Legally binding instruments

Explicit reference to mountain areas

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, which is why other legal texts relevant to them are collected here.

▪ 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 the environment, especially biodiversity. Given 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 asks them 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, aims at stabilising 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

No explicit reference to mountain areas

→ International Plan Protection Convention, 6 December 1957

→ Convention concerning the Protection of the World Cultural and Natural Heritage ("World Heritage Convention"), 16 November 1973

→ Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora (CITES), 3 March 1973

→ Kyoto Protocol on Climate Change, 11 December 1997

→ Convention on the Conservation of Migratory Species of Wild Animals (CMS), 23 June 1979

→ Convention on Long-Range Transboundary Air Pollution, 13 November 1979


→ Vienna Convention for the Protection of the Ozone Layer, 22 March 1985

→ Montreal Protocol on Substance that Deplete the Ozone Layer, 16 September 1987


→ Convention on Access to Information, Public Participation in Decision-making and Access to Justice in Environmental Matters (“Aarhus Convention”), 25 June 1998

Other instruments

States have been more inclined to adopt instruments that are not legally binding. Some consider these instruments as less relevant since they cannot be used before an international judge. However, they are nonetheless 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).

Other Instruments
  • UN General Assembly Resolutions

The UNGA has adopted several 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 actively contribute to directing attention to 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 like 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 short 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

  • Council Of Europe

Committee of Ministers

 ▪ Guiding principles for sustainable spatial development of the European Continent

Recommendation of 30 January 2002 - Part V Paragraph 4 is dedicated to mountain areas (Rec(2002)1)

▪ Principles of a strategy for tourism development in mountain regions

Recommendation of 7 February 1979 (No. R (79) 4)

▪ Ecological Charter for mountain regions in Europe

Resolution of 21 May 1976 ((76) 34)

▪ Endangered Alpine regions

Resolution of 15 April 1975 ((75) 9)

▪ Economic and social problems of mountain regions

Resolution of 27 February 1974 ((74) 7)

Parliamentary Assembly (PACE)

▪ Sustainable development of mountain regions

Recommendation of 25 November 2003 (1638)

▪ Introduction of a quality label for food products derived from hill farming

Recommendation of 3 September 2002 (1575)

▪ Quality label for mountain resorts in Europe

Recommendation of 4 November 1999 (1433)

▪ Draft European Charter of mountain regions

Recommendation of 27 June 1995 (1274)

▪ Transalpine traffic

Recommendation of 18 September 1986 (1041)

▪ European regional planning and the role and function of Alpine regions

Resolution of 30 January 1979 (687)

▪ European functions of the Alpine regions

Resolution of 3 July 1974 (570)

▪ Farming in moutain areas

Recommendation of 1st February 1968 (517)

Congress of Local and Regional Authorities (CLRA)

▪ Sustainable development of mountain regions and the experience of the Carpathians mountains

Resolution of 28 October 2010 (315)

▪ Challenges and opportunities for peripheral and sparsely populated regions

Resolution of 1st June 2007 (245)

▪ International Year of Mountains - a new political projet for Europe's mountains: turning disinherited mountain areas into a ressource

Resolution of 6 June 2002 (136)

▪ Cooperation of the Alpine regions

Resolution of 19 October 1983 (143)

▪ Rural and agricultural regions and mountain regions

Resolution of 20 October 1982 (132)

Standing Committee of the Convention on the Conservation of European Wildlife and Natural Habitats

▪ Guidance for Parties on biodiversity and climate change in mountain regions

Resolution of 9 December 2010 (145)

▪ Conservation of natural areas outside protected areas proper

Recommendation of 6 December 1991 - Part VI Paragraph 2 is dedicated to mountain areas (25)


Council of Europe 

▪ International Conference "Sustainable development of the Carpathians and other European mountain regions"

Final declaration of 10 September 2010, Uzhgorod (Ukraine)

▪ Conference "Sustainable development of mountain regions, European transit policy and the challenge of globalisation"

Final declaration of 17 June 2003, Cavalese (Italy)

European Charter on Water Resources, 17 October 2001

This Charter doesn't mention mountain areas in a specific binding disposition but explains in Paragraph 1 how the whole text is relevant to them :

Fresh water constitues only 2.7% of the Earth's overall water mass, and to a large extent it is in a frozen state in the polar caps and the snow cover of high mountains”.

▪ 3rd European Conference of Mountain Regions

Final declaration of 17 September 1994, Chamonix (France)

▪ Draft European outline convention on mountain regions

- Report by Dino Vierin

▪ Draft European charter of mountain regions

▪ Altai Initiative

This initiative gathers four countries of the Altai mountain range : China, Kazakhstan, Mongolia and Russia. This area has outstanding ecological, cultural and resource values that include a wealth of water and recreational resources and rich biodiversity that need protecting through an interstate regional cooperation.

► The Altai Declaration - Protocol of Intentions, 7 September 2007

This declaration was adopted on the initiative of the Altai Republic (Russian Federation). The four States sharing the Altai mountain areas acknowledge their common responsibility to protect and develop this region. They decide that there must be a coordinated regional policy for protection and sustainable development. Thus, an intergovernmental Altai Mountain Areas Convention on Sustainable Development has to be adopted. This declaration is not legally bindind but is the first step toward more cooperation.

▪ Himalayan Initiative

This region is given different names but generally includes parts of Afghanistan, Bangladesh, Bhutan, China, Myanmar, Nepal, India and Pakistan. It is characterised by its exceptional geographical conditions (very remote areas and high-altitude environments) and very rich cultural heritage. Contrary to other regional initiatives, the Himalayan Initiative isn't as developed. For the moment, only two instruments were drafted on very specific matters. This can maybe be explained by the fact that these States haven't the same economic possibilities to invest in such partnerships as others regions.

► Framework Agreement on Himalayan Initiative – Conservation and Wise Use of Himalayan Mountain Wetlands (draft), 16 May 2005

On the occasion of an Asia Regional Meeting in Beijing within the framework of the Ramsar Convention was presented this partnership agreement. Its goal is to promote dialogue and cooperation between a range of stakeholders (States, site management agencies, development agencies, private sector, NGOs, etc.) to
achieve cconservation and wise use of the high altitude wetlands in the Himalaya-Hindu Kush-Pamir-Alay region.As for now this legal text hasn't been adopted and is still in draft form.

► Access and Benefit Sharing Framework Agreement for the Genetic Resources and Associated Traditional Knowledge of the Hindu Kush-Himalayan Countries (draft), February 2010
This Agreement, also still in draft form, aims at protecting biological diversity in the Himalayan region within the framework of the CBD (see in "international - general" section) . It aims at ensuring fair access and benefit sharing (ABS) and a stable supply of biological resources. It should among other things allow member States to gather and share information on biological diversity.

▪ Andean Initiative

This common initiative aims at consolidating institutional capacities in order to promote the development of sustainable activities in the Andean moutain range. It allows Andean States (Argentina, Bolivia, Peru, Ecuador, Chile, Colombia and Venezuela), supported by their National Committees, to coordonate their action. Are also included in this Initiative representatives of the civil society and international organisations.

► Declaration of San Miguel de Tucumán, 7 September 2007

This declaration was adopted at the end of the 1st subregional meeting of the Andean Initiative during which States presented actions plans and exchanged experience in the field of sustainable development. This document contains concrete priorities and common actions for the future. External financing will be provided by donors as international organisations (for example the FAO). This declaration is seen as the central document of the Andean Initiative.

▪ Caucasus Initiative

 The States of the Caucasus region are Armenia, Azerbaijan, Georgia, Iran, Russia and Turkey. The goal of this initiative is to consider Caucasus as a global region that needs special protection of its unique biodiversity and cultural heritage. Together, States can consider their various problems and implement common sustainable solutions.

► Resolution of the 1st Meeting on Development of a Legal Instrument for the Protection of the Caucasian Mountain Ecosystems, Yerevan, 27 June 2001

On the initiative of Armenia, this meeting led to a resolution recognising that a legal instrument ("Caucasus Convention") has to be adopted by the States to support the Caucasus Initiative.

► Outcomes of the Workshop on Sharing the Experience: Capacity Building on Legal Instrument for the Protection and Sustainable Development of Mountain Regions in the Caucasus, 15 December 2005

This workshop took place at the initiative of Italy and UNEP. Armenia was unable to attend because of technical reasons. States express their political will to cooperate further and in particular to adopt a legal regional instrument (as first discussed in Yerevan). However, the document doesn't mention any date or concrete details on the drafting of this legal text.

► Vaduz Ministerial Statement, 16 November 2007

This document is the outcome of a conference hold in Vaduz at Liechtenstein and UNEP's invitation to discuss a regional cooperation in the Caucasus region. It invites parties to develop further their partnership on environmental protection and sustainable development. As the previous documents, it is still a political declaration that doesn't contain concrete measures.

Carpathian Convention

▪ Convention on the Protection and Sustainable Development of the Carpathians (Carpathian Convention)

The Carpathian Convention provides the framework for cooperation and multi-sectoral policy coordination, a platform for joint strategies for sustainable development, and a forum for dialogue between all stakeholders involved
→ State parties

► Framework Convention, 22 May 2003
► Protocol on Conservation and Sustainable Use of Biological and Landscape Diversity, 19 June 2008

► Protocol on Sustainable Forest Managment, 27 May 2011

► Protocol on Sustainable Tourism, 27 May 2011

Alpine Convention

Convention on the Protection of the Alps (Alpine Convention)

The Alpine Convention is an international treaty between the Alpine countries aimed at promoting sustainable development in the Alpine area and at protecting the interests of the people living in the region. It embraces environmental, social, economic and cultural dimensions.

→ State parties

► Framework Convention, 7 November 1991

The Convention is a framework that sets out the basic principles of all the activities of the Alpine Convention and contains general measures for the sustainable development in the Alpine region. It entered into force on March 1995.

Specific measures implementing the principles laid down in the framework Convention are contained in the Protocols to the Alpine Convention, which set out concrete steps to be taken for the protection and sustainable development of the Alps.

► "Spatial planning and sustainable development" Protocol, 20 December 1994

"Conservation of nature and the countryside" Protocol, 20 December 1994

"Mountain farming" Protocol, 20 December 1994

"Mountain forests" Protocol, 27 February 1996

"Tourism" Protocol, 16 October 1998

"Energy" Protocol, 16 October 1998

"Soil conservation" Protocol, 16 October 1998

"Transport" Protocol, 31 October 2000

Two more protocols were adopted by the Contracting Parties to the Alpine Convention : the Protocol on the solution of litigations and the Additional Protocol for Monaco.

In addition to protocols, two Ministerial non-binding declarations on specific topics have also been adopted.

"Population and culture" Declaration, November 2006
"Climate change" Declaration, November 2006