The territorial dimension of environmental sustainability – potential territorial indicators to support the environmental dimension of territorial cohesion

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Courtesy of European Environment Agency (EEA)

Executive summary

Preface

With the entry into force of the Lisbon Treaty on 1 December 2009, territorial cohesion, along with economic and social cohesion, became a goal of the European Union as identified in the previous EU treaty (Title XVIII). This part of the Treaty mentions the role of the structural funds and the cohesion fund, but does not really define 'territorial cohesion'.

However, the Green Paper on Territorial Cohesion states that:

The concept of territorial cohesion builds bridges between economic effectiveness, social cohesion and ecological balance, putting sustainable development at the heart of policy design (p. 3).

This aspiration has not yet been met by a clear definition of territorial cohesion. It is still subject of ongoing discussion although much of the discussion has focused on economic and social aspects rather than the environmental dimensions of the concept. As this study underlines, the environmental dimensions of territorial cohesion need to be clearly
defined on equal terms with the economic and social elements of the concept. Indeed, without a strong enunciation of the environmental dimension of territorial cohesion, this concept could represent a step backwards in terms of European efforts for sustainable development.

Clearly it is fundamental to understand what is meant by the term territorial cohesion as a starting point; however 'territorial cohesion' is a term already in use and a concept underpinning policy and, as such, can be considered an important principle.

One potential danger is that territorial cohesion is seen only in terms of the spending of funds to support Cohesion Policy. In this restricted vision, the funds implement territorial cohesion and territorial cohesion is what the funds do. This circular approach would leave out the territorial dimensions of other European policies (agriculture and rural development in particular).

Purpose of the study

This study undertakes an analysis of the environmental dimensions of territorial cohesion and of related EU policies. It is intended to contribute to and support external processes including the European Commission's Green Paper on Territorial Cohesion, revision of the EU budget (e.g. regarding Cohesion Policy) and the work of ESPON (the European Spatial Planning
Observation Network) on territorial indicator development.

It recognises the relevance of economic and social aspects as equal issues within the concept of territorial cohesion. As most discussions focus on the economic and social issues of territorial cohesion, it is pertinent to stress the  environmental dimension of this concept. Hence, the choice of potential territorial indicators for consideration so that those could support the analysis of territorial cohesion by making better use of existing databases (like air quality, water, land use, climate change) in order to bring environmental aspects into the cohesion debate.

Thus emerge questions and challenges regarding data availability, the nature of potential analysis and its utility to support the consideration of the potential key elements of the environmental dimension of territorial cohesion. It aims to provide a structure within which further work can be undertaken in this area, including data analysis and development of potential indicators.

There were two main aspects to the study:

  1. Policy analysis: describe and analyse the context of territorial cohesion and the territorial dimension of environmental sustainability and illustrate, where possible, by practical examples at national, regional and local levels;
  2. Characterisation and indicator analysis: Draw up a first rough landscape characterisation tool based on environmental and natural assets to support the development of potential indicators for the environmental dimension of territorial cohesion.

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