alps

SPEECH BY PRINCE SADRUDIN AGA KHAN

GENEVA, SWITZERLAND

FEBRUARY 28, 1989

Saving the Alps Towards Alpine Action

The Bellerive Foundation is an officially recognised N.G.O. presided by Prince Sadrudin Aga Khan involved in numerous public interest projects. The Bellerive Foundation has made it's presence felt in many parts of the world. One such project is the "Conservation of the Alps". The following are edited remarks made by Prince Sadrudin at a meeting of leaders from international organisations, governments, industry, tourism and N.G.O. with scientists, media and students in Geneva, 28/2/89.


Since the Stockholm conference of 1972, there has been a recognition of ecological problems including those affecting the mountains in industrialised countries. There have been many meetings, projects, strategies and centres established. But in many mountain ranges the situation continues to worsen and perhaps the Alps are the worst example of all.

Although scientists disagree on the extent and causes of the problem there is broad consensus that there is a major problem; encompassing deforestation, erosion, pollution, climate change, community decline, agricultural depression, man-made and natural disasters. Solution aplenty have been proposed; re-afforestation legislation and controls, protected areas, education, training awareness, community development, and so on. We do not want to re-invent the wheel, again to go over the problems and solutions. I suggest we want to ask other sorts of questions. First, where are we going? Do we want to create or re-create some pristine state of ecological purity? In the Alps at least the clock cannot be turned back. Are we then looking for some middle way - the "sustainable development" concept as elaborated by the Brundtland Commission for example? But to achieve this do we not need much more dialogue between all the interested, and often conflicting, parties - tourist promoters, local communities, conservationists, scientists and the concerned governments? Above all, I suggest we should ask how we can avoid the extreme positions which provoke cycles of reactions, and which may ultimately underline the catastrophes that are increasingly frequent in alpine regions.

We also have to ask what has gone wrong in the past? The Alps cannot, of course, be considered separately from the European hinterland of which they are a part. The pollution and climate that affects the Alps is European, not specifically alpine. The consequences of alpine degradation affects all of Europe particularly through the hydrological system since the great rivers such as the Rhine, the Rhone, the Po and even the Danube rise in these mountains. The geopolitical dimension also places the Alps in a wider context as Western Europe moves towards 1992, and as the East-West detente unfolds. It may be useful to talk then of alpine regions (with a small Ďa') as the mountains of industrialised countries which share many common problems, and where comparative exchange of information and the experience gained from research as well as action may hold the key to success.

I sense that communication in a broad sense is a major missing piece and the reason why success has proved so elusive in the past. If all the best of scientific research could be distilled into a wisdom accessible to political elite and public alike we may indeed move much more quickly. If different interested parties --Government, Industry, communities, business and NGO's--could have a full and frank dialogue, conflicts and delays may be avoided, if a responsible code of ethics towards the mountains could be fostered and implemented, then care and conservation might evolve without the necessity for too draconian legislation and protection.

Communication is necessary but not sufficient. There is a shortage of funding and need to deploy human resources more effectively. Behind this is the low place of mountains on the political agenda. Also, popular enthusiasm is in short supply.

The Bellerive Foundation is happy to assist in this process essentially as a catalyst and, if necessary, to provide a temporary umbrella for some of the initial activities.

10 priority points for action

1. AN URGENT REVIEW OF CURRENT KNOWLEDGE AND FUTURE SCENARIO IN KEY AREAS: EG. FORESTS, WATER, AGRICULTURE, TOURISM, COMMUNITY DEVELOPMENT, ETC.

2. THE PREPARATION OF ALPINE CONSERVATION STRATEGY, INCLUDING A CODE OF ETHICS.

3. THE PREPARATION OF A MASTER PLAN FOR IMPLEMENTING DEGREES OF PROTECTION FOR ECOLOGICALLY SENSITIVE AREAS.

4. THE SUPPORT OF EXISTING PREPARATIONS FOR AN ALPINE CONVENTION RATIONALISING EXISTING LEGISLATION AND EXPLORING NEW LEGAL INSTRUMENTS.

5. THE ESTABLISHMENT OF A NETWORK OF SCIENTIFIC MONITORING CENTRES WITH A COMMON DATA BASE AND CONNECTED BY ON-LINE COMPUTERS.

6. THE PROMOTION OF PRINTED AND AUDIO-VISUAL MATERIALS FOR EDUCATIONAL AND PUBLIC INFORMATION PURPOSES.

7. THE CONVENING OF REGULAR CONFERENCES ASSESSING THE STATE OF THE ALPS-ORGANISED BY A FOCAL INSTITUTION AND NETWORK.

8. THE PROMOTION OF MORE EFFECTIVE LOCAL COMMUNITY MANAGEMENT, INCLUDING THE PROVISION OF INDEPENDENT TECHNICAL ADVICE ON THE ENVIRONMENTAL AND ECONOMIC IMPLICATIONS OF DEVELOPMENT ACTIVITIES.

9. THE ENCOURAGEMENT OF THE FINANCIAL COMMUNITY TO CONTRIBUTE TO CONSERVATION. 10. THE CREATION OF A FUND TO SUPPORT AN ACTION GROUP TO ANIMATE THESE ACTIVITIES.