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15 December 2020 Toward Stronger Integration of Education for Sustainable Development Into the Carpathian Convention Activities: Reflection on the Process and Outlook
Tamara Mitrofanenko, Attila Varga, Joanna Zawiejska
Author Affiliations +

The Carpathian Convention is a multilateral environmental agreement focused on nature conservation and sustainable development of the Carpathian Mountain region; its articles cover various thematic and cross-sectional areas. Article 13 of the convention outlines provisions for awareness raising, education, and public participation and is central to integrating education for sustainable development (ESD) into the convention documents and activities. We have been involved in ESD-related processes of the convention since 2007, in line with ESD-related guidance provided by the United Nations, including the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development and the recently adopted ESD for 2030 framework of the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization, which highlights the importance of implementing ESD. In this paper, we reflect on the participatory ESD-related processes of the convention and provide recommendations for further integration of ESD. Our study is based on a review of the convention documents and the results of participatory workshops conducted in 2018–2019. We conclude that interest in ESD is evident among numerous convention actors and stakeholders. We recommend (1) establishing a convention working group or network of experts focused on education and awareness raising and (2) facilitating stronger support for ESD by the convention presidency.


Sustainable development, both globally and specifically in mountainous areas, is an internationally recognized paradigm (eg UN 1992, 2015; Jansky et al 2002; Maselli 2012). The United Nations (UN) Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) and associated targets attest to the complexity and interconnected nature of sustainability transformations. Furthermore, they highlight the important role of education in achieving them—in the dedicated SDG 4 and in targets for several other goals (UN 2015). The critical role of education for implementing the UN's 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development has been reiterated in academic and policy documents (ie Garcia et al 2017; UNESCO 2019). Moreover, how sustainable development is understood and achieved at local, national, and regional levels is subject to negotiation and societal learning (Barth 2016). Education for sustainable development (ESD), highlighted in SDG 4.7 (UN 2015), provides a framework for such societal learning. It advocates both for educational approaches, which facilitate societal transitions toward sustainable livelihoods, and for the use of sustainability as a learning context to enhance educational praxis (UNESCO 2014; Barth 2016).

The recently adopted United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO) global framework on ESD for the period of 2020–2030 (ESD for 2030) builds on the results of the Global Action Programme (GAP) on ESD (UNESCO 2014). It provides guidance for strengthening ESD as a tool for making progress in implementing SDGs (UNESCO 2019). The framework maintains the 5 GAP priority areas to support its comprehensive implementation (policy, education and training, educators, youth, and communities). With respect to policy, it calls for cooperation, highlighting the role of governments (para 3.5, Annex II, UNESCO 2019) and integration of ESD into regional policies (para 5.14, Annex II, UNESCO 2019).

The governments of the countries sharing the Carpathian Mountains (Czech Republic, Hungary, Poland, Romania, Serbia, Slovak Republic, and Ukraine) have agreed to cooperate on nature conservation and sustainable development of the mountains. In 2003, they adopted a multilateral environmental agreement (MEA), following the experience of the Alpine Convention, the first such MEA for a mountain region (Price 2000). The Framework Convention on the Protection and Sustainable Development of the Carpathians (Carpathian Convention) facilitates multistakeholder dialogue and the joint development of strategies, policies, and projects in several thematic and cross-sectional areas. As such, the convention could be considered a mechanism for mutual learning and negotiation with respect to what constitutes sustainable development—and consequently, the implementation of the UN's 2030 agenda—in the Carpathians.

Article 13 of the convention outlines provisions for awareness raising, education, and public participation (Borsa et al 2008). As such, it is central to integrating ESD into the convention documents and activities. Integration of educational topics took place to various degrees from the convention's entry into force in 2006. However, it has received unprecedented attention since Hungary announced ESD was among its priorities during its 2017–2020 presidency of the convention. Although these developments are in line with SDG 4 and related provisions of the UN's 2030 agenda, as well as with UNESCO's ESD for 2030 framework, a longer-term perspective is needed to ensure the outcomes achieved are followed up (Sarabhai et al 2012). It is not clear whether the next presidency (Poland) will continue to focus on ESD.

The authors have actively facilitated and directed the ESD-related processes of the Carpathian Convention since 2007 on behalf of educational, scientific, and governmental institutions in Hungary and Poland, as well as the convention secretariat. We take advantage of this focus issue of Mountain Research and Development to reflect on the systematic participatory process of integrating ESD into the convention, with the aim of consolidating its main outcomes and developments to date, and to outline recommendations for the secretariat and the incoming Polish presidency.

The Carpathian Convention and its ESD-related developments

The Carpathian Convention was adopted in 2003 and entered into force in 2006. It is governed by the Conference of the Parties (COP), which constitutes its main decision-making body, and is administered by the secretariat, provided by the United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP), Office in Vienna (Church 2008). The contracting states (parties) are represented by focal points: nominated governmental representatives, usually from the ministries of environment, agriculture, or the equivalent, of each signatory country. The parties take turns in presiding over the convention triennially.

The COP is responsible for adopting protocols and amendments to the convention; deciding on the political direction, the program of work, and the budget; and reviewing implementation. The Implementation Committee and thematic working groups constitute subsidiary bodies, which prepare technical input and advice to support political decisions and the implementation of activities (Church 2008). The convention working groups are composed of the national focal points, or experts nominated by them, and are open to observers (partner organizations, experts, national and international nongovernmental organizations [NGOs]) and their input. They provide space for the exchange and cocreation of knowledge and recommendations on specific issues covered by the convention (Church 2008).

The convention provisions, outlined in its articles, protocols, COP decisions, and program of work, are implemented through various projects, activities, and initiatives. These are proposed and developed by the partners or the secretariat and carried out by the convention partners representing local, national, and international organizations, including governments, NGOs, and scientific bodies. The secretariat also facilitates exchange and cooperation with actors from other mountain regions and other international organizations and initiatives. Updated information about the official partnerships of the convention, its protocols, and the activities of the working groups is available at the convention website (SCC 2020).

ESD in the Carpathian Convention

Article 13 of the convention, “Awareness raising, education and public participation,” is a cross-sectional article. Its provisions should be embedded in all thematic areas of the convention, in line with the international sustainable development paradigm and documents (UN 1992, 2015). As such, although there is no dedicated working group or protocol on education, the topic has been addressed in existing protocols and several other convention documents (for details, see   Appendix S1 (mred-40-04-10_s01.pdf), Supplemental material,

ESD-related developments of the convention include several projects addressing formal and nonformal education. One example is the Move4Nature Initiative, which focused on integrating local natural and cultural heritage into the curriculum of rural schools in Romania (Tóth 2018). Vocational training is also included; for example, sustainable tourism development training for the local population is addressed in several projects (eg Inversini et al 2015). Several initiatives are aimed at creating regional networks, such as the Carpathian Sustainable Learning Network (CASALEN) (Tóth 2018). Moreover, the convention secretariat liaises with the United Nations Economic Commission for Europe (UNECE) Steering Committee on ESD (SC ESD) to coordinate relevant activities (eg UNECE 2016).

An important development with respect to ESD (although not directly aimed at the implementation of Article 13) was the establishment of the Science for the Carpathians (S4C) network in 2008 (Björnsen Gurung et al 2009). The network aims, among others, to define research priorities for the Carpathian region and to link research, policy, and practice. S4C closely cooperates with the convention secretariat, coordinating input from its scientific conference, Forum Carpaticum, to the COP (Björnsen Gurung 2013). Since 2016, ESD sessions and workshops have been organized by the authors during Forum Carpaticum with support from the S4C Executive Committee (Forum Carpaticum 2018; Tóth 2018).

Many ESD-related developments and projects of the secretariat have originated by chance, based on the availability of resources and without a systematic approach or longer-term vision. However, all have been reflected in the respective COP decisions (as outlined in  Appendix S1 (mred-40-04-10_s01.pdf), Supplemental material,, and the secretariat has tried to establish links among them to provide continuity in ESD-related implementation of Article 13. Moreover, many relevant initiatives of convention parties, partners, and stakeholders have not been accounted for, unless officially presented at the COP or Implementation Committee meetings. Few secretariat initiatives to collect, share, and coordinate activities among the ESD programs of the Carpathian countries have been successful. The reasons for this include a lack of time and financial resources among the secretariat and stakeholders, as well as a lack of active interest among the parties. In 2017, the topic of education received an unprecedented boost when it was prioritized by the Hungarian government, which took over the convention presidency at the fifth COP meeting.

Prioritization of ESD under the Hungarian presidency

The decision of the Hungarian presidency to designate ESD as one of its priority areas was triggered by a combination of national and international factors. These included the growing awareness of its importance in the Hungarian educational system, as well as other sectors, and the interest of the Hungarian government in the political processes of the Carpathian region.

The former was marked by the acceptance by the Hungarian government of the Concept for Global Responsibility Education in Formal and Non-Formal Education in Hungary (EACEA 2019). ESD competency was introduced into the evaluation criteria system of Hungarian educators in 2017 (Symeonidis 2019) and corresponded to an increasing number of certified ecoschools (Gan et al 2019) and green kindergartens (Varga et al 2017). The Hungarian ecoschool program started in 2000 as a pilot program for the adaptation of the ecoschool initiative of the Environment and School Initiatives network. In 2004, the Ministry of Education and the Ministry of Environment launched the first open call for the official ecoschool title. This consisted of the following criteria: school documents, school organization, operation, education, school specialties, communication, and external cooperation with ESD actors and the local community (Gan et al 2019). In 2019, ecoschools numbered 1003 (about a quarter of all Hungarian schools). The success of the Hungarian ecoschool network, highlighted by UNESCO (2018), motivated the Hungarian government to prioritize ESD during its Carpathian Convention presidency.

Moreover, sustainability is a key value represented in the 2012 constitution of Hungary, with clear references to the relevance of education. ESD has been an integral part of the National Core Curriculum in Hungary since 2012, as well as of several national strategies (eg the national youth strategy and the lifelong learning strategy). Growing awareness of the importance of ESD in other sectors has led the Ministry of Technology and Innovation of Hungary to plan a national sustainability awareness strategy (Infostart 2019).

Other factors that triggered the prioritization of ESD included the willingness of the Hungarian government to support educational cooperation in the Carpathian basin (Lőrinczi 2018), facilitated by the convention, and the interest of UNECE in developing ESD in Hungary (UNECE 2016). This encouraged the focal point of the convention from the Ministry of Agriculture (also responsible for the environment), with UNECE, UNESCO, and the Ministry of Human Capacities (responsible for education), to integrate ESD into the agenda of the Hungarian presidency of the convention.

The convention secretariat embraced this initiative. It supported the Hungarian team in organizing the first Carpathian ESD Seminar, which took place in April 2019. The seminar brought together ESD experts and actors from many sectors and from all Carpathian countries for the first time. The authors, who took active part in the seminar, tried to gear the discussions toward producing recommendations relevant for the convention.

With this paper, we aim to link the main outcomes of the Carpathian ESD Seminar and the ESD workshop at Forum Carpaticum 2018 with the preceding participatory ESD processes of the convention. In addition, we outline recommendations for the secretariat and the incoming Polish presidency, with the aim of facilitating further integration of ESD into the convention. We tackle this challenge by addressing the following questions:

  • How has been ESD integrated into the convention to date?

  • How can further integration of ESD be facilitated under the next presidency of the convention?


We used a mixed methods approach, including literature research and participatory workshops. We examined COP-related documents, available on the convention website, as well as materials from ESD-related projects and S4C documents, looking for the keywords “education” and “capacity building.” The list of reviewed documents is presented in Table 1. Two of the authors have been actively engaged in the ESD-related activities of the convention since 2008. This allowed us to access and select relevant project documents and reflect on the respective activities to formulate the results and recommendations.


Carpathian Convention–related documents reviewed.


We organized 3 participatory workshops during Forum Carpaticum 2018 and the ESD seminar. Information about the workshops and participants is summarized in Table 2. Workshops held at the ESD seminar were co-organized with the ESD experts of the Ministry of Human Capacities and Ministry of Agriculture of Hungary and constituted (1) a workshop focused on the science–policy–practice interface and (2) a concluding discussion of the seminar, with a focus on policy recommendations. A modified format was applied in the latter case because of organizational challenges. Notes were taken during all workshops.


Participatory stakeholder workshops conducted.


We collected recommendations from the participatory workshops and cross-checked them with the recommendations from the convention documents. We classified the recommendations into 3 categories that we considered a useful: (1) directed at the convention secretariat and focal points and relevant for policy, (2) relevant for S4C and the science–policy–practice interface, and (3) relevant for practice, project implementation, and management. Moreover, we extracted additional recommendations from the documents. These were identified as important during a joint reflection, based on their perceived relevance for the convention and the integration of ESD in its activities, as well as on informal feedback received from participants during the stakeholder workshops.

The process: milestones and main messages

Table 3 provides an overview of the systematic participatory process of ESD integration into the Carpathian Convention, including developments related to the S4C network. We indicate which outcomes were reflected in COP decisions (see  Appendix S1 (mred-40-04-10_s01.pdf), Supplemental material,, as well as which role, if any, the authors played in the respective developments.


The Carpathian Convention and Science for the Carpathians processes related to education for sustainable development, actors, and outcomes.









Extended, continued.






Extended, continued.


The recommendations received from the participatory workshops relevant for policy and the science–policy–practice interface are summarized in Table 4. We also list convention documents, where we found references to similar recommendations (in the Source column), and indicate recommendations added by the authors, with reference to the specific documents on which these are based.


Education for sustainable development–related recommendations to the Carpathian Convention.





Reflection on ESD in the Carpathian Convention

Our overview of different actors' contributions to strengthening the integration of ESD into the convention activities shows interest in ESD among the convention stakeholders. Although the authors initiated and steered many activities, several fundamental documents contain references to ESD independent of the authors' contribution (ie the convention text, its protocols, and other documents, as indicated in Appendix S1, Supplemental material, The Hungarian presidency's decision to prioritize ESD based on its national developments, including its ecoschool network, and its interest in facilitating regional educational initiatives and promoting its achievements internationally show its support for ESD.

The Carpathian ESD Seminar, initiated by the Hungarian actors, demonstrated commitment to ESD among actors and experts from ministries, NGOs, and academia in every Carpathian country. It also pointed to the importance of (1) leadership by governmental experts, (2) integration of the focal points of the convention into ESD-related processes, (3) availability of funds to support participation of experts and actors from all Carpathian countries, and (4) cooperation among the convention focal points, the secretariat, and the S4C network.

However, previous attempts to mobilize focal points from all Carpathian countries to facilitate and coordinate ESD-related activities had not been successful, even though several COP decisions called for such coordination. This points to the importance of leadership on behalf of the convention parties. Understanding the motivation for this and facilitating the leadership required are among the tasks of the secretariat. This could benefit from further implementation-oriented research and a strengthened science–policy–practice interface. This could be achieved via further cooperation of the secretariat with the S4C network.

In the case of Hungary, the Hungarian government considers that cooperation within the convention could benefit countries beyond the Carpathian ecoregion. So far, the ESD process of the convention has reinforced the ongoing educational processes throughout Hungary and supported dialogue between Hungarian scientists and their colleagues in other Carpathian countries. The natural systems and economic and social developments in the Carpathian Mountains constitute an integral part of the wider systems functioning within and beyond the Carpathian countries (Björnsen Gurung et al 2009, 2012). Thus, it is important that the parties can see the potential of the convention-related activities to benefit sustainability transformations at a national level. At the same time, the example of Hungary points to the importance of highlighting successful pilot activities (such as the ecoschool network) on the national level, which could motivate leadership on behalf of governments.

Challenges and possible pathways for ESD integration into the convention

Education has been defined by UN and other international bodies as a key tool to achieve sustainable development for at least 3 decades. Therefore, it is worth reflecting on why it is still a struggle to strengthen ESD's position in international processes dealing with sustainable development, such as the convention. Based on our experience, we consider several challenges for stronger coordination and integration of ESD into the convention and propose possible pathways to overcome them in Table 5.


Challenges and pathways for integrating education for sustainable development into the Carpathian Convention.


Other conventions also face challenges with respect to integration of ESD into their activities. Sarabhai et al (2012) analyzed educational agendas of the Convention on Biological Diversity (CBD), the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC), and the United Nations Convention to Combat Desertification. They pointed out to the need to link CBD and UNFCCC more closely to the ESD process to support their implementation.

International ESD-related processes, such as UNESCO's ESD for 2030 framework, can play an important role in maintaining the interest of the governments in ESD issues, but coordinated efforts, “a paradigm shift towards a systems approach” (Björnsen Gurung et al 2012: 54), and institutional leadership and competences for transformative education (Balsiger et al 2017) are needed to raise awareness and resources that support implementation.


The importance of further coordination of activities related to ESD within the convention is evident from the process to date and the recommendations of the Carpathian experts and stakeholders. Moreover, it resonates in the provisions of UNESCO's ESD framework. We recommend focusing on the following steps:

  • Providing information and support to the convention focal points, especially the rotating convention presidency, to ensure continuous prioritization of education-related activities within the convention. This would benefit from the continuous engagement of an ESD expert (staff member or consultant) on behalf of the secretariat.

  • Clearly outlining the links and identifying synergies between convention ESD activities with the process of reaching the SDGs in general and SDG 4 in particular, as well as education-related activities specified under the CBD (ie its Communication, Education and Public Awareness program) and UNFCCC (ie its developments on climate change education).

  • Establishing a convention working group or network of experts to coordinate ESD-related activities outlined in Tables 4 and 5, link them with other thematic areas of the convention, and support intersectoral and transdisciplinary cooperation on the national level (ie between ministries of education and convention focal points) and among the Carpathian countries.


We acknowledge the helpful feedback on the manuscript provided by the Hungarian experts and ESD focal points from the Ministry of Human Capacities and Agriculture, Mónika Réti and Zita Márta Gellér, who also co-organized the first Carpathian ESD Seminar in April 2019. The seminar provided an important opportunity for participatory reflection on the potential for ESD cooperation within the convention, which we reflect in this paper. We also thank both reviewers, Lydia Kater-Wettstädt and Georg Gratzer, for their helpful and constructive remarks in an open review process. Open access funding has been provided by BOKU Vienna Open Access Publishing Fund. Attila Varga's work was supported by the ELTE Thematic Excellence Programme 2020 funded by the National Research, Development and Innovation Office (TKP2020-IKA-05).



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Supplemental material

 APPENDIX S1 (mred-40-04-10_s01.pdf) Text related to education for sustainable development in the Carpathian Convention Conference of the Parties decisions and other convention documents.

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© 2020 Mitrofanenko et al. This open access article is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 International License ( Please credit the authors and the full source.
Tamara Mitrofanenko, Attila Varga, and Joanna Zawiejska "Toward Stronger Integration of Education for Sustainable Development Into the Carpathian Convention Activities: Reflection on the Process and Outlook," Mountain Research and Development 40(4), A1-A14, (15 December 2020).
Received: 1 August 2020; Accepted: 1 October 2020; Published: 15 December 2020
awareness raising
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