Climate Action

Living Edition
| Editors: Walter Leal Filho, Anabela Marisa Azul, Luciana Brandli, Pinar Gökcin Özuyar, Tony Wall

Local Authority Capacity for Climate Action

  • Krishna RokaEmail author
Living reference work entry


Climate change is one of the most important socio-environmental issues today. The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change’s (IPCC) fifth assessment is clear on the human influence on the climate system and the widespread impacts it has on human and natural systems (IPCC 2014). On the other hand, the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC) defines it as “a change of climate which is attributed directly or indirectly to human activity that alters the composition of the global atmosphere and which is in addition to natural climate variability observed over comparable time periods” (UNFCCC 2011: 2). Evidence of climate change include shifting weather patterns, rising sea level from global warming, prolonged droughts and floods.

To tackle climate change, actions must come from governments, cities, regions, businesses, and investors. These actions should strive toward implementing the Paris Agreement, which formally acknowledges the urgent need to scale up our global response to climate change, which supports even greater ambition from governments (UNFCCC 2018: To support local action, the UNFCCC created the Marrakech Partnership for Global Climate Action that supports voluntary collaboration between parties and nonparty stakeholders, including civil society, the private sector, financial institutions, cities and other subnational authorities, local communities and indigenous peoples, as well as coalitions and voluntary initiatives, as set out in the Paris decision (UNFCCC 2016: 4).


Climate change clearly has impacts on local community, and they are expected to grow in the future; it is therefore important for local administrators to protect their citizens from any financial losses, health problems, and even casualties (EnercitEE 2012). Further, communities collectively contribute to greenhouse gas emissions from household consumption, transport, and production activities. Changing consumption patterns at the local level can be a significant tool to fight climate change. Excluding international transportation, the total greenhouse emission is the sum of emissions from municipalities and regions. In addition, municipalities and regions influence climate change under different contexts. For example, in some regions energy production or transport may be the biggest source for the greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions, while it could be agriculture or industry may be the biggest source elsewhere. Similarly, each country is unique with its legislation process, level of centralization, and environmental strategies. These factors present opportunities to develop locally suitable plans or create barriers in adopting climate strategies. For example, the European laws have transferred power to local authorities to design mitigation plans to reduce GHGs emissions (EnercitEE 2012). Other nations can empower their local governments to act independently within the national policies for lasting solutions.

The UN-Habitat (2015) contends that the traditional urban planning must change and change quickly because cities and human settlements are rapidly transforming from economic and demographic growth, migration, climate risks, disruptive technologies, and social fragmentation. To navigate the above changes, the agency created a set of International Guidelines on Urban and Territorial Planning (IG-UTP), which offers guidelines for national governments, local authorities, planning professionals, and civil society organizations. It states:

The International Guidelines on Urban and Territorial Planning are intended to be a framework for improving global policies, plans, designs and implementation processes, which will lead to more compact, socially inclusive, better integrated and connected cities and territories that foster sustainable urban development and are resilient to climate change. (UN-HABITAT 2015: 40)

Why Local Government?

By design local authorities are closer to communities and can be more innovative than national governments (Bulkeley 2010; Baker et al. 2012). Furthermore, they are the focal point to implement programs designed at the national and international levels. As Annabelle Jaeger (2015), member of the EU Committee of the Regions, wrote, cutting them out of the climate negotiations would be a big mistake. To further illustrate the importance of local government in fighting climate change, she lists five reasons:
  1. 1.

    The buck stops here – Local government is the connecting link in the long chain of planning and implementation process spanning national and international agencies and can be decisive in making or breaking the implementation of any international strategy. It is clear, local authorities are eventually responsible for making any climate policy a reality. According to the UNDP, more than 70% of climate change reduction measures and up to 90% of climate change adaptation measures implemented by the agency are undertaken by local government. These projects are locally designed and tailor-made solutions that reflect local circumstances and can be effectively implemented. It is therefore important to include these local experiences in the policies at the national and international level so that impediments and opportunities can be identified, saving time and money.

  2. 2.

    Innovative local leadership – Globally, local leaders are already leading the fight against climate change, taking actions to reduce emissions from the transportation sector, improve urban biodiversity, and manage urban waste. In Europe, a collective of more than 6000 local and regional authorities formed the Covenant of Mayors initiative and have agreed to meet the EU’s 2020 CO2 reduction targets. Another initiative by the EU’s Mayors Adapt is assisting communities to adapt and prepare to live under a changing environment from climate change. These efforts showcase that local ambition can be the alternative when the national commitments are stalling.

  3. 3.

    Local government promotes public participation – A key role local government can play is engaging public and stimulating local action. They can close the gap in international climate conferences where citizens are cutoff from the negotiations and decision-making processes. Successful climate policy has to affect people’s daily lives to get them on board. Local government can effectively connect international negotiations with the public. In addition, local authorities can effectively implement climate change actions – such as developing green infrastructure or investing in local green energy – and result in multiple benefits by reducing greenhouse gases and creating jobs.

  4. 4.

    Community mobilization and local leadership – A strong local leadership can forge partnerships between local government and communities and reduce costs and improve policy implementation. To reduce the impact of climate change, local governments need support from the businesses and civil society to mobilize communities. Only local representations can bring together economic actors and civil society to turn innovative ideas to tangible results. Furthermore, local politicians can facilitate public participation and ensure local people are involved with projects such as wind farms that affect the landscape. It is true that the fight against climate change should involve everybody, or it cannot be fought at all.

  5. 5.

    Think local, act global – During the period where international process of intergovernmental negotiations has stalled, local governments are agreeing and collaborating on priorities for action. In response, local governments have accelerated decentralized cooperation agreements between regions and towns and cities. This is crucial in building trust and encouraging the national governments to act toward achieving ambitious global agreement.


Cities and Climate Action

Globally, cities are the focal points in the fight against climate change as they are predicted to accommodate nearly 66% of the world’s population by 2050. In addition, cities only occupy 2% of the land area but account for 70% of GDP, 60% of energy consumption, 70% of greenhouse gas emissions, and 70% of solid waste (UN-HABITAT 2015). Since the majority of the population lives in and around cities, it is crucial to enhance their role in mitigation and adapting to climate change and making cities more livable.

Cities are playing a crucial role in climate action worldwide. As Broekhoff (2015) states, their roles include policy innovation, testing new approaches, showcasing best practices, assisting to build capacity and political support for ambitious national actions, and effectively reducing GHG emissions. In doing so they are contributing substantially to achieve global and national climate policy goals. It is believed city governments have the capacity to contribute to 15% reductions in global GHG emissions. It is, therefore, important for national governments and the international community to nurture local-level actions to mitigate and adapt to climate change (Broekhoff 2015).

Unfortunately, cities face many challenges in acting locally and independently of national policies: one, difficulty in coordinating with other cities resulting in free-riding, where some cities refrain from action but will benefit from the actions of others, and two, emissions leakage from shifting in mitigation programs and economic activities leading to more emissions (Broekhoff 2015). Therefore, coordination across levels of governments is key to achieving the goals.

Here are the different roles a city or local government can play in climate action (Broekhoff 2015):
  1. 1.

    Policy architect and leader – the city government becomes the primary agency responsible for policy design, formulation, application, implementation, and enforcement. Examples include urban spatial planning, designing transit systems, development of urban infrastructure, and waste management regulations.

  2. 2.

    Critical implementer – it takes responsibility for key application, implementation, or enforcement actions related to a policy. Examples include building code implementation and compliance-checking and implementing regionally coordinated infrastructure projects or transportation policies.

  3. 3.

    Complementary partner – the local government implements independent complementary actions that will contribute to the effectiveness, uptake, penetration, or success of policies created by state and national governments. Examples are incentive programs to improve building energy efficiency, sanctioning installation of electric vehicle charging stations, and authorizing tax incentives and subsidies for energy use by commercial and residential sectors.


Guidelines for Local Planning

The IG-UTP guidelines offer multilevel continuum of planning and require local governments to develop and implement local guidelines that reflect local institutional values and capacities and address their specific urban and territorial challenges. It believes urban and territorial planning will promote local democracy, participation and inclusion, and transparency and accountability, with an aim to ensuring sustainable urbanization. At the local level, it recommends the following actions (UN-HABITAT 2015: 2–3):
  1. (a)

    At city-region and metropolitan level, subnational regional plans could foster economic development by promoting regional economies of scale and agglomeration, increasing productivity and prosperity, strengthening urban-rural linkages and adaptation to climate change impacts, reducing disaster risks and intensity in the use of energy, addressing social and spatial disparities, and promoting territorial cohesion and complementarities in both growing and declining areas.

  2. (b)

    At city and municipal level, city development strategies and integrated development plans could prioritize investment decisions and encourage synergies and interactions between separate urban areas. Land-use plans could contribute to the protection of environmentally sensitive areas and to the regulation of land markets. Urban extension and infill plans could minimize transport and service delivery costs, optimize the use of land, and support the protection and organization of urban open spaces. Urban upgrading and retrofitting plans could increase residential and economic densities and promote more socially integrated communities.

  3. (c)

    At the neighborhood level, street development and public space plans and layouts could improve urban quality, social cohesion and inclusion, and the protection of local resources. Participatory planning and budgeting, involving communities in managing urban commons, such as public spaces and services, could contribute to improved spatial integration and connectivity, human security and resilience, local democracy, and social accountability.


Overall the guidelines for local authorities encourage cooperation with other government agencies and relevant partners. It aims to contribute to increased human security by building environmental and socioeconomic resilience, improving mitigation and adaptation toward climate change and improving the response to environmental hazards and risks.

Local authorities can fight climate change by creating mitigation and adaptation plans, which begins with data collection at the local level. Data should be collected on different areas of a municipality and higher levels, as well as from private sectors and households. Next, using the data scenarios of the future are envisioned. Scenarios can be used as tools to analyze how different forces may influence future emission outcomes and to assess the associated uncertainties (EnercitEE 2012). They assist in climate change analysis, assessment of impacts, adaptation, and mitigation. It is important that scenarios should not be used as forecasts of the future but rather used to deduct the impact of many uncertain factors like demography change, technological change, or socioeconomic development on the future of emissions.

On the other hand, UN-Habitat (2011) suggests local plans for mitigation should apply an opportunity risk management approach, encourage and reward “synergies” and “co-benefits,” target both near-term and longer-term issues, and be flexible to include new approaches. Furthermore, the local-level urban policy-makers should start by building local awareness and understanding of perceptions and preferences for development, assessing local needs and options, public values, and existing local innovation. Such policies should contain a vision of future development under a climate change scenario, have provision for community participation (private sector, neighborhoods, grassroots groups, and opinion leaders), and apply an inclusive, participatory process to assess vulnerability and ways to reduce risks. The next section discusses how local authority can build mitigation and adaptation plans.

Planning for Mitigation

A mitigation plan by local governments can apply the cyclical management system, which consists of the following elements “baseline review, target setting, political commitment, implementation and monitoring, and evaluation and reporting” (UN-HABITAT 2011).
  1. 1.

    The baseline review looks at the current status of the municipality or region. This will help to determine what is needed and to focus on successful mitigation. Important baseline information includes the GHG inventory, awareness-raising of decision-makers, cooperation with stakeholders, and an overview of current policies on different levels.

  2. 2.

    In the target setting step, the baseline information is used to identify short-term and long-term targets with clear indicators. For example, are targets only to reduce CO2 or all the GHGs? If so, then what indicators can be used to measure the total amount of CO2. For example, CO2 emissions shall be reduced by 50% between 2000 and 2020.

  3. 3.

    Political approval and commitment is necessary for the targets to come into force. Politicians are likely to support if they are involved from the beginning and are given credit for adopting the plan. To highlight the success, the plan should be promoted using press conferences, events, or seminars to share the decisions with the public.

  4. 4.

    Implementation is the next step after it gets accepted by the politicians. Implementation could be easy or a long process depending on the funding and the design. The handbook recommends local governments to focus on the “low-hanging fruits” because “the actions that are quite easy and cheap to carry out but will cause enough reduction of climate gases to make a difference in the follow-up” (UN-HABITAT 2011: 55). Monitoring of the program will generate valuable data for evaluation.

  5. 5.

    Evaluation and reporting is important when it is time for revision of the climate plan. Since monitoring is about identifying where the actions are carried out or not, the evaluation is more important to understand if the action achieved its targets. For example, did the GHG emissions decrease, and was the decrease larger or smaller than expected?


A recently completed EU Life+ project led by the Reggio Emilia municipality in Italy produced ready-to-use tools and procedures for municipality planning. It is known as the Local Accountability for Kyoto goalS (LAKS) and is available at The LAKS aims to show how cities can use existing opportunities and synergies to actively contribute to the achievement of Kyoto goals and the targets set by the European Commission within the Climate Action Plan, that is, by 2020, reducing overall emission to 20% below 1990, reducing 20% the energy use, increasing energy efficiency, and increasing the share of renewables in energy use to 20%.

Planning for Adaptation

The effective approach to planning for adaption depends on the actions of local authorities, civil society organizations, and the private sector directed toward improving local governance, engaging civil society, and building economic development (IFRC 2009). In addition, successful adaptation depends upon a proactive and resilience-building process. On the other hand, national governments can establish the policy and regulatory environment to encourage the participation of individuals, households, and private sector businesses in the adaptation process. They can also be collecting information from climate risk assessments, strengthen the early warning systems, and provide policy and legal frameworks for climate risk reduction. The international community can assist the critical role of local actors by developing the adaption framework and channeling resources to them. The success of a locally planned adaptation strategy depends on the collaboration of the local authority with the national and international agencies (Table 1).
Table 1

Example of a draft adaptation plan for municipalities. (Adopted from EnercitEE 2012: 78–80)

Climate change and adaptation

Explain why adaptation is necessary

Describe the purpose of adaptation planning

Methods used/processes

Objectives and definitions (limitations)

Municipality’s role and current position/situation

Explain the municipality’s role in the climate adaptation planning process

Describe, if applicable, the municipality’s climate and/or energy strategies

What has been done so far in the municipality, when it comes to climate adaptation?

What still needs to be done?

Describe if the adaptation plan is divided into different areas due to the municipality’s diverse geography

Describe what characterizes these areas

Describe population structure and how it is distributed across the municipality

Describe the overall municipal building structures, infrastructure, and recreational areas/scenery

Climate change in the municipal/region – scenarios

Describe in broad terms what the climate material used is based upon, where the information is coming from, the climate and emission scenarios used, and the time horizon of interest

Climate factors affecting the municipality

Describe the climate factors that are relevant to the municipality

Describe for each climate factor if and how there will be a change from the current situation and approximately how large the changes will be

Display maps, charts, and graphs to enhance clarity

System types and consequences of a changing climate – threats and opportunities

The overall critical systems and activities in the municipality

Describe the above systems:

 Generally what climate changes means to the system

 The climatic factors that affect the system

 If there are different types of systems, any system level, lifetime, redundancy and where it is located geographically

How the system/system type is affected

 Positive effects

 Negative effects

If the consequence is negative – are the consequences acceptable or unacceptable?

The International Federation of Red Cross (IFRC 2009: 6) recommends these six strategies for international organizations to support local action and adaptation:
  1. 1.

    Prioritize adaptation efforts in communities with high vulnerabilities and where there is greatest need for safety and resilience.

  2. 2.

    Build anticipated climate change-related trends into existing risk and vulnerability assessments that could be developed to compensate current climate variability with effective short-, medium-, and long-term strategies to strengthen response capacities and preparedness, reduce risks, and foster effective adaptation.

  3. 3.

    Complete integration of adaptation into longer-term national and local sustainable development and poverty reduction strategies such as those related to poverty reduction.

  4. 4.

    Prioritize programs to strengthen capacities of local authorities, civil society organizations, and the private sector with aims to establish foundations for the robust management of climate risk and improve adaptation through community-based risk reduction and effective local governance.

  5. 5.

    Develop robust resource mobilization mechanisms for adaptation that encourages the integration of the concepts of climate-proofing of local development programs by planning dedicated CCA measures and sustaining the availability of both financial and technical support to local actors.

  6. 6.

    Leverage the opportunities in disaster prevention and response, which can be done by improving early warning systems, contingency planning and integrated response, promoting effective community-based adaptation and risk reduction, and strengthening local systems for managing international disaster cooperation.


Local Government Responses in Developing Countries

Even though cities and local governments are best positioned to implement policies to address the impacts of climate change, the process begins with the national government’s policy. Many nations have developed National Adaptation Programmes of Action (NAPA) that recognizes the role of local authorities in implementing the programs (UN-HABITAT 2011). However, NAPA’s success depends on their catalyzing and supporting local assessment and action. There is therefore a need for a localized City Adaptation Programmes of Action or Local Adaptation Programmes for Action. Since the impacts of climate change vary based on the factors such as the location of the city, the strength of the economy, and population density, it has become necessary to design a plan that is localized to the above factors.

The UN-HABITAT offers an excellent roadmap for local governments in developing countries to use when designing their plan (UN-HABITAT 2011). The first step toward effective planning is assessing climate change risks and the scale of the adaptation deficit. In many developing countries, there is lack of basic data on environmental hazards and risks related to extreme weather. In addition, cities have a deficit in infrastructure and basic services making them incapable to respond to threats. For example, Dhaka the capital of Bangladesh is prone to floods with huge economic losses. However, the city has a large deficit as a large number of people live in slum areas, with overcrowded, poor-quality housing that lack piped water, sewers, and drains. Many coastal cities in poor countries face similar deficits. As a result, the UN-HABITAT (2011: 141) recommends the following intervention strategies to reduce the deficit and adapt to future risks from climate change:
  1. (a)

    Increasing the water-absorbing capacity of the urban landscape

  2. (b)

    Improving urban drainage and storm sewer design

  3. (c)

    Increasing natural shoreline stabilization measures

  4. (d)

    Utilizing storm water retention/detention ponds and constructed wetlands

  5. (e)

    Land-use planning to avoid locating structures in risky areas

  6. (f)

    Working with industry to reduce water demand

  7. (g)

    Increasing food security

  8. (h)

    Using environmental management as the basis for creating “green jobs”


Examples of Local Planning

This section discusses examples of cities that have developed programs and policies to mitigate and adapt to climate change. These examples highlight the role of local leadership (mayor) and the leaders’ personal convictions and commitments for green agendas in developing a long-term plan for the city.

Global Cities

Mayors of cities across nations are already making their cities resilient and concurrently attaining strong economic growth by investing in sustainable development. These cities are scaling up their actions by expanding their proposed or pilot actions to implement the most effective ones at a city-wide scale. The mayors of six global cities, discussed below, known for their green policies are not only governing to make their cities green but also live a sustainable life (Larsson 2015). It is believed sharing green lifestyle choices would influence the public to adopt similar or other green options available to them.
  1. 1.

    Vancouver, Canada – Mayor Gregor Robertson is on a mission to make the Canadian city the greenest in the world by 2020. Toward that goal, the city developed the Greenest City 2020 Action Plan that includes ten targets: green economy, climate leadership, green buildings, green transportation, zero waste, access to nature, lighter footprint, clean water, clean air, and local food (City of Vancouver 2012). As Larsson (2015) reported, the mayor states, “I’ve long believed that the future hinges on our cities becoming truly sustainable and that means transforming our cities from the inside out. It means we will have livable cities for generations to come.” With a degree in biology and background working in the organic food movement, the mayor connects with green values and is a cycling enthusiast and believes even simple steps will make difference for the city and the world.

  2. 2.

    Bristol, UK – Bristol was named 2015’s European Green Capital for its commitment to environmental improvement in the region. Its previous mayor, George Ferguson, who adopted green agendas was an architect focused on making the city a great place to live, work, and play (Minshull et al. 2015). The city initiated a 2005–2020 targets to reduce energy use by 30% and reduce carbon dioxide emissions by 40%. The mayor was committed toward the goals and connects the city’s green agendas with his green lifestyle. For example, he lives in an apartment built in an old tobacco factory, which has a solar panel roof. Some of his personal green behaviors as reported by Larsson (2015) include “I judge everything that I do on its impact on the environment, which I tie up with social and economic impact. If I eat out it’s always in a local independent business; I buy my bike from a local, independent company, and that creates the circular economy that creates jobs and a better community.”

  3. 3.

    Adelaide, Australia – Adelaide is one of Australia’s greenest cities. Its green identity includes an extensive network of parks, it was the first city in the world to use a fully solar-powered electric bus, it reduced its carbon emission from traffic lights by 60% by using LED globes, and the city has goals to become carbon neutral by 2020 (City of Adelaide 2015). Under the leadership of Anne Moran (a former councilor), the city implemented incentive programs for businesses and residents to install rainwater tanks and solar panels. Anne also exemplified green living by installing 40,000-liter rainwater tanks, low-carbon lights, and solar roofs in her home. According to Larsson (2015), she said, “change must happen locally as well as globally, and I get a lot of personal satisfaction for doing my bit and setting a good example.”

  4. 4.

    Ljubljana, Slovenia – Ljubljana was named the European Green capital in 2016. Mayor Zoran Jankovic has implemented some 1,700 green projects since 2006. It is said he pedestrianized the city center and introduced kavalirs (electric vehicles) to transport people. The city is in the process of making 400 municipal buildings energy efficient. The mayor also serves as a model resident committed to green living. As reported by Larsson (2015), he claims, “Whenever it is possible, I am a pedestrian and I also enjoy being in nature. I love to run or walk my dogs on Golovec, a Ljubljana hill next to my doorstep.”

  5. 5.

    Stockholm, Sweden – Stockholm was the first European Green Capital for its initiatives on reducing noise pollution, creating an integrated waste system, and placing 95% of the population within 300 m from green areas. Currently, nearly 80% of the city’s heating comes from renewable fuels and energy from waste. And the city has goals to promote green lifestyle, climate-smart transport, and green urban environment by 2040 (City of Stockholm 2016). Mayor Karin Wanngard leads by example by using public transport, composting food waste, and recycling paper, plastics, and clothes. As reported by Larsson, she claimed, “We know this is how we can save the world. As mayor for Stockholm it’s my responsibility to make it easier for citizens to be ecofriendly.”

  6. 6.

    Copenhagen, Denmark – Copenhagen is one of the most sustainable cities in the world. As early as 2009, the city set a target to become carbon neutral by 2025 and aims to become the first large carbon-neutral city in the world. Mayor Frank Jensen claims that the city facilitates its residents to live green and built an efficient cycle infrastructure for city dwellers to travel. The mayor claimed, “Going green is not only a possibility; it’s a must. Mayors can’t just talk about climate change, they need to react against it. It’s our citizens being affected by changing climate” (Larsson 2015).


Portland, USA

Portland, Oregon, was the first US local government to institute policy with a vision of a changed world from global warming in 1993. After the Multnomah County – of which the city is a part – joined this initiative in 2001, it has become subregional in scale. The Climate Action Plan recognized that climate change is interconnected to social inequalities, degraded environmental systems, and increasing energy prices. The city’s plan is to reduce and redirect existing resource flows (energy, waste, and food) across the city and county to increase both the resilience and adaptability of the region to climate change and to radically reduce carbon emissions. These initiatives are the result of collaborations among county and city governance structures and the members of the public, businesses, academic institutions, and nonprofit organizations. Its overall goals are to drastically reduce carbon emissions in the eight core areas of action “buildings and energy, urban form and mobility, consumption and solid waste, urban forestry and natural systems, food and agriculture, community engagement, climate change preparation, and local government operations.” The plan is an example of a holistic approach taken by a local government that integrates economic, environmental, and social imperatives and is iterative in that there are built-in opportunities to review, revise, and change the objective of the project (UN-HABITAT 2015: 69, Box-16).

In addition to Portland, many more American cities and local governments are undertaking initiatives for climate mitigation. One such example is the Climate Smart Communities initiative by the state of New York. The state has pledged to reduce their GHG emissions and has created programs that provide planning tools for local governments, such as the voluntary New York State Climate Smart Communities Program ( The guide includes seven pledges for local governments to adopt for making their communities climate smart. As of October 2018, 241 communities had signed on to the Climate Smart Communities Program and are in various stages of planning and action. Some notable activities under the initiative include creating an inventory of greenhouse gas emissions in the Schenectady County, installing solar panels or purchasing wind power for municipal buildings in the Town of Caroline, and educating the public about climate change and engaging local people in the processes of mitigation and adaptation in the Town of Red Hook (Chatrayan 2018).

Surabaya: Solid Waste Management and Urban and Territorial Planning (UTP)

Cities are the biggest producer of solid waste that impacts ecosystems, regionally and globally, in the short, medium, and long term. Therefore, cities need a new method to deal with a topic that provokes antagonism with surrounding rural areas used for landfill sites. Adopting a circular approach to manage their own waste by reducing and recycling is highly recommended by the UN-Habitat under the International Guidelines on Urban and Territorial Planning. The UN-Habitat further recommends integration of activities at all levels and adoption by all stakeholders across levels to manage waste. For example, national governments can provide leadership and promote good practices, regional and local governments can promote recycling and find suitable sites, and civil society groups can organize local cleanup events. Surabaya, Indonesia’s second largest city with a population of over three million, has made progress in reversing the impacts of unplanned urbanization of the past (mangrove extinction, polluted rives, poor neighborhoods). In 2005, the city adopted the Green Kampong program in its planning and development strategy. The new program relied on community-based solid waste management system, resulting in revenue generation, employment, and health improvement of more than 100,000 participating households. The success of the program was from its combination of government and development tools that decentralized planning decisions, promoted local democracy, implemented participatory planning and budgeting, and improved environmental management (UN-HABITAT 2015).

New Zealand (2017)

To make the adaptation effective, the New Zealand government created the guideline to deal with coastal hazards. The guideline takes a different approach by focusing on the uncertainty and risk and by placing community engagement at the center of decision-making processes. Its approach is based on dynamic adaptive pathways planning (Haasnoot et al. 2013). However, the success of this approach depends on the national policy that specifies what constitutes acceptable sea level rise and what demands for adaptation. The adaptive pathways planning approach is basically a risk-based approach which avoids the need to have firm “prediction” or just one scenario to make decisions. It accommodates uncertainty and gives different options to the local coastal communities. The approach is based on the response to the following questions:
  1. 1.

    What are the first impacts that we will face as a result of climate change?

  2. 2.

    Under what conditions will current arrangements be ineffective?

  3. 3.

    What are the alternatives?

  4. 4.

    What are the different pathways that can be taken to achieve the same objectives?

  5. 5.

    How robust are the options over a range of future climate scenarios?

  6. 6.

    Are they flexible enough to enable a change of path in the future with minimum disruption and cost?


Local Authority Collaboration

In addition to individual efforts by cities and local governments, they are part of a global effort to tackle climate change. Many large and small cities worldwide belong to one or more of coalitions formed in recent years to overcome the stalemate and disinterest at the national level. This network has become a platform to share knowledge and a space for commitment to climate change goals. Below are some of the well-known coalitions of cities.

United Cities and Local Governments (UCLG)

It is the largest organization of cities and local governments with over 240,000 members ( It is based in Barcelona and its mission is:

To be the united voice and world advocate of democratic local self-government, promoting its values, objectives and interests, through cooperation between local governments, and within the wider international community.

Recently, UCLG initiated the Global Agenda of Local and Regional Governments, which is guided by the belief that local and regional governments are most suitable to lead, and every community, settlement, and territory must “co-produce” a response that is localized in order to achieve the goals. The initiative recommends a line of action for local governments to achieve the goals of SDGs, the Paris Agreement, the Sendai Framework, and the New Urban Agenda. The guidelines include (UCLG 2018:
  1. 1.

    Improve their strategic management capacity.

  2. 2.

    Boost participation by fostering a buoyant and autonomous civil society to co-create cities and territories.

  3. 3.

    Harness integrated urban and territorial planning to shape the future of cities and territories.

  4. 4.

    Ensure access to quality and resilient infrastructures and basic services for all.

  5. 5.

    Foster local economic opportunities to create decent jobs and social cohesion.

  6. 6.

    Put the “Right to the City” at the center of urban and territorial governance.

  7. 7.

    Lead the transition toward low-carbon, resilient cities and regions.

  8. 8.

    Promote local heritage, creativity, and diversity through people-centered cultural policies.



Like UCLG, the C40 is a network of the world’s big cities committed to addressing climate change ( The C40 Cities Climate Leadership Group (2018) connects more than 90 of the world’s greatest cities, representing over 650 million people. This is an excellent example of local governance, where the C40 was created and led by cities to reduce greenhouse gas emissions, while increasing the health, well-being, and economic opportunities of urban citizens. Recently the group is working on creating green and health streets. The program is envisioning a future where walking, cycling, and shared transport will move the majority of the citizens. To do that the cities are committed to:
  • Transform cities through people-friendly planning policies.

  • Increase the rates of walking, cycling, and the use of public and shared transport that is accessible to all citizens.

  • Reduce the number of polluting vehicles on our streets and transition away from vehicles powered by fossil fuels.

  • Lead by example by procuring zero-emission vehicles for our city fleets as quickly as possible.

  • Collaborate with suppliers, fleet operators, and businesses to accelerate the shift to zero-emission vehicles and reduce vehicle miles in our cities.

  • Publicly report every 2 years on the progress the cities are making toward these goals.

Signatories of these initiatives include the mayors of Paris, London, Los Angeles, Copenhagen, Barcelona, Quito, Vancouver, Cape Town, Seattle, Mexico City, Auckland, Milan, Rome, and Heidelberg.

Mayors Adapt

Mayors Adapt is an EU-wide initiative which started in 2014 ( Under the guidance of Mayors Adapt, the Urban Adaptation Support Tool was developed for urban areas in the EU. The tool consists of six steps that help to understand the risks and vulnerability to current and future climate, to identify and assess adaptation options, to develop and implement a climate change adaptation strategy and/or action plan, and to monitor the results of adaptation action. However, the tool is not intended to provide cities with a tailor-made climate adaptation strategy for convenience. The online tool contains examples and guidelines for multiple climate topics such as water use, water recycling, urban farming, seawalls, raising coastal land, green spaces, and early warning systems. For each topic there are examples of European cities that implemented an adaptation plan.

The tool provides some general principles for good adaptation (EEA 2016: 34):
  1. 1.

    Strong political leadership to ensure the success and durability of the climate agenda.

  2. 2.

    Establishment of long-term goals that persists beyond legislative or political mandates.

  3. 3.

    Coordination of climate policy that includes both mitigation and adaptation.

  4. 4.

    Integration of adaptation into plans and policies in a multi-sectoral way. It emphasizes how “integrating adaptation across local authority plans and policies will help to address technical concerns and harness political support, while working with all the concerned departments of the local authority, thus facilitating horizontal and vertical policy integration” (EEA 2016: 34).

  5. 5.

    Strong multi-stakeholder collaboration between citizens, academic groups and research institutions, urban planners, private sector, and all relevant stakeholders.

  6. 6.

    Multilevel governance where national governments create the framework for the policy and the regions, provinces, networks, and associations support and implement it.

  7. 7.

    Regular monitoring of progress that will provide feedback loops for improvements.



Local governments are best positioned to make decisions in response to climate-related changes. Some of these decisions include the quality and type of infrastructure construction to mitigate and adapt to climate change. Therefore, the goal and priority of the government has a big impact on the type of responses against climate change. However, many local governments do not have the capacity to partake in their responsibility. Local governments in order to build resilience to climate change should have autonomy to act, be supported by the national government, be accountable and transparent to their constituents, be responsive and flexible to modify plans, be inclusive to encourage participation of all groups, and be receptive to learn from experiences and from other groups (NGOs) (Tanner et al. 2009).

On the other hand, national governments can also play the roles of policy architects (establish national policy frameworks), as implementers (policy design and/or standard setting) and enforcers of policies (primary implementation and enforcement) where policy is required across multiple subnational jurisdiction (Broekhoff 2015). Importantly, national governments can provide general policy direction and establish incentives that promote and enhance city-level actions by establishing national policy frameworks and incentive structures; providing, or improving access to, financial resources; strengthening capacity and improving governance structures; and aligning policies and eliminating conflicts. The most effective action against climate change should be based on collaboration among communities, cities, national governments, and international agencies.



  1. Baker I, Peterson A, Brown G, McAlpine C (2012) Local government response to the impacts of climate change: an evaluation of local climate adaptation plans. Landsc Urban Plan 107:127–136CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  2. Broekhoff D (2015) What cities do best: piecing together an efficient global climate governance. SEI working paper no. 2015-15. Bloomberg Philanthropies and Stockholm Environment Institute, Seattle, USAGoogle Scholar
  3. Bulkeley H (2010) Cities and the governing of climate change. Annu Rev Environ Resour 35:229–253CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  4. C40 (2018) Our commitment to green and healthy streets: C40 fossil-fuel-free streets declaration.
  5. Chatrayan A (2018) Addressing climate change at the municipal level. Cornell Climate Change.
  6. City of Stockholm (2016) The Stockholm environment programme 2016–2019.
  7. City of Vancouver (2012) Greenest city 2020.
  8. EEA (2016) Urban adaptation support tool. European Environment Agency.
  9. EnercitEE (2012) Climate change planning for regional and local authorities (Handbook). Arpa Emilia-Romagna, Bologna, ItalyGoogle Scholar
  10. Haasnoot M, Jan HK, Warren EW, Judith M (2013) Dynamic adaptive policy pathways: a method for crafting robust decisions for a deeply uncertain world. Glob Environ Chang 23(2):485–498. Scholar
  11. IFRC (2009) Climate change adaptation strategies for local impact: key messages for UNFCCC negotiators. International Federation of Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies (IFRC), Geneva, SwitzerlandGoogle Scholar
  12. IPCC (2014) Climate change 2014 synthesis report: summary for policy makers. IPCC, Geneva. Scholar
  13. Jaeger A (2015) Five reasons why local government should influence climate change plans.
  14. Larsson N (2015) The greenest city mayors take home the fight against climate change.
  15. Minshull A, Luke A, Shiels S, Phillips J, Leach M (2015) Our resilient future: a framework for climate and energy security (draft). Bristol City Council.
  16. New Zealand Government (2017) Preparing for coastal change: a summary of coastal hazards and climate change guidance for local government. Ministry of the Environment, New Zealand Government.
  17. Tanner TM, Mitchell T, Polack E, Guenther B (2009) Urban governance for adaptation: assessing climate change resilience in ten Asian cities. IDS working paper 315. IDS, BrightonGoogle Scholar
  18. UCLG (2018) The global agenda of local and regional governments. United Cities and Local Governments.
  19. UNFCCC (2011) Fact sheet: climate change science- the status of climate change science today.
  20. UNFCCC (2016) Marrakech partnership for global climate action. United Nations Climate Change.
  21. UNFCCC (2018) Introduction to climate action. United Nations Climate Change.
  22. UN-HABITAT (2011) Cities and climate change: global report on human settlements. United Nations Settlements Programme. Earthscan, Nairobi, KenyaGoogle Scholar
  23. UN-Habitat (2015) International guidelines on urban and territorial planning. UN Human Settlements Programme, Nairobi. Scholar

Copyright information

© Springer Nature Switzerland AG 2019

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Department of SociologyWinona State UniversityWinonaUSA

Section editors and affiliations

  • Silvia Serrao Neumann
    • 1
  1. 1.Faculty of Arts and Social SciencesThe University of WaikatoHamiltonNew Zealand