Press releases

Thursday 22 May 2003

New treaty on the Carpathian region will protect Europe’s largest remaining wilderness

Ministers from Central and Eastern Europe have adopted and signed a major new environmental agreement in Kiev today that will conserve Europe’s greatest reserve of untouched forests and large carnivores while benefiting isolated mountain communities and promoting the region’s continuing economic transition.

New treaty on the Carpathian region will protect Europe’s largest remaining wilderness

Kiev/Nairobi, 22 May 2003 – Ministers from Central and Eastern Europe have adopted and signed a major new environmental agreement in Kiev today that will conserve Europe’s greatest reserve of untouched forests and large carnivores while benefiting isolated mountain communities and promoting the region’s continuing economic transition.

 The Framework Convention on the Protection and Sustainable Development of the Carpathians will strengthen regional cooperation and support local projects in the mountain areas of the Czech Republic, Hungary, Poland, Romania, Serbia and Montenegro, Slovakia and Ukraine.

“Though less famous than the neighbouring Alps, the Carpathian region boasts a stunning landscape of great beauty that is rich in both wildlife and culture. This new treaty promises to help the region retain its wildness while offering its people new opportunities for improving their well-being,” said Klaus Toepfer, Executive Director of the United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP), which serviced the treaty negotiations.

The Carpathians 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. Other rare animals finding refuge here include the reintroduced European bison, chamois and the globally threatened Imperial eagle.
 
Around 200 unique plants, found nowhere else in the world, are also a feature of the region. These include the East Carpathian lilac, Pieniny's chrysanthemum, the Slovak laurel and the Carpathian bellflower.

Many small, rural communities of various ethnic groups and nationalities have also 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.

“The Carpathians are not an isolated wilderness untouched by human activity. Fortunately there is room enough here for both wildlife and a modern economy – as long as strong and effective measures are taken now to preserve the region’s unique biological heritage for the long term,” said Claude Martin, Director General of WWF International.

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.

Addressing these challenges will not only contribute to preserving the region’s environment, but will help the countries there to become better prepared for their accession to the European Union.

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, where landscapes are protected and local communities benefit, 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 region’s cultural heritage and traditional knowledge.

The Carpathians 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).

Spread over some 200,000 square kilometres (an area 10% larger than the Alps), the Carpathians region contains vast tracts of forest that function as a bridge between Europe’s northern forests and those in the south and west. This allows bears and other species to migrate and remain healthy through genetic exchange. One third of all European plant species grow here, including 481 species that can be found nowhere else in the world.
 
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 is being launched during the 5th Ministerial Conference on Environment for Europe in Kiev, Ukraine. Its drafters have drawn on the experience of the 1991 Alpine Convention. The negotiating process was sponsored by the Government of Italy and supported by both UNEP and WWF.

During this week’s Kiev conference, WWF and the Carpathian Ecoregion Initiative (CEI) – an umbrella group of over 50 organizations (mainly NGOs) dedicated to finding sustainable development solutions in the Carpathians – will launch an effort aimed at helping to transform the overarching principles of the Convention into concrete objectives on the ground.

Note to journalists: Ukraine Environment Minister Mr. Shevchuk, Italian Environment Minister Mr. Matteoli, UNEP’s Mr. Toepfer and WWF’s Mr. Martin will brief the press at the Kiev Conference today at 13h20. For more information, please contact:

UNEP CONTACTS: 
Eric Falt +254-2-62-3292, +254-733-682656 (cell) or eric.falt@unep.org;
Nick Nuttall at +254-2-62-3084, +254-733-632755 (cell) or nick.nuttall@unep.org; or
Michael Williams at +41-22-917-8242, +41-79-409-1528 (cell) or michael.williams@unep.ch

WWF CONTACTS
Pam McCarthy +43-676-8427-28215 (cell), +43-1-524-5470 or pmccarthy@wwfdcp.org
Paul Csagoly +36-30-250-5869 (cell), +43-1-524-5470 or pcsagoly@wwfdcp.org
Olivier van Bogaert, +41 22 364 9554 or ovanbogaert@wwfint.org

WEB SITES
WWF International's website: www.panda.org
UNEP’s website:  www.unep.org
Carpathians Ecoregion Initiative's website: www.carpathians.org (includes a photo gallery)

VIRTUAL ENVIRONMENTAL MEDIA TOUR
UNEP has also prepared background documentation about the situation of large carnivores in the Carpathians entitled "Where man and beasts share the mountains". This documentation is part of a package called "virtual environmental media tour" featuring four areas of special environmental interest in Eastern Europe, the Caucasus and Central Asia. For further information, please contact Claudia Heberlein at the UNEP booth at the conference centre in Kiev or later at claudia.heberlein@unep.ch, tel +41 22 917 84 83.


UNEP News Release 2003/27

Thursday 22 May 2003
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