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Confidence, the key ingredient in integrating the three pillars of sustainable development

© C. Tailleux


Is economic growth always detrimental to the environment? Is the primary principle of prosperity based on specialization and lower prices? What is the relationship between a properly functioning society and economic dynamism? More generally, can the three pillars of sustainable development - economic, social and environmental - be achieved simultaneously, or do they represent nothing more than utopia?

In two recent publications, Jean-Marc Callois provides some answers to these historical questions, highlighting the pivotal role played by confidence, a parameter on which he has focused a large part of his research work, studying the relationship between social capital and local development.

The first article, published in the journal Regional Studies, reviews determinants of local economic dynamism. It highlights the fundamental trade-off between two factors: the presence of export activities (source of income for the region) and the existence of interdependencies between activities in the region that contribute to productive efficiency and resilience.

Although the balance needed between “cohesion” and “openness” has been widely covered in local development literature, there is no adequate theoretical framework with which to study the phenomenon. In his article, Jean-Marc Callois formalizes the various mechanisms by which these two factors influence job growth and creates a new indicator for the degree of economic interdependency in a region. The empirical study showed that interdependence (or cohesion) creates resilience (by protecting job numbers within a depressed economic climate) and that it has the most effect at a departmental level (which is a relevant level to lead local development policies). The article also shows that diversity among economic activities and the level of confidence within society are significant determinants in economic cohesion.

The second article, co-written with Frédéric Gosselin and published in the journal Ecological Indicators, focuses on anthropic determinants of biodiversity. It follows on from work carried out by Frédéric Gosselin on statistical analysis methods for relationships between various types of aggregated indicators and is part of a trend for macroecology. This pan-European study unsurprisingly revealed the role that human activity plays in the decline of biodiversity. The main novelty of the article is that it highlights the importance of the spatial density of human activity on the decline. More than GDP/inhabitant, density is the determining factor, which suggests that policies regulating land use (land planning, green and blue belts, environmental mitigation, etc.) have a role to play. Another unique feature of the article is that it tests the role of some sociological indicators on biodiversity. Although the roles played by these factors are less significant than those played by economic factors, confidence is closely linked to an improved biodiversity status. However, it also facilitates economic growth, as shown by several projects on this topic.

These two publications suggest that a properly functioning society is as important as the purely legal elements, widely studied in development literature (contract guarantees, environmental legislation, etc.). Creating confidence in society should be a transversal aim of public policy. These contributions also reveal the importance of regional issues in environmental transition.

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