Rise in mean global temperature primarily affects plants and animals as they slowly “seek refuge” to higher altitudes. But it primarily affects thousands of mountain people, native or traditional European communities that see their livelihoods changing at a fast pace. More discretely than polar ice caps, mountains are the barometers of runaway climate change.
An increase of 2 centigrade would lead to massive habitat loss in the European mountains (high tundra and mountain plateaus); in the Pyrenees of 92%, in the Alps – 49%, Scandes – 62%. Shockingly, in the Pyrenees, a 3 centigrade warming will lead to almost total (99%) biodiversity loss, stressed Manuel Carmona Yebra from DG Climate Action at the conference titled Mountain Dimension of Cooperation organized by DG Regio in Brussels, which 2Celsius was honoured to attend.
“As a kid I used to go fishing in the rivers of Sierra Nevada mountains in Andalusia. Now there is no more water,” Yebra added.
New EU Adaptation Strategy
On this occasion the DG CLIMA bureaucrat announced the freshly published EU Adaptation Strategy, a document that is particularly dealing with access to water, fragile climatic areas such as mountains, implementation and monitoring of national strategies, social differences in vulnerability and many others. In Europe, land temperatures in 2007-2016 were around 1.6°C warmer than in pre-industrial times. Particularly high warming has been observed since 1960 over the Iberian Peninsula, in all mountain areas across central and northeastern Europe and over the Scandes. The Pyrenees region is already 1.5ºC hotter than in 1960, the Strategy shows.
Wallis Goelen Vanderbrock from DG Regio, Unit for Territorial Development, underlined the need of a radical paradigm shift: “we must bet on the talents of mountain people. With the Cohesion Policy we can address their specific needs. There are sites of great natural and cultural heritage, most of them are UNESCO protected, and therefore mountains have a grand potential especially in the tourism sector.” And, she added, reflecting on the next programming period, “EU Closer to Citizens” gives Member States the maximum flexibility to design integrated development strategy in participatory and bottom up manner tailor made for targeted territories including mountains.
Mountains, rich and fragile
Marco Onida, moderator of the conference, from the same DG and ex Secretary General of the Alpine Convention, underlined that “the mountain does not generally feature high in the priorities of EU POLICIES, yet there is an enormous potential for using EU based policies to the benefit of mountain areas.”
“This requires a constant exchange of information between sectors and between policy makers and stakeholders, which is at the heart of the reasons of this meeting. The cooperation dimension, based on EU funds, is particularly important in this context,” Onida added.
Julie Raynal from DG ENVI asserted that Europe’s mountains are utterly tackled by their richness and fragility. This is all due to the abandonment of ancestral agricultural practices to which we can add climate change.
The EU Strategy for Biodiversity 2020, she says, aims at implementation in full of Habitats and Birds Directive and consequently a bio-geographical process for all the mountain regions in Europe.
Furthermore, the Commission promotes the green infrastructure that is a network planned in a strategic manner of natural and semi-natural areas – European Strategy for Green Infrastructure 2013. New initiatives for biodiversity are currently open for mountain regions as they have a true potential to develop ecological connectivity, Raynal closed.
Mountain policy requires subsidiarity
Herbert Dorfmann, EPP MEP from South Tyrol, believes that a high degree of subsidiarity is needed in order to develop mountain policy. « When it comes to mountain agriculture, today’s competences within CAP are being moved to the capitals from the regions. They do not know the underlying problems in the mountain areas, » he added.
« Payments are being made “per hectare”. In the mountains the properties are smaller, so mountain people are from the very start – losers. The approach should be labour based or farm based. The amount of work on the same surface in the mountains is way higher, » Dorfmann said.
Following the second pillar – rural development, Dorfmann underlined the necessity to protect biodiversity, but also development, that is economic growth. « We have a big problem with big carnivores in Northern Italy, » he closed.
Same issues were mentioned by Jozsef Ribanyi from the Committee of the Regions, Commission for Territorial Development. The Hungarian representative enhanced the capital role of macroregional strategies, making the point for a Carpathian macroregional strategy of the EU. He was mildly countered by Klaudia Kuraś, Carpathian Convention Specialist, that mentioned the need for cooperation between current macroregions (such as the Danube Strategy) and the Carpathian Convention’s protocols, thus ensuring a coherent hybrid strategy for the Carpathian area.
Cooperation projects link people across mountains
Cohesion policy aims at ensuring equal opportunities wherever people live (access to jobs, services, transport, etc.), the organisers mentioned. National and EU funds give the possibility to improve living situations in areas which otherwise would be easily abandoned. When support leads to the arising of sustainable economic activities, mountain areas are able to continue on their development path with less public funds.
Several mountain areas are across borders (Alps, Carpathians, Pyrenees, Balkans, Scandes), cooperation between several countries plays a fundamental role. “Development” requires cooperation both on the “national” level and “beyond borders”. This takes the form of cross-border cooperation, mountain range based cooperation or transnational/ interregional cooperation. It is therefore no surprise that several good practices/cooperation projects have been developed in mountain areas (shared services supply, joint initiatives).
The event brought together actors from cooperation projects (programme authorities and beneficiaries), organizations dealing with mountain development and interested stakeholders. The underlying message was that cooperation in mountain area is indispensable but also shows that it leads to concrete results, and as such should be continued intensively in the future.
Cooperation projects were represented at the Commission’s event in Brussels were: Alpine Space Transnational Programme, Transnational Cooperation in the Alps, Cross-border Tourism Management of Fulufjället National Parks, INTERREG France-Italy ALCOTRA – Cross-border cooperation in the Western Alps, POCTEFA Programme INTERREG France-Spain-Andorra – The Pyrenees Observatory on Climate Change, INTERREG Greece-Bulgaria, Cross-border Cooperation, Projects in the Pangaio/Rhodope Mountains and other beneficiaries such as Foundation Conservation Carpathia (Romania) and the village of Saint Marcel (Italy).
In addition, a few important civil society organizations active on sustainable mountain development were given a say in the conference. Gabriella Suzanne Vanzan gave a short overview of some activities of Mountain Wilderness international and highlighted its role in the protection of the natural and cultural mountain environment, whereas Roland Stierle presented the newly born EUMA, a European umbrella organization of European Mountaineering Associations. The voice of civil society from mountain areas has not been heard so far and these organisations are strongly determined to make a change and become more influential in the making of EU policies. On this issue, 2Celsius held a short presentation on People’s Climate Case, a grassroots judiciary initiative that took the European Parliament and The European Council to the General Court in Luxembourg on grounds related to climate change mitigation; two of the plaintiffs are from mountain areas – Transylvanian Alps in the Romanian Carpathians and Grand Paradiso in the Italian Alps.
Raul Cazan, 2Celsius