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Implementing knowledge - making the most of local potential: "Green" jobs and solar-heated mountain refuges

Mar 20, 2007 / Eva Favry
Incorporating sustainability objectives into political programmes is not enough to achieve a sustainable development in the Alpine region. As many of those affected by the policies as possible must take part, particularly at the local level. Sustainable projects always have the best opportunities wherever local or regional organisations make the most of the scope they have under policy instruments.
Image caption:
Durch EU-Fördermittel sind die Einkommen und Investitionen gestiegen und erlauben auch einigen Traditionsberufen das Überleben.Lokale Beteiligungsprozesse können z.B. dazu führen, dass regionale Wertschöpfungsketten in Gang gesetzt werden. © CIPRA International
The future in the Alps depends directly or indirectly on policy instruments, legislation, programmes or plans drawn up by the public sector. The various political instruments and strategies create a framework for the decisions taken by those public and private players who determine regional development. It is not just the measures adopted by the administration that are based on policy instruments; those instruments also determine the scope enjoyed by private individuals, farmers, trade and service contractors, and consumers.

Recommendations insufficiently implemented
Evaluations of political programmes and many scientific studies often include policy recommendations aimed at institutional decision makers as to how sustainable development objectives might be better achieved. These suggestions are often not implemented, or if they are, then only half-heartedly. There is a divide, then, between recommendations and their practical implementation.

The team of experts commissioned by CIPRA asked itself the following questions:
o How do existing policy instruments, policies and instruments affect developments in the Alpine regions?
o How should they be adapted so that they contribute more effectively to sustainable development?
o How can local and regional players make better use of or expand their scope of action?
o What sort of studies and evaluations do we need to help reduce the divide between recommendations and practical implementation?

Mountain region policies in the Alps
Developments in the Alpine region are effected everywhere by the implementation of different sectoral policies such as agricultural policy, economic and transport policy, and nature conservation policy. Aspects specific to the Alps are usually integrated into those sectoral policies, i.e. the compensatory allowances paid to mountain farmers in agricultural policy. Only in Switzerland, France and Italy are there also instruments for a specific integrated mountain region policy.

In Alpine states there are five decision-making levels: local, regional, national (in some countries support programmes for mountain regions), transnational (Alpine Convention) and European (e.g. EU agricultural policy, EU structural fund). Irrespective of the level at which negotiations are conducted, it is important that local players, the municipalities, associations or inhabitants actively advocate their project. Consultation and joint decision making are increasingly important wherever local decision makers have a greater degree of competence. On the other hand it is also increasingly difficult to find the right contacts at the various levels. There appear to be considerable differences between the political cultures of individual Alpine states.
In federalist countries such as Austria or Switzerland the regions and municipalities have a greater degree of competence than in traditionally more centralised countries such as Italy or France, even if some steps have already been made towards decentralisation with the introduction of supra-community organisations such as the Comunitá Montane in Italy and the Comités de Massif in France.

Agriculture and infrastructure are crucial
From a theme point of view we need to pick from the multitude of policy areas of relevance to the Alps those which are of particular relevance to sustainable development in the Alps. The experts have set out six different approaches adopted by political strategies:

1. Agricultural policy: Promotion of sustainable multifunctional mountain farming (production of high-quality foods and preservation of alpine cultural landscapes)
2. Forestry policy: Forest management planning and promotion of sustainable multifunctional forestry (planting and preservation of mixed forests for sustainable forest management, protection against avalanches and earth slides, recreation)
3. Protection and preservation policy: Regulations for nature and landscape conservation, designation and development of alpine protected areas
4. Projects: Promotion of local projects, use of natural and agricultural resources
5. Infrastructure: Expansion of infrastructure for alternative means of transport, green tourism and regional development
6. Planning: Deployment of regional planning instruments to balance out development demands and the necessities of environmental protection.

For each of these six fundamental approaches there are specific regulations, various subsidy options and funds at the regional, national and EU levels.
In the authors' opinion the success and impact of specific mountain region policies and promotion programmes are difficult to demonstrate individually. Too few evaluations have been carried out in this respect. Developments in the Alpine region are influenced by a large number of factors; and the repercussions of a specific mountain region policy are very difficult to differentiate from general development trends and the impact of sectoral policies.

Higher incomes and improved nature conservation
The team of experts has drawn up a general picture of the impact of various sectoral policies in European mountain regions:

o Despite countermeasures the population is still decreasing in some remote regions. Nonetheless economic diversification and the measured aimed at improving the quality of life in many regions are already having some positive effects, and it has been possible to contain declines in population. In the Alps in particular there are many attractive areas in which to live.
o EU agricultural policy and its implementation in the Alpine states has had mixed results. EU funding has resulted in increases in the income and investments of residents, giving a lifeline to some traditional occupations such as alpine farming and cheese-making. However the reality shows that the subsidy systems of some countries favour large farms with intensive farming in lowland areas; also, that small farming enterprises, which contribute a great deal towards the identity of the alpine region and to the diversity of the landscape, are threatened in their very existence.
o In many mountain areas the regional economy has become much more diverse as a result of the development of tourism. However economic and regional policies have not found any formulas for countering crises in trade and industry as well as in mountain farming.
o Thanks to EU and Länder legislation, nature and the countryside in the Alps are now better protected than they used to be. However not all the players realise what sort of economic potential protected areas actually have. In many cases conflicts between nature conservation interests and the demands of economic regional development have remained unsolved.
o In most regions inhabitants have become much more mobile as a result of new traffic routes; by contrast, local public transport has often been neglected, particularly in remote regions, and the offer of buses and railway lines has been greatly reduced.

Implementation obstacles to sustainability-oriented policies
The relevant programmes for development in the Alpine region usually include ambitious sustainability objectives. But often a wide gap opens up between ambition and practical implementation. All too often sustainability has to take a back seat when it comes to concrete decisions. The authors give the following reasons:

o Lack of information: Some laws and policy instruments are little known to local decision makers, e.g. instruments of contract nature conservation. The lack of fundamental knowledge, for instance about the impact on climate and the environment, also prevents local players from adopting general political sustainability objectives.
o Conflicting interests for instance between political experts and local players, the hunting community and managers of protected areas, farmers and conservationists which are not successfully resolved in advance through joint decision-making cause tension. The situation is particularly difficult when local projects are drawn up in a centralistic way and operated by outside specialists.
o Excessive demands: With a highly complex subject matter and an overabundance of information some players withdraw to their own personal standpoint without taking overriding viewpoints into account.
o Party-political considerations: Power games and short-term interests hinder sustainable solutions and agreements with a long-term effect.

Upgrading local resources and learning from one another
Policies and instruments that incorporate sustainable development should be carefully considered; they also demand more time than ad-hoc solutions: time to think matters through, openness towards new learning processes, and a readiness to regularly evaluate the projects and remove any sources of error. To help promote such a development the team of experts provides the following recommendations in the CIPRA study:

o Strengthening integrated regional development: Decision-makers in the various policy sectors and the players concerned should exchange more information, take account of contrary standpoints, and co-ordinate the co-operation between the various levels more effectively.
o Good management: Better co-ordination between different policy areas and orientation using a set of clearly defined regulations can help to contain wrong decisions with long-term repercussions.
o Boosting the strengths of the regions: Political decision makers should join forces with local players to enhance resources on site and consolidate existing strengths further. For instance local participation processes can help to set up new protected areas or establish regional value-added chains.
o Securing the success of the project: The long-term prospects of local projects should be ensured beyond the current phase of public funding.
o Evaluation as a learning process: The evaluation of programmes or other policy instruments should not be seen merely as unilateral quality control. The experts should proceed constructively, not just highlighting errors, but also seizing the opportunity for learning together. If they show up new ways, all the players will be motivated and be able to find their own solutions to the recognised problems.
Based on the results of the team of experts CIPRA has formulated the following demands:
Practical experience gained from regional development and the results of applied research need to be incorporated more effectively into programmes and subsidy instruments. According to the targets set out by the Alpine Convention, sustainability should be a priority area for subsidies. Municipalities, regional administrations and the population concerned should be involved more closely - this is an essential prerequisite for bridging the gap between political strategies and scientific recommendations on the one hand and their implementation on the other. To verify the quality of projects and programmes, the appropriate controlling instruments need to be developed and deployed.

The showcase projects below illustrate that all kinds of players always manage to come together and that individual models of co-operation need to be drawn up. What is always of the utmost importance in each case is a specially committed person who assumes a key role and ensures good levels of communication between all the parties concerned.

1. Schiestlhaus, Styria, Austria

Spoilt by the sun - the self-heating refuge
The staff at Treberspurg & Partners Architekten have climbed the Hochschwab countless times, but for professional reasons. What started out as a term paper by Marie Rezac at Vienna's Technical University/A marked the beginning of an ambitious project which culminated in the world's first ever refuge built on the summit plateau using the "passive house" construction method. The technology used in the 70-bed refuge is both sophisticated and simple. Due to the southern orientation 60% of the electricity is generated using solar energy. With extreme insulation and the use of an air intake and ventilation system with heat recovery, passive houses achieve heating requirements of 15 kW/h per m² per year, a fraction of what conventional houses require. The design, developed further by the architecture firm of Treberspurg & Partner Architekten aund pos architekten ready for building, perfectly suited the "Sustainable Economic Management" programme of the Austrian Federal Ministry for Transport, Innovation and Technology, which according to the Vienna daily Standard "is the subject of much interest beyond the scope of the EU". One of the programme's mainstays is the "House of the Future". The aim is to harness the economy as a motor for sustainable and ecological building. Planning and constructing innovative buildings should result in trend-setting measures for a sustainable economic approach in Austria.

The Schiestlhaus, which cost two million euros and was subsidised with "House of the Future" funds, thus became not just the first passive refuge, but also the prototype of a successful exchange and interplay between numerous partners in administration and economy: planners, architects, building materials manufacturers, and innovative construction and technology firms. CORDIS, the EU Community Research and Development Information Service, believes that "with a few modifications the solutions and findings can be applied to all the moderate Alpine environments".

2. Oberallgäu; Germany

Allgäu High Alps protected area management - "green" jobs in nature
The 21,000 hectare Allgäu High Alps Nature Reserve is one of Germany's most attractive holiday regions. At the same time the high-altitude mountain range and its diversity of species provides a retreat for many endangered species of animals and plant varieties. Four years ago the Land Association for the Protection of Birds first turned to the EU's Social Fund for funding for "green" jobs in the environmental sector. Since then 25 new jobs have been created for environmental educators and nature conservation officers. Excursions to the realm of the golden eagle are one of the Park's highlights. For children there are courses on wild flowers and "creepy-crawlies". After initial scepticism most of the local inhabitants are proud of their Park, with many working as volunteers to keep the eagle observatory, the "touch-and-feel boxes" and the information boards up to date. The Park's latest sponsor is Deutsche Bahn, which is helping to draw in visitors with a package offer that includes rail travel, bus ticket, overnight accommodation, and as a special hit a golden eagle excursion.

3. Austria, Italy, Slovenia

ERA - Eco Regio Alpe Adria - National parks in the border triangle
The Klagenfurt Environmental Agency had an idea that would literally break down borders. The first trilingual ERA Congress was held in Carinthia's Nockberge National Park in October 2004, heralding a new age with the partners from the Parco naturale regionale delle Prealpi Giulie in Italy and the Triglavski Narodni Park in Slovenia. The aim was not just cross-border nature conservation but setting up a common market in all three Parks. Since then managers from all three countries have met up on a regular basis.

The Giro dei Parchi is an attractive offer aimed at tourism in the border triangle. Visitors to the Nature Parks get an insight not just into the fauna and flora, but also into the cultures of the three countries. Farmers, restaurant owners, craftsmen, schools and museums work beyond the boundaries of language. Events and excursions to the neighbouring countries have been scheduled. Cross-border co-operation between the three protected areas was made possible by the EU Interreg Programme. This and the commitment of all concerned has meant a genuine contribution to the political objective of sustainable regional development.