Gérard Viatte is a Swiss expert on economic and rural development issues. He was Director in charge of Agriculture for more than 10 years at the OECD as well as Special Advisor to the FAO and member of the French Academy of Agriculture. Gérard Viatte has often shared with Euromontana his analyses on rural economy and climate change, notably during the European Mountain Convention of Bragança in 2016. Today, he shares in our interview his long-term vision for smarter mountains, that meet the various economic, societal and environmental challenges of the 21st century.
Euromontana: how do you foresee the contribution of mountains to tomorrow’s society?
Gérard Viatte: “Mountain regions have always been at the very centre of the issue of sustainable development, in its three “classic” dimensions: environmental, social and economic. They are even more so in the face of the new challenges that societies are facing today and for the medium-term future, in particular the climate emergency and resilience to health, economic and social crises. Mountain regions are primarily affected by climate change, but they can also play a key role in mitigation and adaptation strategies. Responding to these challenges requires new types of action, social organisation and governance. The actors, both private and public, in mountain regions are well equipped to succeed in these adaptations and to contribute to this global challenge.”
Yet, is the contribution of mountains to sustainable development really taken into account by international and European policies?
“Glacier and permafrost melting, soil erosion and water management problems are well identified and measured. While scientific and policy attention has increased, too often these three components are analysed separately rather than in a comprehensive and systemic approach and response. The Paris Agreement was a decisive step at the global level, which is being pursued by the IPCC studies and the annual “COPs”. Most countries, unfortunately not all, are progressively implementing policies that could help to achieve the objectives of the Paris Agreement.
The EU Green Deal is a good example of this and has the merit of being ” comprehensive “. Several elements of these policies concern mountain regions but they are generally not integrated into an overall strategy for these regions. A gap that needs to be addressed!
Mountain regions are also concerned by other very important environmental issues, such as biodiversity. Policies need to give particular attention and support to mountain regions so that they can continue to strengthen biodiversity, including through diversified and sustainable types of agriculture and agroforestry.”
Another challenge that we are facing is the issue of territorial development. Has not the COVID-19 crisis demonstrated the extent to which efforts are still needed on this topic?
“Of course, the sanitary crisis has highlighted the fragility of our societies and the need to strengthen their resilience. Mountain regions cannot, of course, solve the health crisis, but they offer the possibility of reducing the demographic pressure of urban areas. They can help to establish a social and territorial balance in increasingly urban and technology-based societies. But for this it is crucial to have a better territorial balance in all countries, developed and developing ones.”
In your opinion, what are the development factors that will have to be absolutely essential to achieve this territorial balance?
“Developing employment in mountain regions is crucial. It is not only an economic but also a social and territorial objective. It must translate into new types of jobs, based for instance on new communication technologies. The concept of “smart mountains” for the future is therefore relevant for the future of our regions.
Teleworking for example. It is already a reality in mountain areas, but its importance is now increased tenfold. In the past, we relied on transport networks to improve connectivity in mountain regions; today we can rely on communication technologies, the cost of which is much lower than the investments made in the 20th century for rail or road.
But of course, technology alone is not enough. It needs to be supported by ongoing training and new working structures, such as third places and shared offices. Mountain people have been used to community-based work, so they are well prepared for such an evolution.”
Gérard Viatte shares with us his thoughts on the future of tourism, sustainability, employment and governance in mountain areas. To discover all his reflections on the future of smart mountains, read the full interview!3 November 2020