Text by the Austrian Presidency of the Alpine Convention (2016-2019)
In October 2016, Austria officially took over the Presidency of the Alpine Convention from Germany. The Federal Minister of Sustainability and Tourism, Ms Elisabeth Köstinger was the president of the XV Alpine Conference on 4 April 2019 in Innsbruck (AT). Here the presidency was handed over to France.
The kick-off event of the Austrian presidency took place in Salzburg on 4 November 2016, which was also marking the 25th anniversary of the signing of the Alpine Convention. At the event the priorities of the Austrian Presidency were highlighted by the then Federal Minister for agriculture, forestry, environment and water management, Andrä Rupprechter. During its two-year term in office, the Presidency implemented the concept “Protect and Utilise”. Protection and development of the Alps go hand in hand and are not mutually exclusive. The concept comprises the three key elements of sustainability: environment, economy and social concerns.
Climate protection was a key priority. In this context, the Alpine Convention can prove a useful regional organization and a trend-setter in Europe. In order to work on this focus theme, the Alpine Convention set up its own "Alpine Climate Board” which developed the Alpine Climate Target System 2050 that describes sectoral targets for a climate-neutral and climate resilient Alpine area. During the Austrian Presidency the Seventh Report on the State of the Alps focused on Natural hazard risk governance – climate change adaptation was a main topic here. In the last years, dramatic floods and landslides have shown that the Alpine area and its residents are at high risk of natural disasters. The safety of the local population is paramount and a rising challenge in the face of climate change.
Austria intended to leverage on past achievements and add momentum: one of its focus themes was the role of women in mountain regions. Special attention was devoted to how women can preserve, improve and influence activities in the Alps taking into consideration environmental, economic and cultural aspects. This issue was also addressed by the – mostly female – representatives of mountain areas worldwide in Alpbach in April 2017, when they had the opportunity to network, exchange best practices and establish partnerships. Population and culture was a key priority for the Austrian Presidency. Therefore Austria coordinated – together with Germany – the ClimaHost challenge for promoting innovative solutions for climate protection and energy efficiency in the gastronomy and hotel industry. They supported the Youth Alpine Interrail Ticket for young people traveling through the Alps by using public transport and foster initiatives like the Reading Mountains Festival.
The Alpine Convention was also strengthening its cooperation with the EU Macroregional Strategy for the Alpine Region (EUSALP) – an important regional policy instrument that opens up new opportunities.
Federal Minister for agriculture, forestry, environment and water management
As scheduled, Germany handed over the Presidency of the Alpine Conference and Alpine Convention to Austria in October 2016 in Grassau: I was very honoured to be “passed the baton” by the Federal Minister for the Environment Ms. Barbara Hendricks. The third Austrian Presidency of the Alpine Convention is due to last from autumn 2016 to autumn 2018.
With our Motto “Protect and Utilise” we want to build on the excellent programme of the German Presidency, use connecting points and synergies, continue existing initiatives and add many of our own touches in the different sectors. In doing so, I can fully draw on the rich and diverse expertise of my department, the Federal Ministry for Agriculture, Forestry, Environment and Water Management.
Why “Protect and utilise”? The motto of our presidency shows the area in which the Alpine Convention has been moving since it was signed more than a quarter century ago. Protecting the Alpine area while developing it are not mutually exclusive ideas – they must work together. The Alpine Convention offers a large pool of knowledge, many years of experience and functioning networks. It represents a comprehensive, cross-functional political programme, a “platform” for cooperation and coexistence across national boundaries. It endeavours to preserve the abundant natural treasures of the Alps and to protect the environment and its valuable resources. At the same time, it stands for a responsible economic use of the Alpine space while further developing it as the living environment for millions of people in the future.
I presented the detailed agenda of the Austrian Presidency to the public on 4 November 2016 in the Salzburg Residenz. My special thanks go to Governor Wilfried Haslauer, who gave us the opportunity to begin the two-year Austrian Presidency exactly in the place where almost exactly 25 years earlier, on 7 November 1991, the Alpine Convention was signed by the delegates of the Alpine countries and by the EU Commissioner in charge.
The role of women in the Alps is particularly close to my heart. We therefore organized an international conference on the “The Role of Women in Mountain Regions” which was held in Alpbach, Tyrol, in April 2017. The challenge, how to maintain and improve human activities in the Alpine area as an ecologically, economically and culturally shaping element, is of prime importance to me. The land of the future needs equal opportunities and new perspectives. In this, women play a significant and central role.
Within the framework of the successful conference in Alpbach we were able to highlight and present people who provide a significant local contribution in the planet’s mountain regions: women from different continents gave keynote speeches and described different life situations and challenges. To illustrate the multiple roles of women in the Alpine area and in other mountain regions a declaration was also prepared: “Regional solutions for global challenges”. It was adopted in Alpbach and should contribute to reinforce the role of women in mountain regions.
A further core point of my presidency is mountain farming. We would like to connect to the conference on mountain farming that was held in Garmisch-Partenkirchen in 2016 under the German Presidency and invited to an international conference on the future of mountain farming in the Alpine area, which was held in mid-September 2017 in St. Johann im Pongau, in the state of Salzburg.
Sadly the inhabitants of the Alpine region are repeatedly affected by natural catastrophes. The next report on the state of the Alps, which is currently being prepared, deals with the subject “Natural Hazard Risk Governance ”. Other priorities of the Austrian Presidency are in the fields of mountain forests, nature protection, water, climate change, renewable energies and sustainable mobility in tourism.
The constituent meeting of the newly created Alpine Climate Board was held in Vienna in February 2017. At the next meeting of the Alpine Conference (scheduled for autumn 2018 in Innsbruck) also the Young Academics Award will again be presented. The Alpine Convention prize for outstanding master theses is this time dedicated to the theme “Sustainable Water Management in the Alps”. Also the Youth Parliament, introduced during the previous Austrian presidency in 2006, will be further strengthened.
Our Motto “Protect and Utilise” also covers many different sectors. All these mosaic pieces of the Austrian Presidency agenda are ultimately geared towards increasing the visibility of the Alpine Convention.
Since I have been working in a European context for many years, I believe that another matter is gaining in importance: the interaction of the Alpine Convention with the new macro-regional strategy for the Alpine region (EUSALP). The Alpine Convention must cooperate with this new and significant regional political instrument of the European Union and must play an active role. With its many years of experience, the Alpine Convention can provide a significant contribution to this.