Closing one chapter: opening another

October 10, 2011

Regions for Sustainable Change project winds to a close, but the real work is still to come

By Nathan Johnson

COAST EFFECTIVE: Windmills in England's Cornwall region take advantage of Atlantic breezes to generate power. All photos: RSC partners

Launched in October 2008, Regions for Sustainable Change (RSC) is a three-year, partnership-based project, the aim of which is to assist all European regions in making a shift towards low-carbon economic development. The driving idea behind this developmental approach-at a time during which climate change and financial crisis have global implications-is that it can make a huge contribution to EU-wide environmental and economic sustainability.

"Among the older EU member states, regions traditionally have a great deal of power to decide on matters such as education, health, industry, agriculture and financial issues like taxing and funding," says RSC Project Officer Dora Almassy. "So from a political and administrative perspective, the EU believes that regions are the right actors to bring about the most important economic and social changes, even if regions in the new member states are not yet quite as powerful."

Co-funded by the EU programme INTERREG IVC, the RSC partnership comprises 12 organisations from eight EU member states, each with differing levels of capacity and preparedness to face a unique set of challenges in moving towards developing a low-carbon economy. Project participants hope that the sharing of regional experiences and best practices will help to promote an EU-wide shift towards low-carbon development.

The key outcome of the project is to develop a set of different tools and methods that can support European regions in a shift towards a low-carbon economy. With a final RSC conference coming up in October 2011, this article briefly surveys the range of RSC project goals and outcomes.

An inherited process

The RSC project has its roots in the Greening Regional Development Programmes (GRDP), which spanned from 2004 to 2007. Like RSC, GRDP was a region-focused, multi-stakeholder effort involving 17 partners and more than 20 other organisations; it also emphasised the sharing of experiences and best practices, and developed its own working methodology.

TRAVELLING LIGHT: RSC participants in Bulgaria promote local eco-tourism.

Seven of the original GRDP partners teamed up in 2007 to cooperate further in regional efforts to address climate change through the crafting and implementation of adaptation, mitigation and low-carbon development strategies. Awarded an operating budget of nearly EUR 2.1 million, the RSC project kicked off in 2008 with an official meeting in Szentendre, Hungary at the Regional Environmental Center for Central and Eastern Europe (REC).

Brian Shipman, Cornwall Council's RSC project manager at the time, expressed his hope that RSC would take a key lesson from its predecessor: namely, "that the process of project delivery is as important as the end result."

Joining the REC as RSC partners were: Burgenland Regional Management (Austria); Bulgarian Ministry of Regional Development and Public Works; Cornwall Council and Cornwall Development Company (UK); Commune of Wroclaw (Poland); LaMoRo Development Agency, Liguria Region and Marche Region (Italy); La Rioja Region (Spain); Malta Environment and Planning Authority; and University of Debrecen, Center for Environmental Management and Policy (Hungary).

Building confidence

RETROFITTING: Hungary's Panel Project aims to maximise energy efficiency in multi-unit buildings.

"Climate confidence" is an RSC-coined term that refers to a region's "ability to manage climate change impacts and risks, and to benefit from the opportunities of a low-carbon economy." In order to assess the climate confidence of participating regions, the first order of RSC business was to gather information from all partners on basic energy data, approaches to integrating climate change issues in regional development programmes, and the content of regional adaptation strategies and measures. This complex undertaking resulted in a baseline assessment that was used to help design a set of replicable criteria and indicators for interpreting the results and representing a region's climate confidence in an easy-to-understand way.

VITAL ASSET: Water receives treatment at a facility in Wroclaw, Poland.
The ten RSC partner regions vary considerably in terms of geography, population, size and economy, which is necessary in order to obtain as wide a spectrum of baseline data and information as possible. With more than 4 million inhabitants, Italy's Piedmont region is the largest by far. Five of the regions have populations of between 1.5 and 3 million: Lower Silesia (Poland), Central Hungary and the North Great Plain, South-West Bulgaria, and Italy's Liguria and Marche regions. The remaining four regions have populations of a half-million or fewer: Burgenland (Austria), Cornwall (UK), La Rioja (Spain) and Malta. Central Hungary and South-West Bulgaria are capital centre regions surveyed by national-level partners, while the economies of the remaining RSC partner regions are predominantly service-oriented.

Pointing the way forward

The collection of data from partner regions and their interpretation within RSC-established criteria resulted in the Regional Climate Confidence Index (RCCI), the results of which-along with detailed analyses and conclusions-are published in the 2010 RSC Baseline Report.

GET IT WHILE IT'S HOT: Sunny Italy's Liguria region has plenty of solar energy potential.

The RCCI covers seven separate criteria, or "issues": greenhouse gas emissions, energy consumption, renewable energy, policy frameworks, institutional capacity, socio-political aspects, and financial instruments. There is a maximum of 10 "points" that a region can score on any given issue, resulting in a highest-possible "climate confidence" score of 70. Each region also receives an aggregate average score for comparison with other RSC regions. The RCCI scores are performance-based, which means that higher scores indicate better performance. (Click here to view the RCCI scores for each RSC region.)

While not a definitive scientific tool, the RCCI allows regions to critically examine their capacity to deal with climate change, mostly by learning from other participating regions in terms of what works and what doesn't. Furthermore, the evaluative parameters are wide enough to include and anticipate any combination of variables that aid or impede progress towards low-carbon economic development.

Tools of the trade

As a continuation of the baseline assessment, the project developed transferable tools and methodologies for all European regions aiming to achieving higher RCCI scores and, consequently, greater climate confidence. The first such output is "Opportunities for integrating climate change into regional planning through the use of strategic environmental assessment", a paper for assisting regions in the practical implementation of strategic planning.

For monitoring activities the RSC project offers the comprehensive and interactive online Low-Carbon Indicators Toolkit, which is designed to provide assistance in the complicated task of identifying, selecting, measuring and reporting on such indicators.

MOVING THE EARTH: A farmer rotates the soil in Italy's fertile Marche region.

Another component of the RSC project was to initialise an in-depth study of three RSC regions in order to develop a tool allowing regions to compare a given range of carbon-mitigation measures they might be considering-e.g. renewable energy, energy efficiency initiatives, transport initiatives, or changes of land use. Consultants SQW, ICLEI-Europe, and Mercados EMI were commissioned with the task of analysing the carbon-related economic aspects of the Burgenland, Cornwall and Marche regions.

The ensuing study produced the PACE (Prioritisation of Actions for A Low-Carbon Economy) tool, which was, according to Lindsay Knuckey writing in the fifth issue of the RSC newsletter Signpost, "intended to be flexible enough to cope with new evidence or changes in policy proposals that occur over time. Adaptable and transferable across other EU regions, the PACE tool and all RSC project results, including those of project pilot actions, are included in the final RSC project output: the Methodological Handbook."

The final RSC conference in Cornwall (Oct. 19-20) will provide an opportunity to summarise all of the knowledge accumulated during this three-year partnership. But the event is mainly aimed at regional authorities and other stakeholders, in the hope that the concept of low-carbon economic development spreads in a popular and exciting way.

Real and lasting impact

"EU projects should be designed to impact public opinion," Gottfried Lamers from the Federal Ministry for Agriculture, Forestry, Environment and Water Management, Austria wrote in Signpost 3. "To achieve publicity, clear messages should be elaborated-messages and tools such as the RCCI developed in the RSC project. This index is not created for sophisticated scientific discussions, but rather for a quick, approximate estimation of given region's climate policy."

HARVESTING THE BENEFITS: Italian organic mushrooms from Piedmont whet the appetite.
According to Lamers, changes in renewable energy or sustainable transport at a programme level have the potential to significantly change living conditions for citizens-and much for the better. The simpler the tools, the easier they are for politicians and citizens to understand. And if politicians can be made to feel that their political survival depends on an ability to respond to environmental and economic concerns, the greater the capacity for political action and effective change. Hopefully, widespread low-carbon economic development will lead to more and more European regions enjoying conditions of health, prosperity and autonomy.