A report on the 2011 Conference of the Parties for the Carpathian Convention, prepared by Yurij Bihun, Forest Resources Analyst and Fellow, UVM, Institute of Environmental Diplomacy and Security.
Over 150 participants including official delegates, invited observers and press gathered on May 25-27, 2011 in Bratislava, Slovakia for the Third Meeting of the Conference of the Parties to the Carpathian Convention (COP3). Officially known as the “Framework Convention on the protection and Sustainable Development of the Carpathians,” the Carpathian Convention was represented by seven Carpathian nations -- the Czech Republic, Hungary, Poland, Romania, Serbia, the Slovak Republic and Ukraine. With its fading socialist past and increasingly restored Hapsburg legacy and modern amenities, Bratislava, the former Eastern Bloc city along the banks of the Danube River, was an apropos setting for the work of the Carpathian Convention. Although there were 14 pressing draft decisions on the table at COP3, the main outcomes of the meeting were the ratification of Biodiversity Protocol and the passing of two major legislative acts, the Protocol on Sustainable Forest Management and the Protocol on Sustainable Tourism.
Mr. Rastilav Rybanič, General Director, Ministry of the Environment of the Slovak Republic, made a welcome statement in which he stressed the importance of the United Nations International Year of Forests (IYF), the need of implementing measures and adopting policies according to the needs of the people in the Carpathian region. By agreeing on Decision COP3/4 “Sustainable agriculture, rural development and forestry,” Article 7 of the Carpathian Convention, the Parties recommended to the Ministerial segment to adopt the text of the Draft Protocol on Sustainable Forest Management. In line with the IYF, the ministers and high-level representatives adopted the Protocol on Sustainable Forest Management to the Framework Convention on the Protection and Sustainable Development of the Carpathians, and Czech Republic, Hungary, Romania, Serbia, Slovak Republic and Ukraine signed the Protocol, whereas Poland expressed its commitment to sign at a later stage.
By approving the protocol, the Carpathian states adopted an international agreement to further cooperate and strengthen their efforts to protect, maintain and sustainably manage the forests of the Carpathians. “We expect that this Forest Protocol will allow us to take wide reaching measures that will help to increase awareness of the multiple functions of forests and the benefits from sustainable forest management in the Carpathians, especially with reference to natural carbon stock, water supply and biodiversity, protection of virgin forests, as well as contributing to rural development,” said Harald Egerer, Head of the Interim Secretariat of the Carpathian Convention (ISCC) based in Vienna. It will now be up to the respective Working Groups to deliver on their concrete realization.
Ministerial representatives from the seven Carpathian countries, as well as representatives from the European Commission, international organizations and NGOs such as the World Wildlife Fund (WWF) were hosted by the Government of the Slovak Republic at the third gathering of Carpathian countries for the Carpathian Convention. Officially known as the “Framework Convention on the protection and Sustainable Development of the Carpathians,” the Carpathian Convention was signed by the member countries in May 2003 in Kyiv, Ukraine and entered into force in January 2006. Since 2004, the interim ISCC has been administered by the United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP) in the Vienna office and hosted by the Republic of Austria. In his opening remarks, UN Under-Secretary General and UNEP Executive Director, Achim Steiner, reminded the assembly that, “After the Alpine Convention, the Carpathian Convention is the second sub-regional treaty-based regime for the protection of a mountain region worldwide. Additionally, it is the only multi-level governance mechanism covering the whole of the Carpathian area.”
The Carpathians are the largest and most fragmented mountain chain in Europe, strung out in an 1800-kilometer arc over seven Central and Eastern European countries. The region is the epicenter of regional biological diversity with a unique cultural heritage that is rapidly vanishing. Europe’s largest populations of large charismatic megafauna including brown bears, wolves, lynx, and European bison as well as imperial eagles and other globally threatened species are found in the Carpathians. They are also home to almost 4,000 plant species, many of which (>30%) are regarded as endemic.
It should come as no surprise that the theme of forests cycled up to the top of the menu for the Carpathian Convention. The Carpathian region has had a particularly disjointed history for forest management and exploitation and, hence, in need of comprehensive policy support. The Carpathians are Europe’s most densely forested mountains -- forests cover more than half of the Carpathian Mountains, with nearly 100,000 km2 consisting of natural and semi-natural forests. With 3,000 km2 of old growth forests, the Carpathians harbor the largest remaining, contiguous old growth beech stand in Europe.
Natural forest composition, however, is lacking and there are extensive areas with even-aged, single-story, monoculture forests. The Carpathian forests today are affected by multiple anthropogenic and natural disturbances including: atmospheric deposition, water pollution, windthrow, floods, droughts, biotic agents (insects and fungal pathogens), unacceptable forest management practices, illegal logging and, increasingly, tourism. These disturbances contribute to ecosystem stress and the spiral of decline visible in large areas of forest dieback particularly in coniferous stands. The number of free ranging livestock animals, most notably sheep, and upland pasture has disappeared dramatically while the number of hotels has increased by almost 60 per cent in the last ten years. Popular destinations are suffering from the phenomenon massive tourism on an unsustainable scale. In addition, the process of re-privatization and restitution of forest properties to private owners that began in the early 1990s has resulted in a disruption of long-term forest management and fragmentation of forest coverage.
Hand in hand with forest resource management, COP3 reaffirmed its commitment to sustainable tourism. By agreeing on Decision COP3/6, Sustainable Tourism, Article 9 of the Carpathian Convention, the Parties recommended to the Ministerial segment to adopt the text of the Draft Protocol on Sustainable Tourism, as amended on the basis of the discussions and reporting by the Working Group on Sustainable Tourism. The ministers and high-level representatives adopted and Czech Republic, Romania, Slovak Republic and Serbia signed the Protocol on Sustainable Tourism while Hungary, Poland and Ukraine expressed their commitment to sign the Protocol at a later stage. Thereby, the member states of the Carpathian Convention agreed on the Protocol on Sustainable Tourism, a sector that is of fundamental importance for the development of the region.
Before the adoption of the two Protocols, however, the country of Romania requested -- in accordance with the reservation of Romania to the original text of the Carpathian Convention made by its signing in Kyiv, Ukraine on May 22, 2003 -- the inclusion of the following text in the report of COP3: “The Government of Romania declares that it interprets article 2 paragraph 1 of the Protocol on Sustainable Forest Management and article 6 paragraph 1 of the Protocol on Sustainable Tourism only according to the provisions of and limitations to the Convention on the Protection and Sustainable Development of the Carpathians.”
The adoption of the strategic action plan for the implementation of the Biodiversity Protocol, the commitment to establish an ecological platform for the Carpathians and the launch of the “BIOREGIO2 Carpathians” Project, are significant steps towards implementing the Convention. In addition, the Carpathian States have adopted the “Strategic Action for the Carpathian area,” a strategic briefing which calls for consideration of the “Carpathian Space” in the context of existing or planned EU cooperation programs (e.g. such as under the European Union Territorial Cooperation budget for 2014-2020). Following the request by the European Commission to consult with the Parties and Observers of the Carpathian Convention on the possibility of establishing a Working Group on adaptation to climate change, Parties adopted Decision COP3/15 on climate change, as well as Terms of Reference of the Working Group on Climate Change.
With more than a dozen decisions slated to be discussed at COP3, there was surprisingly little controversy or conflict expressed. Most of the comments appeared superficial and not substantive interventions but more concerns with the nuances of wording. Each of the 14 decision items were reviewed and addressed and agreed upon without notable conflict. During the Ministerial Segment, ministerial delegates, representatives of international organizations, observers and stakeholders made comments that were most notably for their lack of controversy. The stakeholders´ messages were delivered by: Mr. Otto Szabo, Regional Environmental Center (REC); Mr. Andreas Beckmann, WWF Danube-Carpathian Programme (WWF DCP) Dr. Jacek Kozak, Science for Carpathians Network (S4C); Mr. Giacomo Luciani, European Academy Bolzano (EURAC). Dr. Kozak underscored that scientific principles should guide research priorities in the Carpathian ecoregion and reviewed the twelve areas defined by Forum Carpaticum as a common vision for implementing the research agenda in the Carpathians. Only Mr. Beckmann raised concern stating that implementing the Carpathian Convention will require money and that money is available but must be put to good use. His recommendation urged transparency and cohesive policy to avoid counter-productive projects. Support for his comments were muted and only indirectly reflected in COP3 decisions.
The COP3 also marked the handover of the Romanian presidency of the Convention to the Slovak Republic, which will preside over the Convention until 2014. Referring to the consultations about the permanent seat of the secretariat of the Carpathian Convention, Slovak Minister of the Environment Joszef Nagy stated: ”It would be a great honor if our country should host the Permanent Secretariat of the Carpathian Convention in Slovakia.” The Ukrainian delegation also lobbied for the city of Chernivtsi in the Bukovina region as the possible future home for the Carpathian Convention.
According to Veronika Hopfgartner, a representative of the UNEP Interim Secretariat of the Carpathian Convention, COP3 was a turning point in the evolution of the Carpathian Convention. “The accomplishments of COP3 have proven that the Convention is not just a 'paper tiger' but a real instrument for change. In the hard negotiations, the member states showed their willingness to cooperate and to develop the Convention. Also the presence and involvement of numerous NGOs at COP3 has shown that the Convention is considered as a relevant tool of cooperation for sustainable development in the region,” noted Ms. Hopfgartner. “The presence of the European Commission was a good signal of cooperation on the European level, especially in the framework of the EU Danube Strategy. The adoption of the document ‘Strategic Action Plan for the Carpathian Area' by the member states gave the Convention a strong mandate to go continue with its efforts on the European level,” added Ms. Hopfgartner.
The Delegation of the Czech Republic offered and Parties welcomed and recommended the offer to host the Fourth Meeting of the Conference of the Parties to the Carpathian Convention (COP4) in 2014 to the Ministerial Segment for adoption.
For more information visit: http://www.carpathianconvention.org/COP3_Bratislava.htm