They’ll move (to) mountains!

Perhaps not known to all, but today, 11 December is the UN International Mountain Day and a chance to reflect and be grateful for all that mountains – in their beauty and bounty – offer to the world. It’s also a chance to consider how policies can support the revitalisation of mountains to be more attractive places for talent on the move. 

Mountain regions are home to around 12% of the EU population, and are rich in natural assets and biodiversity. As well as being positive for the environment, they draw in millions of visitors for skiing, hiking, camping, or sightseeing.

They are safe places, with the number of homicides per 100,000 population at 0.81 compared to 1.16 in non-mountain EU regions. And they are green places – in 2018, mountain regions across the EU had 7% lower emission levels than non-mountain EU regions.

Limited access to key services is a barrier to attractiveness

Yet mountain communities have been declining, on average by 3% since 2010 and despite their many attractions, there is some catching up to do in terms of service provision and infrastructure. Areas where mountain regions face particular challenges including healthcare and internet. For example:

  • Mountain regions have on average 2.68 doctors per 1,000 inhabitants, which trails the European regional average at 3.37 doctors per 1,000 population.
  • Mountain regions in Europe also tend to have relatively slow internet download speeds, around 20.32% below their national average.

While not all mountain regions fall below the mean, this health-digital nexus is reflected in the fact that:

61% of mountain regions have a smaller number of doctors.

80% of mountain regions have a slower internet download speed.

Moving to the mountains…

A survey earlier this year by Euromontana shows there are advantages to build on, pointing to life close to nature, quality of life and leisure activities as key reasons to move to – and stay in – the mountains. The barriers to staying or moving to the mountains most often identified were educational and employment opportunities but respondents also cited mobility, the scarcity of services and internet connection as challenges to tackle.

Fortunately, mountain regions understand well these existing barriers and are hard at work to create a more sustainable and attractive lifestyle for young and older populations alike. Some regions are working to promote youth employment and entrepreneurship, such as through the YESpecialists project in Vestland county (Norway) or through the facilitation of internship programmes and experiential opportunities in rural and mountain areas offered through the Desafio programme in the Aragon region of Spain.

Other areas are also trying to improve services for older generations, thus preventing them from moving to urban areas which often offer more services. This is the case of the Province of Teruel, Spain, which has become an age-friendly territory by developing the Silver Economy in its mountain areas through the SILVER SMEs project. Moreover, as demonstrated by the Horizon 2020 project MATILDE, these territories can build a new narrative and show that mountains are also a favourable place to call home for newcomers and immigrants, offering quality of life and community building opportunities.

Remaking the mountains

Looking ahead, there is a greater role for national, regional and local institutions – as well as civil society organisations like Euromontana – to play in increasing the attractiveness of mountain regions. The Sila Declaration adopted at the close of the 12th European Mountain Convention in October makes this clear. It calls upon on these institutions to earmark funding mechanisms to create smarter mountain areas, with increased connectivity, better services, and more functional relationships between urban and rural areas.

The declaration highlights the need to balance mountain region attractiveness with the environmental and social challenges that they confront, including how mountain livelihoods are affected by climate change and the need to improve the sustainability of tourism and agricultural activities, both important sectors in mountain economies, to the benefit of the resident population and the natural environment.

To do this, policy makers should consider a couple key calls to action for the betterment of mountain communities:

  • To make mountain communities smarter and more attractive, invest in critical infrastructure that enhances resident well-being including internet, healthcare and mobility.
  • Measure and monitor the attractiveness of mountains by attaching performance indicators to policies and programs that aim to improve mountain life – these can address social cohesion, the natural environment, infrastructure, and cultural capital, to name a few.
  • Finally, promote the sharing of good practices across mountain areas that have proven to drive talent and investment to these unique regions. 

To dig deeper into OECD work on regional attractiveness

Policy Analyst at | Website | + posts

Michael Flood is a Policy Analyst at the OECD Centre for Entrepreneurship, SMEs, Regions and Cities where he works in the Regional Attractiveness and Migrant Integration unit. Hailing from a region of Canada that has seen its population decline up until recently – yet one celebrated for its quality of life – he resonates with the challenges faced by mountain regions in attracting and maintaining their population and their strong sense of well-being.

Junior Policy Analyst at | Website | + posts

Seunga Iris Ryu is a Junior Policy Analyst at the OECD Centre for Entrepreneurship, SMEs, Regions and Cities, specifically the Regional Attractiveness and Migrant Integration unit. Pursuing a balance of quantitative and qualitative approach in policy analysis, she enjoys exploring the relationships among the various factors of a regions’ attractiveness through data analysis and producing creative data visualisations.

Communication & Policy Officer at | + posts

Blandine Camus is Communication & Policy Officer at Euromontana, the European association of mountain areas, where she works on the different policies that affect the attractiveness of mountains, from the Cohesion Policy to the Common Agricultural Policy, as well as youth, mobility and the environment. In 2022, she co-authored the Euromontana report "Being young in a mountain area".