4 January 2006

Mountain Region in the Heart of Europe Gets Legal Protection

VIENNA, 4 January (UN Information Service) -- The up to 18 million people living in the Carpathian mountain region have cause to celebrate today with the entry into force of the Carpathian Convention, a new international treaty aimed at conserving the area's rich wildlife, wondrous landscapes and cultural heritage.

Hungary's ratification brings the number of countries who have ratified the Carpathian Convention to four, thus allowing it to come into force. The other three countries that have ratified the Convention are the Czech Republic, Slovakia and Ukraine.

The Carpathian region contains Europe's greatest reserve of pristine forest and is a refuge for brown bears, wolves, bison, lynx, eagles and some 200 unique plant species found nowhere else in the world.

It also provides some of the Continent's cleanest streams and drinking water supplies. The treaty covers seven countries -- the Czech Republic, Hungary, Poland, Romania, Serbia and Montenegro, Slovakia and Ukraine -- whose cultural heritage is also considered unique and shared.

Klaus Toepfer, Executive Director of the United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP), which has played a key role in developing the Convention, said today: "The entry into force offers a beacon of hope for the people and wildlife of this region faced with the pressures of a rapidly changing world. I would urge the three countries yet to ratify to do so as soon as they can".

"While the region is blessed with rich and bountiful natural 'capital', it also faces many threats including poverty, unemployment, unplanned development, over-exploitation of natural resources, pollution, deforestation and excessive hunting," he added.

"This legally living treaty is aimed at balancing the economic needs of the people with the need to conserve the environment. In doing so, it can play a critical part in delivering sustainable development and offers a blueprint for other mountain regions in the world," said Mr. Toepfer.

Indeed UNEP has recently received requests from the South East European (Balkan) and Caucasus mountain regions to support transboundary initiatives and cooperation inspired by its work on the Carpathians.

Within the framework of the Global Mountain Partnership, UNEP is also sharing its experience on the Carpathian Convention with other mountain regions such as the Andes, Central Asia and Hindukush-Karakoram-Himalaya.

The development of the Framework Convention on the Protection and Sustainable Development of the Carpathians began in 2002 during the United Nations International Year of the Mountains. It mirrors the development of the Alpine Convention which pre-dates it.

The Carpathian treaty was adopted and signed in May 2003 at the fifth Environment for Europe Conference which took place in Kyiv, Ukraine, by all seven countries concerned. Entry into force required the ratification of four of the seven countries which has now occurred.

The Convention lays down key principles which are spawning collaboration between the countries concerned and their local authorities, civil society organizations and committed individuals.

Actions which will now be accelerated by the Convention's entry into force, include ones to:

Note to Editors

The first Meeting of the Conference of the Parties to the Carpathian Convention will take place in June 2006 where decisions will be taken on the Convention's work programme.

The Convention has been developed in partnership with the Alpine Convention and its creation has been actively supported by several Alpine countries including Austria, Italy, Liechtenstein and Switzerland.

UNEP is currently the Interim Secretariat of the Convention which is hosted by Austria at the Vienna International Centre.

The Government of Italy provides on going scientific support to the Convention on mountain sustainable development issues via the European Academy (EURAC) in Bolzano.

The web site for the Carpathian Convention can be accessed at www.carpathianconvention.org

For More Information Please Contact: Nick Nuttall, UNEP Spokesperson, on Tel: 254 20 623084, Mobile: 254 733 632755 or E-mail: nick.nuttall@unep.org  If there is no prompt response please contact Elisabeth Waechter, UNEP Associate Media Officer, on Tel: 254 20 623088, Mobile: 254 720 173968, e-mail: elisabeth.waechter@unep.org  

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