathians hold some of the cleanest streams on the continent.

The Convention entered into force of 4 January of this year and has been ratified by six of its members (Serbia’s membership has been approved by the Government and is awaiting ratification by Parliament). The next conference will be held in Romania in 2008.

Note to journalists: For official and other documents, see www.carpathianconvention.org. Photographs can be downloaded from www.unep.org or www.stlllpictures.com (insert “Carpathians” into search engine box). For more information, contact conference press officer Michael Williams at +41-79-409-1528 (cell) or michael.williams@unep.ch; UNEP spokesperson Nick Nuttall at +254-2-62-3084, +254-733-632755 (cell) or nick.nuttall@unep.org.