The Caucasus is home to a mountain region situated at the crossroads of Europe and Asia, between the Caspian and Black Seas. Fifty ethnic groups speak forty languages, and the region has a rich and diverse cultural history and heritage. It is also known as one of the world’s most significant and most threatened reservoirs of plant and animal life.
Regional cooperation in the Caucasus dates back to the 1990s, with Alpine cooperation serving as inspiration for regional actors. Led by the United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP), intergovernmental cooperation on sustainable mountain development began at the end of the 1990s, initially among four countries (Armenia, Azerbaijan, Georgia, and the Russian Federation) and later in 2006 among all six countries of the Caucasus ecoregion (Armenia, Azerbaijan, Georgia, Iran, the Russian Federation, and Turkey). However, intergovernmental cooperation in the conflict-prone region was suspended in 2009, after the Russo-Georgian war.
Sustainable mountain development remained a highly important topic that remained on the agenda of some actors. Several of them reunited in 2012 and embarked on the establishment of a regional scientific network, similar to those in the Carpathians and the Alps, with financial and technical support from the United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP) and the University of Geneva (UNIGE), Switzerland.
In July 2014, representatives of scientific institutions from the six countries of the Caucasus ecoregion created the Scientific Network for the Caucasus Mountain Region (SNC-mt), with secretariat functions ensured by the Caucasus Network for Sustainable Development in Mountain Regions (Sustainable Caucasus). The founding members signaled their commitment to promote research collaboration through targeted activities, exchange of knowledge and best practices across borders, and strengthening the connections between scientists, practitioners, and decision makers.
Key governance dimensions
The Caucasus mountain region covers all or parts of six countries: Armenia, Azerbaijan, Georgia, Iran, the Russian Federation, and Turkey. In the absence of a formal governance instrument that might define a perimeter, various definitions of the “Caucasus region” have emerged. The most established of these refers to the Caucasus ecoregion as defined in the World Wildlife Fund (WWF) Global 200 Ecoregions to denote the area between the Kuma-Manych River Depression in the North and parts of Iran and Turkey in the South. However, many organizations active in the region, including donors, identify the South Caucasus as their perimeter of action.
The cross-cutting nature of sustainable mountain development and climate change adaptation is recognized in the Caucasus as in other mountain ranges. At the regional level, this is illustrated by the number of policy sectors addressed in the Caucasus Research Agenda accepted by a large number of stakeholders at the Caucasus Mountain Forum in Ankara in 2019 (see link below). In addition to the ten core topics of the Agenda, emphasis is placed on special cross-cutting issues such as sustainable soil management, air pollution, renewable energy, ecosystem services and the economics of ecosystems and biodiversity, and landscape ecology and infrastructure. The Caucasus Ecoregional Conservation Plan, regularly updated under the lead of WWF Caucasus, is another example of policy integration at the regional level. At the national level, some more instruments for policy integration exist, for example in the form of parliamentary groups for mountains or inter-ministerial councils for climate change.
Coordinating multiple levels of governance
Some attempts have been made in the past to organize local transboundary cooperation at the regional level. In 2006, for example, a number of villages in Armenia, Azerbaijan, Georgia and the Russian Federation agreed to create a regional network modeled after the Alpine municipalities network “Alliance of the Alps”; created in the context of an international project funded by Germany and Liechtenstein, the network did not continue to be active. In general, local participation in national political processes relevant to sustainable mountain development is very diverse, involving such examples as the Covenant of Mayors in Georgia.
Civil society participation
Civil society organizations (CSOs) have played a key role alongside international actors in fostering regional cooperation in the Caucasus. However, the region is politically turbulent and attempts to cooperate are often fragmented and bilateral, based on different thematic cross-border projects/programs.
Currently, few civil society organizations are working on regional cooperation. The World Wildlife Fund has long been active at the regional level and has contributed in meaningful ways to nature conservation policies and activities. WWF-Caucasus initiated and established the Caucasus Biodiversity Council (CBC). Since 2014, regional cooperation has been promoted decisively by a Georgia-registered NGO, the Caucasus Network for Sustainable Development of Mountain Regions (Sustainable Caucasus), which is also the secretariat of the Scientific Network for the Caucasus Mountain Region (SNC-mt). Sustainable Caucasus supports cooperation in the region with involvement of different stakeholders, including the establishment of the Regional Initiative Group (RIG) in the South Caucasus as one of the results that turn bilateral into the multilateral cooperation and advocates Sustainable Mountain Development (SMD), climate change adaptation (CCA) and Disaster Risk Management (DRM).
Funding Sustainable Mountain Development
Funding for sustainable mountain development in the Caucasus varies greatly due to the diversity of countries that share the mountain range. As of 2022, Switzerland and Germany are almost the only donors with a regional funding program for the Caucasus. The European Union remains an important actor, primarily through the Interreg Black Sea Programme which funds actions in Armenia, Georgia, and Turkey but with mandatory cooperation from Romania and Bulgaria coastal zone actors. Unfortunately, political tension in the region constitutes a challenge for funding arrangements.
Delegates from the North Caucasus and Georgia voice the idea of a Strategy for Caucasus Development at the 1991 Greens’ Forum in Tbilisi.
Georgia is the first Caucasus country to officially register a World Wildlife Fund (WWF) office.
The governments of Georgia and the Republic of Azerbaijan sign an agreement on cooperation in the area of prevention, limitation, and mitigation of emergency consequences.
Georgia and the Republic of Armenia sign a declaration on their economic relationship that includes collaborative work on environmental protection, promises to reduce the effect of natural disasters, and cites support during unavoidable natural disasters.
At the Third Ministerial Conference “Environment for Europe” held in Sofia, Bulgaria, delegates commit to establishing “Regional Environmental Centres”
Georgia and the Republic of Armenia sign an agreement on cooperation in the field of prevention of natural and man-made disasters and elimination of their effects; the agreement is in force since 2000.
Georgia and the Republic of Azerbaijan sign an agreement on cooperation in environmental protection.
REC Caucasus (RECC) is officially registered as an independent, not-for-profit, non-advocacy foundation in Tbilisi, Georgia. It was established within the framework of the “Environment for Europe Process” based on the decision made at the Sofia Ministerial Conference in 1995. The founding document of RECC (its Charter) is signed in September 1999 by the governments of Azerbaijan, Armenia, Georgia and the European Union.
The United States Agency for International Development (USAID) launches a regional initiative to design and implement the regional three-year project “Water Management in the South Caucasus.” The initiative is an example of large donors such as USAID, the European Union and Germany start to pay more attention to, and invest in regional environmental actions and even financial mechanisms.
First Meeting of the Authorized Representatives on the Development of a Legal Instrument for the Protection of the Caucasus Mountain Ecosystem meets in Yerevan and adopts a resolution, recognizing the need of a legal instrument.
WWF publishes Biodiversity of the Caucasus Ecoregion: an Analysis of Biodiversity and Current Threats and Initial Investment Portfolio, the precursor of the Ecoregional Conservation Plan.
At the International Mountain Symposium in Interlaken, the potential of a mountain convention for the Caucasus is discussed.
In response to International Year of Mountain-related requests from countries in Central and Eastern Europe, as well as in Central Asia, the UNEP Regional Office for Europe launches the European Mountain Initiative, comprising three projects for the Carpathians, the Caucasus, and Central Asia, with the Alpine Convention providing examples and lessons.
A second meeting to negotiate the text of a regional mountain convention is held in Tbilisi. The third meeting is held in Berchtesgaden, Germany, with representatives from the Alps and the Carpathians.
UNEP-GRID Tbilisi publishes the Caucasus Environmental Outlook, the result of work by experts from four countries: Armenia, Azerbaijan, Georgia and Russia. The major objectives of the CEO are to report on the status of the Caucasus environment, identify ongoing socio-economic “driving forces” and offer an integrated look at regional economic and environmental trends and appropriate policy measures for the last 30-year period.
WWF starts operations in Armenia.
The Georgian office located in Tbilisi becomes the official regional WWF-Caucasus office, covering the organization’s work in Georgia, Armenia and Azerbaijan as well as facilitating regional and transboundary cooperation at the ecoregional level.
Establishment and 1st meeting of the Caucasus Biodiversity Council (CBC; also referred to as Ecoregional Council for Biodiversity) as the only regional coordination body consisting of officially nominated government representatives and NGO delegates from all six countries of the ecoregion. The council invites academics to participate in its meetings, which are organized twice a year. The CBC promotes and monitors the implementation of the Caucasus Ecoregional Conservation Plan.
REC Caucasus opens its mountain programme; after five years of oeprations, new management closes it in 2009.
UNEP in collaboration with the Italian Ministry of Environment and Territory organize the workshop “Sharing the Experience – Capacity Building on Legal Instruments for the Protection and Sustainable Development of Mountain Regions in the Caucasus” in Bolzano, Italy, with participants from the Alps, Carpathians, Caucasus, and the Hindu Kush Himalaya.
Publication of the 2nd edition of the Ecoregional Conservation Plan, which is the outcome of a series of stakeholder workshops held from 2000-2003, combined with background reports and assessments coordinated by the WWF Caucasus Programme Office.
The International Union for the Conservation of Nature and Natural Resources (IUCN) establishes the Caucasus Cooperation Center.
High-level representatives of Armenia, Azerbaijan, Georgia, Iran, Russia and Turkey meet in Vaduz, Liechtenstein, at the invitation of the Ministry of Environmental Affairs, Land Use Planning, Agriculture and Forestry of Liechtenstein and UNEP. Participants adopt the Vaduz Ministerial Statement on the Caucasus Convention “to strengthen partnerships […] for the protection and sustainable development of the mountain regions of the Caucasus” and to “welcome the sharing of experience with the Alpine and Carpathian Conventions, inter alia, within the Mountain Partnership.” However, this second round of negotiations was also unsuccessful, illustrating a change in the regional environment and a refocus on national needs rather than regional priorities.
The Caucasus Nature Fund (CNF) is launched with support from WWF, Conservation International, and the German government.
Government-nominated Experts of Armenia, Azerbaijan, Georgia, Iran, Russia and Turkey meet in Bolzano, Italy, to discuss and revise a background paper developed by UNEP and the REC Caucasus “related to [the] promotion of sustainable development in the mountainous parts of the region.” The paper refers to the Caucasus as “a single space (both as a natural system and a historical and cultural macro-region).”
Launching of the Caucasus Biodiversity Monitoring Network covering Armenia, Azerbaijan and Georgia and aiming to extend to include the whole ecoregion. This is the first biodiversity monitoring tool at regional level (WWF 2012).
Implementation of the EU-funded program “Enhancing local capacity and regional cooperation for climate change adaptation and biodiversity conservation in Georgia and South Caucasus.”
Regional meeting towards the establishment of a network for scientific cooperation in the Caucasus, held in Tbilisi, resulting in the Tbilisi Declaration establishing the network and calling for the nomination of representatives to a working group to define the terms of references of the network.
Implementation of the GIZ-financed program “Integrated Biodiversity Management, South Caucasus,” to ensure development strategies to support the sustainable management of biodiversity and ecosystem services.
The First Caucasus Mountain Forum is organized in Tbilisi, Georgia, under the auspices of the Scientific Network for the Caucasus Mountain Region.
The Second Caucasus Mountain Forum is organized in Ankara, Turkey, under the auspices of the Scientific Network for the Caucasus Mountain Region.
Activities start in the context of the regional project “Strengthening Climate Change Adaptation Capacities in the South Caucasus (SCAC)” funded by the Swiss Agency for Development and Cooperation (SDC) and implemented by Sustainable Caucasus. the SCAC project illustrates SDC’s continued strong support for regional cooperation programs in the Caucasus.
The OSCE initiates the project “Strengthening Responses to security Risks from Climate Change in south-Eastern Europe, Eastern Europe, the South Caucasus, and Central Asia.”
- Caucasus Network for Sustainable Development in Mountain Regions, Sustainable Caucasus (-> link)
- Scientific Network for the Caucasus Mountain Region (-> link)
- Caucasus Regional Research Agenda (-> link)
- Proceedings of the First Caucasus Mountain Forum (-> link)
- Proceedings of the Second Caucasus Mountain Forum (-> link)
- Collection of key resources about the Caucasus (-> link)
The Caucasus in Mountain Connect Videos
- #1 Locating mountains for governance (-> link)
- #3 Policy integration (-> link)
- #4 Coordinating multiple levels of governance (-> link)
- #5 Civil society participation (-> link)
- #7 Funding Sustainable Mountain Development (-> link)
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