15 July 2004
Protecting the Carpathians
The United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP) Opens New Office in Vienna
VIENNA, 15 July (UN Information Service) -- The United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP) has opened a new office at the Vienna International Centre, which will act as the Interim Secretariat of the Framework Convention on the Protection and Sustainable Development of the Carpathians. The office will also promote environmental cooperation in Central and South Eastern Europe.
The Carpathians are one of the largest mountain chains in Europe, with a unique ecosystem and an exceptionally high biological diversity. The region provides a livelihood and natural resources for up to 18 million people. These mountains also serve as a haven for a considerable number of endangered species such as the brown bear, wolf, lynx, and raptors. With close to 4,000 partly endangered plant species, the Carpathians account for 30 per cent of the European flora.
The Alpine Convention, serving as a model, has its first successor and Austria with its experience would like to support this process. The establishment of UNEP Vienna is not only a compliment to the Austrian efforts in the field of environmental protection but also strengthens the United Nations Headquarters in Vienna, said Josef Pröll, Federal Minister for Agriculture, Forestry, Environment and Water Management of Austria, on this occasion.
Three years ago, the Government of Ukraine took the lead in bringing its Carpathian neighbours together to reach an agreement on the protection and sustainable management of the Carpathians. UNEP, through its European office, was requested to moderate the process which led to the adoption and signing of the Carpathian Convention, on the occasion of the fifth Environment for Europe Conference in Kyiv, Ukraine, in May 2003.
Upon its entry into force, the challenge will be to turn the framework Convention into concrete commitment and action on the ground. Areas mentioned and eligible for substantive protocols include biodiversity and its relation to agriculture, forestry and water management practices, environment and tourism, and cross boundary regional planning and transport infrastructure.
UNEP Vienna will ensure the full integration of the Carpathian Convention process into the International Partnership on Sustainable Development of Mountain Regions. This partnership, hosted by the Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) of the United Nations in Rome, promotes international cooperation and exchange of experience and best practices between mountain regions in the world. With the financial support of Switzerland, UNEP Vienna will assist the partnership in accessing UNEPs global network of broad environmental knowledge and expertise.
In addition, UNEP Vienna will serve as UNEPs focal point for other Austria-based international organizations, including the United Nations Industrial Development Organization (UNIDO), the Organization for Security and Co-operation in Europe (OSCE), the Secretariat of the International Commission for the Protection of the Danube River (ICPDR) and the Secretariat of the Alpine Convention, based in Innsbruck. The Office will also facilitate UNEPs collaboration with the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP) Office in Bratislava, Slovakia, and the Regional Environmental Centre (REC), in Szentendre, Hungary.
With the opening of the UNEP Office in Vienna, a crucial and important element has been added to the UNEP family, whose primary task remains to inform and alert policy makers and the general public of global environmental trends and challenges, and to assist in translating these challenges into action on the ground. UNEP Vienna will help us to better collaborate with our sister agencies and partners in the region, and at the same time, assist in bringing the Carpathian and other important regional environmental agreements towards a successful implementation, said UNEPs Deputy Executive Director, Shafqat Kakakhel on the occasion of the opening of the UNEP Vienna office.
Environmental problems are of a transboundary nature and can adversely affect the sustainable development of entire regions, said Ambassador Georg Lennkh, Head of the Department for Development Cooperation and Cooperation with Eastern Europe; adding, because of the geographical proximity, Austria has a particular interest in the swift economic, social and ecological development in South-Eastern Europe.
This concern associates Austria with the Signatories of the Carpathian Convention, which are promoting the balance between economic and social development and the conservation of this unique ecosystem. The Austrian Development Cooperation and Cooperation with Eastern Europe (OEZA) is implementing various projects in the Carpathian region, in particular in Romania.
The Carpathians are shared by seven Central and Eastern European Countries (Czech Republic, Hungary, Poland, Romania, Serbia and Montenegro, Slovakia and Ukraine), four of which have recently joined the European Union. The Visegrad Group countries (V4) Czech Republic, Hungary, Poland and Slovakia - recently requested the European Commission to adhere to the Carpathian Convention and support its further development and implementation. This added a new, promising dimension to the efforts of governments and the international community to safeguard and protect the rich natural environment and cultural heritage of the region, and to ensure a development process which is environmentally sound and sustainable in the long run.
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For further information:
Harald Egerer, Programme Officer, UNEP Vienna
Tel. +43-1-260 60-4545