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Swiss Alps conference agrees mountain strategy

A quarter of the land mass in Switzerland is mountainous

(Keystone)

Delegates from 55 countries have agreed a plan of action at a meeting in Switzerland to help preserve the world's mountain regions.

Four days of negotiations in the Swiss resort of Adelboden resulted in a series of recommendations to promote and incorporate sustainable mountain development at the national and international level.

"With this initiative, we have brought together all the stakeholders," said Manfred Boetsch, director of the Swiss Federal Office for Agriculture. "In terms of bringing it into reality, we've made an important step forward."

However, doubts remain whether the Adelboden Declaration will ever be implemented after it has been presented to the World Summit on Sustainable Development in Johannesburg, South Africa, in August.

Lack of optimism

After the collapse of preparatory talks two weeks ago in Bali, Claude Martin, director general of WWF International, is not particularly optimistic for Johannesburg.

"Unfortunately the preparatory process has been rather messy," he told swissinfo. "There are no real signs for an action plan with tangible outputs, targets and timetables."

"Everybody is now looking for private-public partnerships rather than firm government commitments, so we will have to work hard in putting pressure on governments otherwise such outcomes as the one from this mountain agriculture conference might be lost."

Summit fears

Johannesburg is expected to focus on building commitment at the highest levels of government for action to implement Agenda 21, a comprehensive plan for achieving sustainable development adopted at the 1992 Earth Summit in Rio.

With very little of what was agreed at Rio ever enforced internationally, there are already fears that the summit will only produce vague conclusions and plans.

"The implementation has been a problem and commitments not met," said Jacques Paul Eckebil, assistant director general of the sustainable development department of the Food and Agriculture Organization.

"We hope that the implementation after Johannesburg will be different from what it has been after Rio and that governments, civil society, the private sector, will as a group commit themselves to measures and commit resources."

Low expectations

Walter Fust, director of the Swiss Agency for Development and Cooperation, also has fairly low expectations of what can be achieved in South Africa.

"The preconditions for making it a success are not brilliant," he told swissinfo. "But I think it will already be a success if we can keep the achievements of the Rio summit, and if those countries, those entities willing to go further can create alliances and move forward and don't just take the lead from those who want to step back."

Whether Adelboden is a milestone on the road to lasting achievement at Johannesburg or simply an unfulfilled promise will be known in two months' time.

The world summit on sustainable development is expected to attract more than 100 world leaders and 60,000 delegates.

by Vincent Landon


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