The Alpine Convention – German Presidency 2015-2016 – Review

The Alps – A Symbol of European Diversity

The Federal Republic of Germany held the Presidency of the Alpine Convention in 2015 and 2016. Germany's Presidency came to an end with the XIVth Alpine Conference on 13 October 2016, when the Presidency was handed over to Austria. The German Presidency was organised jointly by the Federal Government and the Free State of Bavaria, the only German state in the perimeter of the Alpine Convention.

On the basis of the Framework Convention, its Protocols and Declarations and in accord with the Multiannual Work Programme 2011 to 2016, Germany made a tangible contribution to conserving and developing the unique natural and cultural landscape of the Alps in the period 2015-2016, working closely with Contracting Parties, observers, civil society, Alpine networks and the Permanent Secretariat.

Our priorities

The comprehensive policy called for in the Alpine Convention to ensure conservation and sustainable development in the Alpine region was at the heart of our activities. In this context, Germany paid particular attention to the policy of greening the economy in the Alpine region.

Our focus was on practical implementation and raising awareness of the Alpine Convention at local level. To that end, the Alpine countries were encouraged to launch specific joint projects. In particular, the EU-funded Interreg V B Alpine Space Programme 2014 to 2020, with its transnational cooperation, was used intensively in order to develop new projects. The Alpine Space Programme approved a further 23 projects in October 2016. The German Federal Ministry for the Environment, Nature Conservation, Building and Nuclear Safety (BMUB) is providing national co-funding for a total of seven projects (AlpES, AlpGov, ALPBIONET2030, Links4Soils, GaYA, PlurAlps, YOUrALPS) in the period 2017 to 2019.

Expertise, know-how and understanding of the special characteristics of the Alpine region are pooled in the Convention’s working groups and platforms. We therefore assigned a lead role to these bodies in the development of joint projects and the application of their findings.

The Alpine Convention can only come into full effect in cooperation with the region’s inhabitants. Civil society and Alpine networks were therefore important partners for the German Presidency. The Federal Ministry for the Environment, Nature Conservation, Building and Nuclear Safety (BMUB) provided more than 1.4 million euros in funding for projects implemented by the Alpine networks and non-governmental organisations (NGOs). These joint projects laid the groundwork for AlpWeek 2016, whose theme was Alps and People. Linking AlpWeek and the XIVth Alpine Conference enabled the Alpine networks and people to engage in direct dialogue with policy-makers.

Multiannual Work Programme 2017 to 2022

Under the German Presidency, the Federal Ministry for the Environment, Nature Conservation, Building and Nuclear Safety (BMUB) set up an international working group to draft the third Multiannual Work Programme (MAP) of the Alpine Conference for the period 2017 to 2022. As a preliminary step, the Ministry conducted a survey of relevant non-governmental organisations and held a workshop with civil society representatives in order to gather input for determining the strategic direction of the Alpine Conference's future work.

As a result, the new Multiannual Work Programme identifies six thematic priorities.

  • Focusing on people and culture
  • Taking action on climate change
  • Conserving and valuing biodiversity and landscape
  • Greening the economy
  • Promoting sustainable transport
  • Playing a leading role in the EU Strategy for the Alpine Region (EUSALP).

In addition, the Work Programme emphasises the need for an interdisciplinary and integrated approach in partnership with stakeholders from civil society, the research community, international and European organisations, and so on. A number of projects selected for implementation of the Work Programme are identified in a Roadmap. The Alpine Conference will review and update the Roadmap every two years.

Finally, under the German Presidency, the XIVth Alpine Conference adopted a Declaration on the Multiannual Work Programme, which sets out the Contracting Parties' vision for the future of the Alps as a model region for sustainable development.

Fostering a Sustainable Economy in the Alps
Station der Alpenbahn in der Schweiz

The Alps are to become a model region for climate-friendly and resource-efficient economic activity. At Germany’s initiative, corresponding recommendations were adopted at the XIVth Alpine Conference. The Alps are particularly affected by climate change: glaciers are melting, snow lines are shifting and biodiversity is in decline. The Alps need our protection. The region is counting on global efforts to protect the climate, but it also has much to contribute itself. The Alpine Conference therefore adopted recommendations showing how the Alps can become a model region for climate-friendly, resource-efficient development in Europe.

Ecological connectivity in the Alps
Murmeltier auf Wiese vor Alpenpanorama

The Alps demonstrate particularly well why nature conservation is important and cannot be constrained by national borders. It is not simply a matter of conserving species and habitats, but of considering landscapes in their entirety. Ecological connectivity is therefore a key element of multilateral nature conservation. The EU's Natura 2000 network, with its hundreds of protected areas in the Alps, plays a key role in this context. Ecological connectivity in Europe also makes a contribution to the global network of protected areas.

The Alpine Convention provides the framework for action on ecological connectivity, requiring all Contracting Parties to coordinate their national and regional strategies and engage in cross-border cooperation in order to protect the Alps' abundance of diverse habitats and species.

Through the Ecological Network Platform of the Alpine Convention, Germany and France have been working together for more than 12 years to establish Alps-wide connectivity between natural habitats. The Alpine Network of Protected Areas (ALPARC) is the key partner in this context.

Sustainable tourism
Titelblatt der Broschüre Wintertourismus im Wandel

Winter tourism and climate change

What effect is climate change having on tourism during the winter months? This question is preoccupying a great many people whose livelihoods depend on tourism, not only in the German Alpine region. Global warming is proceeding even more rapidly in Alpine than in lowland areas and is already having a visible impact on snow-dependent winter tourism in the Alps. This brochure summarises current climate and winter tourism trends and shows how German holiday-makers’ expectations of a winter vacation have evolved in recent years. So how can the winter offer in the Alpine region become fit for the future in the face of major competition from other domestic and foreign destinations? The answer is provided in adaptation strategies for tourism destinations and by best practice models which take all aspects of sustainable development into account.

Climate change mitigation and adaptation

The Alps are particularly vulnerable to ongoing climate change. Temperatures here have risen twice as much as the global average over the past 100 years, making the Alpine region a kind of "climate early warning system". Nowhere else in Europe are so many sensitive landscapes within a comparatively small area so threatened by climate change.

Climate change and the management of its impacts were therefore one of the priorities for the German Presidency. Its purpose was to contribute to establishing climate change mitigation and adaptation more firmly in the Alpine Convention and to increase the focus on this issue in its implementation. The successful Paris Climate Change Conference (COP 21) in December 2015 and the international community’s adoption of a new climate agreement were key international events which framed the Presidency. They also gave a boost to Germany’s commitment to more climate action in the Alpine region. After COP 21, the German Presidency initiated a discussion in the Permanent Committee about the outcomes and further measures to combat climate change within the Alpine Convention framework, whereupon the XIVth Alpine Conference agreed, for the first time, that overall climate neutrality in the Alps by 2050 should be the shared long-term goal, as stated in the Declaration on Fostering a Sustainable Economy in the Alps.

The Multiannual Work Programme (MAP) for the years 2017 to 2022 therefore identifies climate change mitigation and adaptation as a priority field of action and calls for a comprehensive climate neutrality strategy. The Renewable Alps Vision, the Action Plan on Climate Change in the Alps (Evian, 2009) and the 6th Report on the State of the Alps on Greening the Economy offer an excellent basis for the strategy’s development. It was agreed that the Alpine Convention would set up its own Climate Advisory Council which, after reviewing existing climate-relevant decisions and activities within the Convention framework, would propose and circulate a set of targets to support the goal of a climate-neutral Alps by 2050. The role of the municipalities in combating climate change was also strengthened under the German Presidency. The XIVth Alpine Conference agreed to intensify climate-related cooperation among the municipalities, for example through a municipal climate alliance.

In addition, the German Presidency implemented a number of practical climate projects, including the following:

Municipal climate action

An international conference on municipal climate action in the Alpine region, whose theme was Climate Action Now!, was held in Benediktbeuern monastery in October 2015. The conference, which was funded by the German Federal Environmental Foundation (DBU), showed that cities and municipalities have a key role to play in climate change mitigation and adaptation in the Alpine region – and made it clear that the potential for municipal climate action in the region is by no means exhausted. Particular gaps highlighted by participants include the lack of a network for Alps-wide exchange of experience, the absence of an enabling environment, and inadequate human and financial resources. At the initiative of the organisers – CIPRA, Alliance in the Alps and the Alpine Town of the Year Association – a Declaration from the Alpine municipalities to the participants in the Paris Climate Change Conference was adopted. The Declaration was accepted by Rita Schwarzelühr-Sutter, Parliamentary State Secretary at the BMUB, who presented it at COP 21 in Paris in December 2015.

Climate action in the hotel and restaurant industry

With the Sustainable Economy in the Alpine Region: Climate Protection and Energy Efficiency in the Hotel and Restaurant Industry project, an Alps-wide platform for this key economic sector is now established for the first time. It provides an overview of existing initiatives in the Alpine region, promotes industry networking and facilitates an exchange of experience on energy and climate issues. Its purpose is not only to support climate action in Alpine tourism but also to enhance the quality of the tourism offer, improve competitiveness and leverage companies’ potential to make cost savings. The 2016 Alpine Conference voted for the project’s continuation as a joint initiative for the sustainable economy and requested Germany to maintain its lead role. Furthermore, a project for the introduction of energy management systems in hotels in the Alpine region was launched as part of the German Environment Ministry’s Environmental Technology Export Initiative.

Expansion of renewable energies

The expansion of renewable energies in the Alpine region is compatible with nature conservation objectives and various forms of land use, according to the findings of a project entitled "Best practice examples on land use and nature protection – compatible renewable energy projects in the Alpine region", conducted under the German Presidency and presented at the XIVth Alpine Conference. A total of 27 renewable energy projects from all the Alpine countries show how renewables expansion can be compatible with nature conservation and landscape. The examples presented relate to wind, hydro, solar, biomass and geothermal energy, smart grids and efficient energy storage.

Further information

Alpine Building Conference

The First Alpine Building Conference, whose theme was "Towards Net Zero Energy Buildings", took place in Garmisch-Partenkirchen, Bavaria, on 16 to 17 March 2016 at the initiative of the German Presidency.

Further information

Soil Conservation

The Soil Conservation Protocol is one of eight Protocols at the core of the implementation of the Alpine Convention and its principles. The Soil Conservation Protocol entered into force in late 2002, seven years after the Alpine Convention.

The purpose of the Soil Conservation Protocol is to ensure that the use of land resources in the Alpine region is as sustainable as possible, to be achieved, for example, by applying production processes which have a minimal detrimental impact on the soil, by controlling erosion and by using land economically. The Soil Conservation Protocol aims to reconcile diverse land-use demands, both economic and ecological. In the context of the International Year of Soils 2015, the German Presidency of the Alpine Convention hosted an Alpine Soil Symposium in Bad Reichenhall in June 2016 in order to review the implementation of the Soil Conservation Protocol. Read about the outcomes in the Conference Report: Soil Conservation Protocol of the Alpine Convention – Between Demand and Reality.

Sustainable spatial development
Foto des modern gestalteten Agrarbildungszentrums vor Alpenpanorama

The German Federal Ministry of Transport and Digital Infrastructure is responsible for the implementation of the Transport Protocol and the Spatial Planning and Sustainable Development Protocol to the Alpine Convention.

Under the German Presidency, spatial planning ministers from the Alpine countries adopted a Declaration on Sustainable Spatial Development in the Alps. Its purpose is to create fresh impetus for shared visions and scenarios for spatial development against the backdrop of growing challenges and to strengthen cross-border cooperation among planning bodies at local and regional level.

Which spatial development options exist for the Alpine region? The Alpine Space in Future exhibition, which was opened by State Secretary Rainer Bomba during the XIVth Alpine Conference and AlpWeek in Grassau on 12 October 2016, provides some answers. It identifies the full range of issues that must be reconciled in the context of sustainable spatial planning.

A Stakeholder Conference contributed to the preparation of the Declaration on Sustainable Spatial Planning.

Further information

Water in the Alps
Von links: Prof. Dr.-Ing. Martin Grambow (Leiter der Abteilung Wasserwirtschaft und Bodenschutz am Bayerischen Staatsministerium für Umwelt und Verbraucherschutz), Dr. Marianna Elmi (Vize-Generalsekretärin der Alpenkonvention), Ulrike Scharf (Mitglied des Landtages, Bayerische Staatsministerin für Umwelt und Verbraucherschutz), Dr. Helge Wendenburg (Leiter der Abteilung Wasserwirtschaft und Ressourcenschutz im Bundesministerium für Umwelt, Naturschutz, Bau und Reaktorsicherheit), Christian Wanger (Leiter des Referats Wasserwirtschaft im ländlichen Raum, Gewässerökologie, Wildbäche am Bayerischen Staatsministerium für Umwelt und Verbraucherschutz)

6th International Water Conference on Herrenchiemsee

The 6th International Water Conference on Water Management in a Field of Conflicting Interests: Between Natural Hazards and Nature Protection took place on the island of Herrenchiemsee on 12 October 2016. The Conference was the closing event of the Italian-Bavarian Co-Presidency of the Alpine Convention's Water Management Platform. Each of the three sessions addressed one of the topics of the 2015 to 2016 mandate from a scientific and practitioner perspective. Session I focused on the opportunities and problems raised by the EU's two water directives (Water Framework Directive and Floods Directive) from an international perspective. Session II looked at fluvial hydromorphology and its interaction with sediment transport. The final session explored communication on water-related issues. The 60 or so international experts from the water sector, research and public administration also made use of the opportunity to exchange experience with colleagues from neighbouring Alpine countries.

Further information

State of the Alps
Radlader auf dem Biomassehof Achental

Following a proposal put forward by Minister Barbara Hendricks, the Alpine countries jointly produced a Report on the State of the Alps that focuses on greening the Alpine economy. The aim is to mainstream the green economy approach in all sectors in the Alpine region. The Report was compiled by a group of experts under the German Presidency.

Further information

Education, people and culture

The people who live in the Alpine region are the key players in implementing a comprehensive policy to ensure its protection and sustainable development.

Socioeconomic and sociocultural aspects are central to the Alpine Convention. With Ministers' adoption of the Declaration on Population and Culture in 2006, the Alpine Conference agreed principles and objectives for a sustainable development policy that focuses on the needs, wishes and opinions of the people who live in the Alpine area, based on a commitment to preserving and promoting cultural diversity in the Alps and to building bridges and fostering dialogue between cultures.

In accordance with the principle that the Alpine Convention can only come into full effect in cooperation with the region's inhabitants, the German Presidency involved civil society and the Alpine networks as key partners.

With the successful initiatives – "Reading Mountains" for the promotion of International Mountain Day, and "Youth at the Top" – two formats which promote cultural diversity, support environmental education and bring the Alpine Convention close to citizens, enabling them to experience it directly, have been established Alps-wide.

Further information

Mountain farming

International Conference on Mountain Farming: Tradition and Responsibility for Tomorrow

On 4 October 2016, an international Mountain Farming Conference took place in Garmisch-Partenkirchen, Germany. It was hosted by Christian Schmidt, German Federal Minister of Food and Agriculture, and was held within the framework of the German Presidency of the Alpine Convention. The Conference was attended by high-level representatives of governments, farming and research from the Alpine countries and focused on current challenges and future prospects for mountain farming in the Alpine region.

Further information

Sustainable event organisation

Every aspect of the organisation of meetings and events has environmental impacts – from the arrival and departure of participants to food, accommodation and conference materials. Events organisation is therefore one of the areas in which the Alpine Convention’s bodies can take direct action in a variety of ways. In order to support these efforts while maintaining a high standard in the delivery of sustainable events but avoiding any disproportionate burden on organisers' staff and resources, the Permanent Secretariat – in cooperation with the German Presidency – developed Recommendations for the Sustainable Organisation of Meetings and Events of the Alpine Convention.

A number of countries and regions have adopted their own guidelines and certification schemes for sustainable (green) events and meetings; however, they tend to vary, and not every region has its own certification scheme as yet. As the Alpine Convention’s meetings and events are held in various countries and regions, a different certification scheme applies in almost every case.

The Recommendations for the Sustainable Organisation of Meetings and Events of the Alpine Convention are based on experience gained in this field over recent years. They take into account existing certification schemes such as Green Event Südtirol Alto Adige and Green Event Tirol, the guidance issued by the German Federal Ministry for the Environment, Nature Conservation, Building and Nuclear Safety and the German Environment Agency, and the Austrian Eco-Label (ZU 62).

The Recommendations are not exhaustive but should be viewed as a summary list of the aspects which can be directly influenced by events organisers. They are not intended to be a substitute for existing certification schemes for green events, however.

Further information

Compliance Committee 2015 to 2016

Verifying compliance with the Convention's provisions

Even the best international treaty will only be effective if Contracting Parties uphold and implement its provisions. The Compliance Committee is the main body for safeguarding compliance with the Alpine Convention itself and its Protocols. It deals with individual cases referred by the Contracting Parties or by observer organisations as representatives of civil society, and also looks at the general state of compliance based on the national reports which Contracting Parties are obliged to submit periodically. The Committee may also select specific topics for detailed scrutiny.

Under the German Presidency, the Compliance Committee conducted an in-depth review of compliance with commitments and obligations pertaining to sustainable tourism and issued a final report with conclusions and recommendations.

Furthermore, the Compliance Committee established legal clarity in relation to the interpretation of Article 6(3) of the Tourism Protocol, which concerns the obligation to pursue a balance between intensive and extensive forms of tourism. The guidelines submitted on the interpretation of Article 6(3) of the Tourism Protocol set out a workable approach to the abstract legal terms used in the Article.

Under the German Presidency, the Compliance Committee also finalised its report on one specific case referred to it by the observer organisation CIPRA International. The case concerned changes to the Regulation establishing a landscape conservation area, known as Egartenlandschaft, in the rural county of Miesbach in Bavaria. The Compliance Committee did not establish non-compliance with the Alpine Convention's provisions, but produced a set of criteria to be considered at an early stage in future planning procedures and interventions in protected areas.

In addition to this specific case, the Compliance Committee looked at key terms used in the Protocol on Nature Protection and Landscape Conservation and issued recommendations for coherent Alps-wide implementation of Article 11(1) of this Protocol. The recommendations include specific criteria to be considered at an early stage in the planning of interventions in protected areas. This will support compliance with the Convention's provisions by bodies involved in planning and implementing projects that are likely to impact on protected areas in countries which are Contracting Parties to the Alpine Convention, thus creating legal certainty.

In total, the German Presidency held four meetings of the Compliance Committee in Berlin, the monastery of Benediktbeuern and Innsbruck and, for the first time, also addressed questions to independent experts in this context. In order to provide timely assistance for Contracting Parties, the Compliance Committee also amended its rules of procedure to enable key findings to be published more quickly and ahead of their deliberation by the Alpine Conference.