[ Summary ]
From exploiting resources to environmental competitiveness
1.3 Identifying what room for manoeuvre exists to improve
a) Diverse environmental competitiveness situations
There are many possible causes for the lack of environmental
competitiveness in certain areas.
- In some cases it is the environment itself that has
deteriorated, with serious pollution (such as soil pollution in
certain areas where there is intensive agriculture), degradation of
landscapes (uncontrolled building and infrastructure, encroachment
into forested areas), local heritage in a state of neglect
(farmland, buildings, historic monuments, etc.).
- In other cases it is the local players’ lack of consideration
for their environment that is at fault (lack of concern for
environmental issues, considering the environment as an
inexhaustible resource, resulting in uncontrolled hunting, pumping
excessive amounts of water out of ground water aquifers, etc.).
- In yet other cases the cause is the local population’s
difficulty in accessing natural and heritage resources (large
tracts of land owned by absentee landowners, such as in Scotland or
the southern Iberian peninsula, rigid regulations preventing
redevelopment of the historical heritage through conversion, etc.).
- Lastly, in some cases it is the lack of cooperation between
institutions and users that triggers the process of environmental
degradation due to a failure to resolve disputes (conservation
areas whose use is regulated adjacent to areas subject to
In each of the above situations, there are varying amounts of room
for manoeuvre - and in some cases it is very restricted.
- In cases where the environment itself has deteriorated, it is
still possible to restore the natural or heritage resources, but
this takes varying amounts of time and investment (e.g. about 50
euros for each cubic metre of soil polluted with heavy metals).
Removing pollution from a water course or recreating a landscape
requires less funding but more time, and rebuilding a historic
monument poses problems when the required technical skills have
died out. This is aside from the fact that prior agreement needs to
be sought between the players concerned, which is not always
- In cases where the main obstacle is the players’ lack of
consideration for their environment, galvanising local players and
raising their awareness for resolving this complex cultural problem
is not something that can be achieved overnight.
- In cases where the problem is the population’s lack of access
to resources, first it is necessary to pinpoint the players
responsible for this constraint, in particular the owners, and then
to engage in negotiations.
- Lastly, if the problem is a lack of cooperation between users
and institutions, then creating forums for negotiation can help to
solve it. This involves changing attitudes and introducing new
institutional management procedures.
b) Varying degrees of urgency to heighten environmental
Where there is little room for manoeuvre, the question is whether
environmental competitiveness is essential in this particular case?
Is it urgent? Surely a number of areas have, for several
generations, based their economic development on a process of
The fact is that nowadays, generally speaking, it has become
difficult to secure a rural area’s development without a minimum
level of environmental competitiveness:
- since consumers are becoming ever more demanding regarding
the quality of the products and services they buy, environmental
quality has become a key criterion;
- since environmental problems now extend beyond the strictly
local scale (e.g. when an area’s polluted waters drain into a wider
catchment basin), it is becoming virtually impossible for a rural
area to remain aloof from the general trend;
- the aesthetic quality and upkeep of landscapes and the
preservation of biodiversity and ecosystems are shared values in
today’s European society.
Whether or not the matter is urgent is no less dependent on the
different types of area.
- Some areas are still able to secure their development without
needing to worry about environmental competitiveness in the short
term. This is particularly so for farming areas where yields are
still high enough to provide farmers with a comfortable income on
the market in undifferentiated products (e.g. where there are
large-scale cereal-growing plains). However, such areas are often
highly dependent on advanced technologies, the environmental impact
of which has still not been fully assessed and may at any time be
called into question if an unexpected health problem were to
- For other areas, environmental competitiveness has become a
question of survival. Revitalising a rural area that has, for
example, suffered a crisis in a formerly important industrial
sector calls for environmental problems to be resolved (conversion
of derelict industrial land, treatment of polluted soil,
reclamation and development of former quarries or waste storage
areas, restructuring the local heritage, etc.).
- For many isolated areas that have undergone rural
depopulation, the environment is an important asset in regaining
some form of economic competitiveness.
- Finally, there are numerous areas where the acquisition of
environmental competitiveness is not a question of economic
survival but there is strong support for it (from environmental
associations, local consumer groups, monument preservation groups,
etc.). Any effort to harness local support must therefore take the
environmental dimension into account.
c) Conflict between urgency and taking the necessary time
In some cases there is a conflict between the urgency with which
environmental competitiveness needs to be acquired and the
timeframe required for achieving it. For instance, even if
relaunching a spa for tourism proves to be essential to
revitalising an area in the short term, the need to redevelop
certain buildings and secure the required agreement of their owners
may mean that the process will take several years.
However, this conflict may be easier to resolve than might first
- Where there is urgency, it is generally easier to gain the
support of local players and so shorten the timeframe required.
- Where there is no urgency, the timeframe tends to be longer
because it is much more difficult to garner support from local
players. In this case alternative anchorage points and entryways
will need to be found.