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Point of view: Municipalities as drivers for sustainable development

Jean Horgues-Debat, President of CIPRA France. © Caroline Begle

Sustainable development cannot be prescribed by law: it needs local people to put it into effect. Municipalities have a key role here, says Jean Horgues-Debat, the newly elected President of CIPRA France.

This year we are celebrating the anniversary of the founding of the “Alpine Town of the Year” association and the “Alliance in the Alps” network of municipalities. These two networks are forums for municipalities to join forces and implement and develop the sustainable development principles of the Alpine Convention. Protection of the Alps requires decisions and actions at the highest level of state: yet sustainable development cannot simply be prescribed by law. The struggle for sustainable development begins and ends with action on the ground. Municipalities stand at the heart of these challenges – but they are not always aware of their duty in this respect.

Every activity manifests itself in a particular location. The cross-sectoral aspects of policy are visible at local level, where economic, social and environmental issues intermix. The municipalities thus represent the first level for observation and action. They cannot act alone, however, but need to construct dynamic steering systems with the population, the business sector and representatives of civil society.

There are some municipalities in the Alps, for instance in the regions of Ecrins or Oisans, that have experienced good results in this regard over the last 20 years. They have established centres to provide local services for citizens through partnerships with over 30 service providers in the major cities. This pooling of resources helps speed matters up and reduce social disparities.

These local initiatives, implemented by local people and supported by municipalities, are often innovative but also fragile. Networking can assist them to spread, support one another and build awareness, leading to a new orientation of public policy towards more sustainable development. This is a primary goal of the Alpine Town and Alpine Alliance networks: it is therefore vital to develop them further.