The EU aims to lead just digital, economic and ecological transitions that will leave no one behind. Close to one third of EU citizens live in rural areas, which represent 83% of the EU territory and supply the whole of society with essential goods and services. These broad figures hide a variety of situations, challenges and opportunities regarding the aforementioned transitions that the current evidence base insufficiently captures.
The design of positive governance frameworks and policy interventions for rural communities is hampered by i) the lack of conceptual frameworks that properly grasp the role of rural areas and communities in sustainable development and sustainability transitions; ii) a lack of data on several aspects at the right geographic scale, in particular on climate and environment performance and on social challenges, quality of life and well-being. The lack of data at the right geographical scale (local in many cases) is hampered by the technical and economic difficulties of finer data collection.
Proposals should explore innovative and out-of-the box ways to describe and characterise rural areas or various forms or degrees of rurality in multi-dimensional ways, screening a wide range of possible (including new) data sources going beyond conventional indicators such as population density and settlement configuration. They should analyse national and other definitions and approaches and engage with stakeholders to understand their perspectives on rurality. Proposals should define and describe functional linkages between various localities and territories and explore and develop ways to apply functional geography approaches to rural areas (e.g. developing the concept of functional rural area), learning from past work and failures on such approaches. Trade-offs in selected approaches should be analysed in regional and national contexts highlighting geographical differences.
– More evidence-based, place-based, integrated and tailored policies, strategies and governance frameworks at local, regional, national and EU levels to drive the sustainable transition of rural areas and communities, building on the specific outcomes below;
– A refined understanding by policy-makers and rural actors of the diversity of rural situations, and of the challenges and opportunities associated with megatrends, potential major shocks and upcoming transitions, in particular climate, environmental and social challenges, to tailor policy interventions to local realities;
– A refined understanding by policy-makers and rural actors of functional characteristics of territories, functional relations between rural places and other rural and/or urban places within a territorial continuum and the importance of these relations for sustainable development, to design synergistic approaches favouring a networked and interlinked development; and
– A refined assessment by policy-makers of the impact of all current and upcoming policies on rural communities (rural proofing), including sectoral or thematic policies (such as climate, energy, mobility, digitalisation, health and social inclusion), or policy frameworks designed to accompany sustainability transitions in general, to tailor interventions to maximise possibilities for rural communities to contribute to and benefit from these transitions.