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Environmental competitiveness

[ Summary ]


Chapter 1:
From exploiting resources to environmental competitiveness


1.3 Identifying what room for manoeuvre exists to improve environmental competitiveness


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 environmentally-destructive practices).

    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 possible.

    • 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 competitiveness

    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 environmental degradation?

    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 emerge.

    • 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 appear:

    • 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.

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