The Mont Blanc - Leman Observatory of sustainable development

Promotion of sustainable development at the regional level

Nathalie Holec, 1999

the implementation of a cross-border and European Observatory for the sustainable development of Mont Blanc as a tool for consulting the territory. An innovative experience that allows the relationship between environment, economy and society to be read and understood.

The Mont-Blanc Léman region is the area between the Mont-Blanc massif and the Lake Geneva basin; straddling Switzerland, France and Italy, it encompasses diverse populations that are closely linked by a common natural and human heritage. This area covers both an ecosystem and a socio-cultural entity and is in fact one of the poles of a possible Europe of regions.

The Mont Blanc Leman Observatory (OML) was born from the observation that, in order to be able to think about development on the scale of this territorial reality and thus respond to a concern for good management of the heritage in a perspective of sustainable development, it was necessary to have data and instruments relating to this cross-border area. The OML association was therefore created in December 1995 with the objectives of providing information and relevant data to regional actors in the field of development, to constitute a decision-making tool for political and economic decision-makers concerned with the harmonious development of the region and to encourage new forms of democracy. The association is managed by a Board of Directors composed of representatives of the political, economic and academic circles and associations of the cross-border region. The secretariat and the documentation center are located in Archamps, France.

The documentation center is an intrinsic part of the Observatory’s concept. It is in charge of listing and collecting all relevant information concerning sustainable development and the Mont Blanc-Léman region. It provides interested parties with information on the economy, society, institutions, legislation, taxation, ecology, trade and culture of the region, as well as on how these different fields interact and evolve over time. It thus offers a unique base of information and documentation.

The OML is currently developing a website where all this information will be available. The observatory intends to democratize access to information and to set up a forum for the exchange of experiences on concrete regional development actions. This server will eventually provide access to geo-referenced information on the region’s municipalities and their projects, as well as to the regional press of the three countries, to thematic studies carried out by the OML (tourism, transportation, water management, etc.) and to comparative law sheets, which will initially concern urban planning and environmental law. In order to ensure that all the actors of the territory are listed on the site, the OML is addressing communities of communes, companies and associations to join the project.

The OML aims to create synergies between administrations, communities, companies, associations, research institutes and individuals. For this reason, it organizes regular meetings, seminars and conferences to promote reflection and consultation outside the traditional power structures. In 1997 and 1998, various events were organized in several locations in the Mont Blanc-Léman region on the themes of sustainable development, sustainable development criteria, the future of the city and heritage policy. Awareness-raising activities on the issues of sustainable development and cross-border cooperation are also carried out with the general public and local actors.

The OML also conducts analyses and reflections on different themes. Currently, a study on the approach and evaluation of the water issue is being conducted in partnership with the LEBA (Laboratory of Ecology and Aquatic Biology) and the ASL (Association de sauvegarde du Léman). The purpose of this study is to rethink water management in the sense of a coherent and sustainable development. Indeed, the development and the richness of the region are largely based on water (thermalism, nautical sports activities, exploitation of the water table, etc.) but the management and the consumption of water meet today certain limits linked in particular to industrial and agricultural pollution, to the need for sanitation, to a management which remained relatively complex and compartmentalized on both sides of the borders.

The reflection concerns both the scientific aspect of the water cycle and the perception of water by the actors of regional development. Various surveys and scientific research have been carried out thanks to the support of the Foundation for the Progress of Humankind and the Fondation du Devenir. A survey carried out on 200 people of the basin was presented during a meeting held in June 1998. The work undertaken will lead to a General Assembly on Water in September 2000. The results obtained will also be used within the framework of a methodological work on the development of criteria and indicators of sustainable development applicable to the region. The OML is conducting other research activities, for example, on socio-political relations or on the methods of consultation and decision-making that are the basis of the functioning of the region’s communities.

One of the other major projects underway is the development of sustainable tourism. The OML, in partnership with the city of Chambéry Mont-Blanc, intends to make the Mont-Blanc region a melting pot for reflection on tourism, one of the driving forces of regional development, which raises many questions (health, food, safety, etc.). The objective of the OML is to create a network of all the actors concerned by this issue and to organize Tourism Summits. A website has been opened. A Scientific Committee, composed of experts specialized in the field of tourism, has been created. Many local partners have already supported this initiative.

In summary, the OML’s efforts for the years 1999-2000 will focus on the documentation center, the development of the website, the Etats Généraux de l’Eau and the Tourism Summits. In addition, a forum on sustainable development will be launched in the first quarter of 1999, a reflection on transport and sustainable development, the creation of an International Training Centre for territorial executives and decentralised cooperation.

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