Sustainable Development in the Carpathian Region
“Sustainable development is development that meets the needs of the present without compromising the ability of future generations to meet their own needs. It contains within it two key concepts:
- the concept of needs, in particular the essential needs of the world’s poor, to which overriding priority should be given; and
- the idea of limitations imposed by the state of technology and social organization on the environment’s ability to meet present and future needs.”
Brundtland Report, World Commission on Environment and Development 1987
The Carpathian Mountains offer manifold natural resources such as rich forests, clean water, beautiful mosaic landscapes, farm land etc. Their biodiversity is outstanding in Europe with many endemic species and species, especially large carnivores that are close to extinction in Western Europe. These facts stem from the history of the area where in general less economic development took place as the mountainous area with the occurrence steep slopes and high altitudes were less favourable for large scale farming and industrialisation. Accessibility of the area has always been a problem for rural development. Since the fall of the communism numerous young and educated people have moved to bigger cities or other countries to make their living. Land abandonment and the aging of the local population are the results. The current effects of transition are exacerbated by the financial crisis.
To strengthen prosperity of communities in the Carpathians economic development should be based on sustainable use of natural resources and should go hand in hand with nature conservation. Good conditions are given by the fact that the European Union policies are shifting from strict species and habitats conservation towards participatory nature conservation. Not only land owners and managers such as farmers, foresters are addressed but also members of other sectors are encouraged to run green, pro-biodiversity businesses.
The Carpathian Convention gives a framework for the promotion and implementation of not only nature protection but also of sustainable development that goes hand in hand with responsible natural resource management in the region. All eight Working Groups of the Carpathian Convention focus on sustainable development as basis for their respective theme from among others agriculture to tourism.
There are numerous organisations that are involved in and support sustainable development. Many examples of good practises are available; 26 of them are presented in the following study.
The study developed during the BioREGIO project under Work Package 4 helps future entrepreneurs, responsible authorities for regional development and NGOs how to start up such businesses. It is a useful compilation of opportunities, challenges and examples of solutions using the potential of nature and its services for the good of human society and economy.
The study on ‘Regional development opportunities of protected areas and natural assets in the Carpathians’ covers six sectors, namely tourism, agriculture, forestry, non-timber forest products, fisheries and energy. The scope of the study is to provide
- Short analysis of the characteristics of the Carpathians having an impact on regional development in protected areas;
- Outlook on the six sectors and their relation to protected areas and natural assets, including definitions, existing guidance, standards and initiatives; challenges and opportunities;
- Good practice examples of sustainable businesses and initiatives within these six sectors from the Carpathians as well as from the Alps.
The aim is to initiate new, sustainable businesses in these sectors and thus to ensure both the long-term protection of the landscape and natural assets and also the livelihood of local people.
Target groups are local stakeholders, such as entrepreneurs and managers of protected areas and natural resources, NGOs involved in cooperation with stakeholders, but also authorities and policy makers who may support the process of sustainable development.
The literature and policy review shows that at European scale there is a clear trend in the shifting from protectionist towards participatory nature conservation. With the spread of the concept of ecosystem services and their values, it is easier to communicate benefits and needs to protect biodiversity. This also helps underpinning the greening of EU policies and funds, e.g. Cohesion Policy calling for spending more on ecosystems and green infrastructures (COM(2011) 17 final), the proposal from the European Commission on the Common Agricultural Policy for 2014-2020 including further greening of the funds, especially on payments for public goods, the Climate Policy clearly targeting sustainability goals. All these embed the necessary involvement of stakeholders in order to achieve sustainable growth in Europe (COM(2010) 2020 final). The tendency carries opportunities for rural people to get engaged in pro-biodiversity businesses, contributing to nature conservation on the one side and also providing sufficient economic and social benefits.
The analysis of the answers to the questionnaires, discussions at stakeholder meetings and the input from national experts for Romania, Serbia and Ukraine highlighted that though the Carpathian ecoregion has great potentials in terms of natural assets, it is a laggard compared to other, Western European countries in using these potentials. This on the one hand may be a remnant of the history of the region with the current financial crisis adding up to the difficulties. We found that although there are some initiatives of sustainable businesses in the Carpathians that are worth to be followed, but there is room for further initiatives. What were most to be heard at stakeholder meetings are the conflicts between nature conservation and local businesses, the restrictions and difficulties entrepreneurs face because of protected areas and species. When it turned to identification of positive, good examples, it was in some cases even impossible to find any. The same tendency was to be noticed from the answers to the questionnaires. All who filled in the questionnaire could list conflicts and problems with all the sectors they marked as relevant for the region. However, there were only a very few good examples provided through this information source.
The search for case studies shows that there are pro-biodiversity business hotspots, regions where several good example initiatives exist in parallel or even being interlinked with each other. This suggests that pro-biodiversity businesses and initiatives are good catalysts. All these led to the conclusion that there is a clear need to assist locals in finding ways to use the opportunities for sustainable businesses in their region. There are three main groups who can drive such changes; one is policy makers, the other is non-governmental organizations and the third being the locals, entrepreneurs themselves.