Mountainous areas are not often considered by legally binding international treaties : no international treaty is dedicated to these areas and only three general instruments mention them. That is why are collected here other legal texts that are also relevant to them.


  • Explicit reference to mountain areas

Convention to Combat Desertification (UNCCD), 17 June 1994

This Convention does not refer to mountainous areas in general as the other two but only mentions the Transcaucasus region in its Preamble:

“Expressing concern over the impact of desertification and drought on affected countries in Central Asia and the Transcaucasus.
→ State parties & notifications

Convention on Biological Diversity (CBD), 5 June 1992

The CBD is a “sister” treaty of the UNFCCC as it was adopted during the same Summit in 1992. It is another major international instrument for the promotion of sustainable development and the protection of environment, especially biodiversity. Regarding how rich the biodiversity in mountainous areas is, it is no surprise that they are mentioned in article 20§7:

Consideration shall also be given to the special situation of developing countries, including those that are most environmentally vulnerable, such as (…) mountainous areas”.

However, this article does not define any obligations for the Member States as it only ask to “consider” special situations.

→ State parties

The Conference of the Parties (COP), the governing body of the CBD, adopted two important and very detailed decisions that plan a programme of work on mountain biological diversity :

- COP 7 Decision VII/27

- COP 10 Decision X/30

Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC), 9 May 1992

This Convention, adopted at the Rio Earth Summit in 1992, aim at stabilizing greenhouse gas concentrations in the atmosphere at a level that would prevent dangerous anthropogenic interference with the climate system. It is considered as a fundamental environmental instrument, all the more so as it has near-universal membership. Mountains are not the subject of a specific article, but are mentioned in the Preamble:

Recognizing further that (…) developing countries with fragile mountainous ecosystems are particularly vulnerable to the adverse effects of climate change”.

→ State parties


States have been more inclined to adopt instruments that are not legally binding. Some consider these instruments as worthless since they can't be used before an international judge. However, most think on the contrary that they are very important as they represent the political will of States at a given moment and can be a marker of customary international law (which would then be binding).

UN General Assembly Resolutions

The UNGA adopted important resolutions on mountains. It created the International Year of Mountains and, since 2003, has adopted a resolution on sustainable development in mountain regions every two years. Even though these resolutions have no legal force, they contribute actively to attract attention on the subject.

→ A/RES/53/24
, 10 November 1998 – International Year of Mountains, 2002

→ A/RES/55/189, 20 December 2000 – Status of Preparation for the International Year of Mountains, 2002

→ A/RES/57/245, 20 December 2002 – International Year of Mountains, 2002

→ A/RES/58/216
, 23 December 2003 – Sustainable Development in Mountain Regions

→ A/RES/60/198, 22 December 2005 – Sustainable Mountain Development

→ A/RES/62/196, 19 December 2007 – Sustainable Mountain Development

→ A/RES/64/205, 21 December 2009 – Sustainable Mountain Development

→ A/RES/66/205, 22 December 2011 – Sustainable Mountain Development

UN ECOSOC Resolutions

The UN Economic and Social Council adopted two resolutions to acknowledge the Proclamation of an International Year of Mountains, decided by the UNGA. Indeed, the ECOSOC is competent to deal with matters as sustainable development which are relevant for this particular event.

→ Resolution 1997/45
, 22 July 1997

→ Resolution 1998/30, 29 July 1998

Rio+20 outcome document: "The future we want", 22 June 2012

The United Nations Conference on Sustainable Development was held in Rio in June 2012, 20 years after the 1992 Earth Summit. The outcome document, though not legally binding, addresses numerous worldwide issues. §210 to 212 specifically deals with mountain areas:

We encourage States to adopt a long-term vision and holistic approaches, including through incorporating mountain-specific policies into national sustainable development strategies, which could include, inter alia, poverty reduction plans and programmes for mountain areas, particularly in developing countries. In this regard, we call for international support for sustainable mountain development in developing countries.

Final Declaration of the International Conference on Agrarian Reform and Rural Development, 10 March 2006

Adopted by States in Porto Allegre, this declaration only contains a little reference to mountain regions in Article 26:

We recognize the need to ensure fishing, forest, mountain and other unique communities' rights and their access to fishing, forest and mountain areas and other unique environments within the framework of sustainable management of natural resources.

Plan of Implementation of the World Summit on Sustainable Development ("Johannesburg plan of implementation"), 4 September 2002

This plan contains concrete measures for the implementation of Agenda 21 and other instruments as UN millenium goals. Paragraph 42 describes the action that should to be taken in mountain areas, for example implementing programmes to address deforestation, erosion, land degradation, loss of biodiversity, disru ption of water flows and retreat of glaciers.

→ Paragraph 42

Declaration of Huaraz on Sustainable Development of Mountain Ecosystems, 14 June 2002

This declaration was adopted following the Second International Meeting of Mountain Ecosystems ("Mountain Ecosystems World Meeting Mountains Towards 2020: Water, Life and Production”) by 16 States. It calls on governments of countries with mountainous regions to take concerted action to support, in particular, sustainable use and management of water resources, promotion of biological and cultural diversity and development of production processes in mountain ecosystems.

Cusco Declaration on Sustainable Development of Mountain Ecosystem, 27 April 2001

On the occasion of the "International Workshop on Mountain Ecosystems: A Vision of the Future", 18 States adopted a common declaration on sustainable development in mountain ecosystems in which they recommand to support the UN initiative of the International Year of Mountains, to deepen awareness and responsibility on the matter and to evaluate the advances made in the implementation of Chapter 13 (Agenda 21) to identify new opportunities to act.

Agenda 21, 13 June 1992

Agenda 21 is a plan of action concerning sustainable development adopted in 1992. Its particularity is that even though it is an international instrument, it was mainly meant to be implemented on a local level (regions, cities, etc.) with a public participation.

It contains 40 chapters, one of which (Chapter 13) is entitled "Managing Fragile Ecosystems: Sustainable Mountain Development". Its two main goals are to generate and strengthen knowledge about the ecology and sustainable development of mountain ecosystems and to promote watershed development and alternative livelihood opportunities.

→ Chapter 13