Local government action on climate change mitigation

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Local government action on climate change mitigation is a key mechanism for delivery of national and international targets for greenhouse gas emissions reductions, and an important complement to the work of community-led initiatives. Several key translocal networks connect and support the work of local government actors taking action on climate change. Recent research has identified several key areas in which local governments can take effective action. Many of these connect climate change mitigation with other forms of action on sustainbility, including several of the Sustainable Development Goals.

The Role of Municipalities in Local Action for Climate Change Mitigation

A municipality is defined as a legally determined region with a local government administration [61]. Although the definition may differ from country to country, all municipalities have the same purpose: local governance [61]. Competences also differ from country to country depending on their legislation. In the context of Portuguese law, for example, municipalities are tasked with safeguarding and promoting their populations’ interests in the following sectors: rural and urban equipment, energy, transport and communications, education, heritage, culture and science, sports and leisure, health, social action, housing, civil protection, environment and basic sanitation, consumer defense, development promotion, land use and urban planning, municipal police, and external cooperation [62]. Despite differences, EU municipalities have the same goal of reducing their GHG emissions by 40% by 2030 [52, p. 25]. In order to reduce or increase the efficiency of municipal energy fluxes, global Euro-pean organizations for municipal CCM, such as the Covenant of Mayors, have highlighted local CCM efforts in the energy sector, and now considering also crucial domains such as land-use planning, mobility and transportation, and consumption patterns [52, pp. 13–14] The Covenant of Mayors expects local authorities to play an exemplary role by taking outstanding measures related to their own context [52]. Thus, the Covenant is also enhancing the importance of stakeholder engagement, where communication is fundamental [52, p. 44]. In analyzing specific European projects fostering municipal CCM, the BEACON project has suggested the following categories of focus for participant municipalities: governance, power and heating and cooling, transport, urban planning, communication and sensibilization, natural resources, consumption patterns, and waste management [45].

The local perspective and contextualization of CCM and SD actions could be crucial for ensuring appropriate measures are taken in each context, where potential co-benefits are enabled and possible trade-offs are reduced. Despite the importance of general, top-down guidelines, different authors and organizations have defended the importance of bottom-up approaches in ensuring the effectiveness of actions taken for local communities. Castán Broto (2017) claims that “cities are so different, so contingent, that it does not make sense to build cities on a common global objective or shared recipes for best practice.”[38] In terms of the governance perspective, Broto (2017) suggests “invest[ing] in recognizing the local history, the way social and material relations have been produced, and the trajectories that shape people’s lives as essential components of any process of urban governance, including climate change mitigation.”[38] Governance is not the only important dimension that requires contextualization regarding effective CCM measures. Spatial planning processes, energy production, transportation and mobility, and land use are examples of relevant dimensions where contextualization is needed to ensure the effectiveness of CCM [16], [39].

Key Networks for Municipal Action on Climate Change Mitigation

The UN's 2030 Agenda for Sustainability includes Climate Change as SDG 13 among its 17 Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs). Learning from past experiences, UN-Habitat has cited local action as a key for achieving the 2030 Agenda, including CCM [40, p. 7]. The UN has noticed that progress was more robust when governments addressed the processes inclusively, translating and adapting the global sustainability agenda into concrete and relevant initiatives at the local level [36, Ch. 3.1]. The UN affirms that localising allows this agenda to be better adapted to local circumstances and helps reduce the inequality seen in implementing the SDGs [36, p. 53]. The UN concluded that subnational governments bridge the gap between central government and communities and that they should play a strong role in fostering the involvement of civil society organizations, the private sector (micro, small, and medium enterprises), academia and community-led initiatives in SD actions [40, p. 7]. With the aim of amplifying the voices of local and regional actors and increasing joint-advocacy work relating to SDG implementation, climate change, and the urban agenda, UN-Habitat created the global task force of local and regional governments in 2013 [41].

Local Governments for Sustainability (ICLEI) is another example of a global network that creates connections among local, regional, national, and global governments to incorporate sustainability into day-to-day operations [42]. They influence sustainability policy and drive local action toward low-emission, nature-based, equitable, resilient, and circular development [42].

In the European context, the Covenant of Mayors is a key network for enhancing local climate change action. This covenant has brought together thousands of local governments voluntarily committed to implementing EU climate and energy objectives since 2008 [43]. Its aim is to introduce a bottom-up approach for multi-level cooperation and to create a context framework for action [43]. As the EU dictates, within the EU countries, municipalities need to reduce their emissions by 40% by 2030 [26]. Country policies started to be developed. For instance, Portugal has integrated the EU Climate and Energy framework into their Energy and Climate Energy National Plan (PNEC) [44]. Despite the implemented emission-reduction measures at the national level, few are adapted to local contexts. The PNEC enhances the important role of municipalities with respect to climate action, enhancing their contribution in terms of awareness-raising campaigns [44]. However, they do not describe concrete measures to be adopted by the municipalities other than the obligation to elaborate local energy and/or mobility plans [44].

With the aim of supporting local climate action, the Bridging European and Local Climate Action (BEACON) Project, tries to fulfil the gap between the different levels of governance, supporting municipal actors, policy makers, and educators in developing, refining, and implementing measures for reducing GHG through joint learning, networking, and developing tailored advisory services [45]. Working with participants from Bulgaria, Czech Republic, Romania, Greece, Poland, Portugal, and Germany, this project also aims to connect the different local actors participating and to disseminate good local-level practices for CCM [45].

Domains for Potential Action on Climate Change by European Municipalities

Globally, the largest increases in direct anthropogenic GHG emissions between 2000 and 2010 originated the following sectors:[1]

  • Energy (47%)
  • Industry (30%)
  • Transport (11%)
  • Construction (3%)

The agricultural, forest, and other land use sector (AFOLU) did not increase its impact during this period, but it is an important contributor to GHG emissions: in 2010, it was responsible for 24% of net emissions.[2]

The IPCC has also noted the following key priority areas for action on CCM:[3]

  • Changes in behaviour and consumption patterns
  • Production and trade patterns
  • Waste
  • Infrastructural choices and associated lock-ins.

While every municipality has its own unique set of circumstances and challenges, these local contexts both contribute to and reflect the global drivers of greenhouse gas. For example, the sustainable energy action plan of the municipality of Setúbal in Portugal identified their three most problematic GHG emission sectors, in order, as production and transportation of energy, industry, and transportation. These sectors are also among the most problematic at the global level, as noted by the IPCC.[4]

An extensive literature review on the potential climate change mitigation at the local level identified a set of actions that European municipalities could take on climate change mitigiation, compiled into several key domains: governance, communication and education, land use, consumption patterns, waste management, energy, transportation and mobility, and spatial planning [5].

Recommendations for action by domain


Main page: Local government action on climate change relating to governance

Governance refers to a process of setting, applying, and enforcing rules by both governmental and non-governmental actors in a network setting [63]. Within the context of climate action at the local level, the capacity for governance is highly related to the effectiveness of climate policy [16, p. 41]. As the IPCC has remarked, CCM is a technically feasible exercise, but institutional arrangements, governance mechanisms, and financial resources must be aligned with the goal of reducing GHG emissions [16, p. 92].

Each locality has its own characteristics (different size, national legislation, and international networks) [46]. Thus, each of them has their own way of proceeding with climate action. Nevertheless, their approach to governing and their internal aspects as they relate to achieving mitigation goals.

The following table suggests recommendations for municipalities concering climate change mitigation in the domain of governance.[5]

Governance-related Recommendations SDG Targets
A - Provisioning Sustainable Services/Green Public Procurement 13.2 & 17.14
B - Promote Information Policies 13.2 & 17.14
C - Undertake Voluntary Actions 13.2 & 17.14
D - (Re)municipalize Local Services to Foster Institutional Capacity for Climate Change Mitigation 13.2 & 17.14
E - Establish Stakeholder Partnerships 17.16 & 17.17
F - Rearrange the Internal Structure of the Local Administration 17.16 & 17.17
G - Capacity Building for Local Administration Climate Action 13.3

When connecting the proposed recommendations to the SDG targets resulted the Goal 13 (Climate action) and Goal 17 (Partnerships for the goals). The same authors acknowledge that the targets proposed in Goal 13 could be modified from a national context to a municipal context and, regarding the Goal 17, that CCM is a medium for pursuing SD, thus, acknowledging partnerships for the goals, partnerships for CCM.

Education and communication

Main page: Local government action on climate change relating to education and communication

The education and communication dimension transverses every other domain, where specific communication strategies are crucial for achieving the proposed measures. For instance, communications campaigns intending to induce a reduction in consumerist behavior is related to the consumption patterns dimension; specific training such as eco-driving courses is related to the transportation and mobility dimension.

Garcia makes the following recommendations for municipalities to pursue CCM and links them to appropriate SDG targets:[5]

Education- and Communication-Related Recommendations SDG Targets
Education A.1 - Promote climate change education in schools and other educational institutions 4.7 & 13.3
A.2 - Promote climate change education for citizens not currently enrolled in an education
Communication B.1 - Dissemination of general information on climate change and local environmental conditions
B.2 - Dissemination of information on actions taken by the municipality to mitigate climate change
B.3 - Invest in non-commercial advertising campaigns to increase citizen awareness about the climate change crisis and regenerative responses

Land Use

Main page: Local government action on climate change relating to land use

The following table presents recommendations related to land use for municipalities’ local climate change mitigation activities and links these activities to relevant SDG targets.[5]

Land-Use-related Recommendations SDG Targets
General A - Promote Sustainable Land Management 15.1, 15.5 & 15.9
Sustainable Food Production B.1 - Promote organic farming systems 2.4
B.2 - Increase urban and peri-urban organic food production
B.3 - Promote an improved capacity for local organic food production with special attention to indigenous knowledge/local knowledge
Sustainable Forest Management C.1 - Increase municipal forest areas 15.2 & 15.b
C.2 - Reduce forest loss and degradation caused by forestry activity
C.3 - Avoid conversion from forest land to other land use, particularly from switching into cropland or monocultures
C.4 - Implement operational and effective wildfires management
Soil Carbon Sequestration D - Increase Soil Carbon Sequestration by Increasing Soil Fertility and Groundwater Infiltration 6.6 & 15.3
Green Urban Infrastructure E - Increase Green Urban Spaces and Infrastructure, Paying Special Attention to Local Biodiversity 11.7& 15.9

Consumption patterns

Main page: Local government action on climate change relating to consumption patterns

The following table presents recommendations for municipal action related to consumption patterns and links these activities to relevant SDG targets.[5]

Consumption-related Recommendation SDG Targets
A - Promote the Consumption-Based Accounting Methodology for GHG: The Carbon Footprint 12.6
B - Adopt Green Public Procurement 12.6 & 12.7
C - Promote Seasonal, Organic and Locally Produced Food Consumption Without Animal Products 12.2 & 12.8
D - Promote a Reduction in Consumerist Behavior 12.2, 12.5, & 12.8
E - Promote Sustainable Consumption 12.2 & 12.8
F - Facilitate Locally Produced Product Consumption 12.2 & 12.8

These recommendations are linked to SDG12 (Responsible consumption and production). SDG8 (Decent work and economic growth) could not be linked to the consumption patterns domain, especially target 8.4, which assumes decoupling economic growth from environmental degradation.

Waste management

Main page: Local government action on climate change relating to waste management

The Collins dictionary defines waste as “material which has been used and is no longer wanted” [99]. The EU defines waste as “an object the holder discards, intends to discard, or is require to discard” [100].

The quantity of municipal waste per capita in the period 1980 and 2005 increased by 29% in North America, 35% in OECD countries, and 54% in the EU15 [16, p. 385]. The total amount of municipal solid waste generated globally has been estimated at about 1.5 Gt per year and is expected to increase to approximately 2.2 Gt by 2025 [16, p. 786]. Of the current amount, 300 Mt are recycled, 200 Mt are treated with energy recovery, 200 Mt are disposed in sanitary landfills, and the remaining 800 Mt are discarded in non-sanitary landfills or dumps [16, p. 786].        

In 2010, GHG emissions from waste represented 3% of total GHG emissions from all sources and mainly consisted of solid waste disposal on land and wastewater handling [16, p. 385]. However, emissions related to waste management are not only related to the direct emissions from waste management. The emissions from the production of materials to replace discarded materials should also be considered [16, p. 786].

Accordingly, appropriate waste management has considerable potential in CCM and transitioning toward a circular economy [101], [102].

The IPCC suggests the following as important options for mitigation in waste management: waste prevention and reduction, followed by reuse, recycling, and energy recovery [16, p. 744], in that order.

Waste prevention and reduction is foreseen as part of the circular economy strategy in the EU [103]. The EU guidelines for waste prevention include reducing the quantity of material used in the creation of products and increasing the efficiency with which products, once created, are used [100]. Strategies for zero-waste scenarios could be categorized according to the aim of behavioral change (promotional and informational strategies) or according to enforced limits on waste generation (regulatory strategies) [100]. As part of the process, the EU highlights the importance of avoiding unnecessary consumption and, as a complement, designing and consuming products that generate less waste [100]. Local authorities could approach “unnecessary consumption” as part of their plan for reducing consumerist behavior among the population and link it to the consumption patterns domain [16, p. 310], [96].      

In terms of limiting waste generation, it could be useful to identify products that generate less waste from the moment of purchase through a lifecycle assessment (LCA) [100]. Nonetheless, even if a LCA is not possible, products with short lifespans could be targets for regulatory policies, as their use probably increases waste production. An example is single-use plastic products. The annual production of plastic is about 300 million tons (data from 2015), with roughly 50% disposed of after a single-use [104]. Single-use plastics could be targeted by implementing local bans, as is the case in 28% of municipal governments in California [104]. Other approaches could include using communication campaigns to promote local sustainable consumption among stakeholders [100].      

As the EU highlights in its new circular economy plan, food is another important target for waste prevention [103]. Currently, 25%–30% of total food produced is lost or wasted [39, p. 26]. From 2010 to 2016, global food loss and waste contributed 8%–10% of all anthropogenic GHG emissions [39, p. 26]. Thus, reducing food loss can lower GHG emissions and contribute to adaptation through reduction in the land area needed for food production [39, p. 26].

As a good local practice example, in Portugal, the cooperative Fruta Feia seeks to reduce the waste of tons of good quality food that is thrown back to the land by farmers every year and also to prevent resource waste in food production [105]. Their initiative has already saved 1,834 tons of food [105].      

Other important target groups for reducing food waste and specifically included in the new EU circular economy action plan are water and nutrients, electronics and information and communication technologies, batteries and vehicles, packaging, textiles, and construction and buildings [103].

If reducing waste cannot be achieved, reusing products, is the next possibility for reducing waste generation [16, p. 24].  

The reparation of goods and the promotion of product exchanges could be included as part of the reusing dimension. The EU Commission, within the context of its circular economy action plan, is working to establish a new “right to repair” and considers new horizontal material rights for consumers, for instance, as regards the availability of spare parts or access to repair [103].  

Following the recommendation of governing by enabling [46], local authorities could promote the re-use of goods by increasing people’s awareness, organizing events, or developing infrastructure for the development of circular economic activities. For instance, municipalities could support the re-using endeavor by creating repairing offices, second-hand goods markets for citizens and any other activity that leads to a lifetime increase of a product.

Recycling would be the next step after waste prevention and reduction and reusing goods.

Globally, only about 20% of municipal solid waste (MSW) is recycled, and about 14% is treated with energy recovery, while the rest is deposited in open dump sites or landfills [16, p. 82]. It is expected to enable remanufacturing and high-quality recycling as part of the EU circular economy action plan [103].        

Part of the success of the recycling process relies on the individual’s responsibility, as normally individuals are responsible for correctly separating waste. Local authorities could facilitate the recycling process by ensuring access to waste collection points and increasing people’s awareness of the importance of the recycling process.

Figure 16 – Indicative CO2eq emission intensities and levelized costs of conserved carbon of municipal solid waste practices/technologies (upper figure) and wastewater treatments (lower figure) [16, p. 791].

Right before waste disposal, there are different treatments available as part of the reusing dimension. Depending on the nature of the waste, it could be used to increase soil fertility or produce heat and energy [16, p. 789], [106].      

The IPCC studied the costs and possibilities for selected mitigation options with respect to reducing the GHG emissions of the two waste sectors that represent 90% of waste-related emissions: solid waste disposal and domestic wastewater [16, p. 791]. The IPCC observes that the costs and possibilities vary widely across regions and treatment methodologies [16, p. 791]. Consequently, local authorities could have a crucial role in enabling appropriate waste treatment procedures in local contexts. Nonetheless, regardless of the local context, as shown in Figure 8, solid waste disposal in landfills and non-treatment for wastewater are the options to avoid because of their related emissions intensity [16, p. 791].

The author suggests composting as the preferential option for food and green waste because its provides co-benefits. It not only to reduces landfill GHG emissions but also improves soil properties through compost application [106]. Accordingly, improving soil properties increases soil fertility [107] and thereby avoids desertification and increases soil carbon sequestration [39, p. 20], [108]. Moreover, the assessment of gaseous emissions of the compost production ensures the sustainability of the process [106].        

There are multiple techniques for composting, and two important factors are waste heterogeneity and the presence of oxygen (or lack thereof).      

The aerobic process requires prior source separation to ensure a correct compost process [16, p. 789]. As an advantage, the aerobic process could be suitable for decentralized and small-scale situations, where the separation responsibility could be given to consumers, and they can create compost themselves. As a local example, the Lisbon municipality launched the Lisboa a Compostar project to promote domestic food waste compost treatment [109]. The project has an important component of citizen awareness raising and capacity building, and encourages people to reduce their waste and also to substitute their synthetic fertilizers with their own compost [109].          

Anaerobic composting techniques allow for the inclusion of meat and other substances, but the included elements needs to be digested in closed biochemical reactors [16, p. 789], complicating its application at a small scale. Nonetheless, the methane generated in anaerobic digestion (biogas) could be used in gas engines to produce energy [16, p. 789].  

This biogas production (considered as part of bioenergy processes) has important co-benefits. It reduces fossil-fuel dependencies, reduces GHG emissions from waste disposal, produces energy, and can even make use of the residues of the process as crop fertilizer [110].

Table 6 – Recommendations for local climate change mitigation (CCM) related to the waste management domain.

Waste Management-related Recommendations SDG Targets
Waste Prevention and Reduction A - Reduce Urban Solid Waste Production with Special Attention to Food Waste and Single-Use or Products with Short Lifespans 12.3 & 12.5
Re-use B – Enable the “right to repair”, promote the exchange of second-hand goods and increase awareness about re-using 12.5
Recycle C – Promote Recycling 12.5
Waste Treatments D.1 - Produce compost, particularly from food or green waste 11.6
D.2 - Biogas production: Capture methane from waste management or wastewater management
D.3 - Reduce landfill waste disposal
D.4 - Reduce the amount of untreated wastewater

Methane could also be recovered through wastewater treatment. As displayed in Figure 8, both centralized wastewater collection and anaerobic biomass digestion with methane capture could be the most interesting options for pursuing local CCM [16, pp. 788–789].

Table 6 presents the author’s recommendations related to waste management for municipalities’ local CCM activities and links these activities to appropriate SDG targets.


Main page: Local government action on climate change relating to energy

Energy is a significant domain. To explore how to localize CCM action in this sector for municipalities, the author suggests focusing on two main energy areas: the energy production and supply sector and the energy end-use sector and energy efficiency (which includes the building sector).

The energy supply sector comprises all energy extraction, conversion, storage, transmission, and distribution processes with the exception of those that use final energy to provide energy services in end-use sectors [16, p. 516]. The energy supply sector is the largest contributor to global GHG emissions; it was responsible for approximately 35% of total anthropogenic GHG emissions in 2010, and its share was expected to increase [16, p. 516]. In the baseline scenarios assessed by the IPCC, the energy supply sector increased emissions from 14.4 GtCO2/yr in 2010 to between 24 and 33 GtCO2/yr in 2050 [16, p. 516].

The pathway for mitigation suggested by the IPCC as concerns the energy supply is to initiate a deep transformation of the energy system towards decarbonization of electricity generation (decarbonization is the process for reducing carbon and fossil-fuel dependency in energy production) [16, p. 516].

To achieve energy decarbonization, the IPCC states that Renewable Energy (RE) needs to be prioritized as the main energy source and explains that the possible adverse side effects (location and technological) associated with RE can be reduced through appropriate technology selection, operational adjustments, and siting of facilities [16, p. 516]. In this paper, RE is understood as energy derived from natural, unlimited, and replenishable sources [111]. The IPCC admits that nuclear energy could play an important role in contributing to a low-carbon energy supply, but it is not recommended due to the associated risk (operational risks, safety concerns, uranium mining risks, financial and regulatory risks, unresolved waste management issues, nuclear weapon proliferation, and adverse public opinion) [16, p. 517]. This research does not consider nuclear energy as renewable because of its adverse side effects. This research recognizes bioenergy, direct solar energy, geothermal energy, hydropower, ocean energy, and wind energy as RE sources [16, p. 525]. The IPCC also notes the importance of bioenergy combined with carbon dioxide capture and storage systems, which play an important role in low-stabilization scenarios. Nonetheless, the production and use of biomass for bioenergy has context-specific impacts on land use, including adverse side effects and risks regarding land degradation and food insecurity [39, p. 22]. Hydropower is included as a source of RE. Nevertheless, lifecycle emissions from fossil fuel combustion and cement production related to the construction and operation of hydropower stations falls in a range of up 40 gCO2eq /kWh [16, p. 540], far higher than other renewable technologies’ lifecycle emissions [16, p. 541].    

Despite the different approaches for mitigation, it is important to avoid any energy production based on fossil fuels (carbon-based fuels from fossil hydrocarbon deposits, including coal, peat, oil, and natural gas) [16, p. 1262]. The current fossil-fuel reserves contain sufficient carbon to yield radioactive forcing above that required to limit the global mean temperature increase to less than 2ºC [16, p. 525]. The IPCC also highlights the importance of analyzing site- and context-specific factors, such as the use of resources or public perceptions, to ensure RE projects are viable for CCM [16, p. 569].

In addition, approximately 25% of all losses in Europe and 40% of distribution losses are due to distribution transformers, and roughly a further 25% of losses are due to distribution systems’ conductors and cables [16, p. 528]. More distributed generation systems can reduce these losses since generation typically takes place closer to loads than with central generation, and thus electricity does not have to travel as far [16, p. 528].

An integral solution for SD is energy supply decentralization. Alanne and Saari describe “distributed energy systems” as sustainable because they are cost-efficient, reliable, and environmentally friendly [112]. Khetrapal (2020) reviewed the potential technical, economic, and environmental benefits of distributed energy generation [113]. Regarding the environmental benefits, the author highlights the reduction of fossil-fuel consumption and the resulting reduction in GHG emissions [113]. In addition, Khetrapal (2020) further notes the significance of optimally selecting, sizing, and positioning distributed generation systems since an inappropriate location can negatively impact system performance (increased losses and degraded voltage profile) [113]. The appropriate and diverse use of local resources is presented as an important benefit from energy supply decentralization [112].    

Municipalities should support distributed models of energy production because they have multiple co-benefits when adapted to local contexts. Energy decentralization could be addressed differently depending on its technical and social dimensions [114].

Decentralization also implies improving citizen participation in designing and operating power systems, whether individually or collectively [114]. Consumers could even become prosumers (both energy consumers and producers), providing flexibility to the energy market [114]. People’s increased participation promotes a bottom-up approach that opens the possibility for consumers to participate in the development of renewables [114].      

To promote decentralized energy production and to standardize the meaning of self-energy producers, this research uses the EU definition of renewable energy communities (REC). According to Directive (EU) 2018/2001, a REC is a legal entity

(a)   which, in accordance with the applicable national law, is based on open and voluntary participation, is autonomous, and is effectively controlled by shareholders or members that are located in the proximity of the renewable energy projects that are owned and developed by that legal entity;

(b)   the shareholders or members of which are natural persons, SMEs, or local authorities, including municipalities;

(c)   the primary purpose of which is to provide environmental, economic, or social community benefits for its shareholders or members or for the local areas where it operates, rather than financial profits.

Renewable energy communities are entitled to produce, consume, store, and sell RE, including through renewables power purchase agreements, to share RE within the community, and to access all suitable markets [115], [116]. Energy communities can be instrumental for facilitating the energy transition at the citizen and local levels [117]. As was exposed with the governance dimension, (re)municipalization of the energy sector (for instance, the energy distribution grid) may support the energy transition by facilitating energy decentralization [66, Ch. 8]. As a municipal example, the Barcelona municipality has become an REC in 2019 through their public energy supplier Barcelona Energía [118].

Regarding end-use energy, different sectors are contributing to GHG emissions: transport contributes 27%, building 32%, and industry 28% (all data are direct emissions accounted for in 2010) [16, Ch. SPM]. This section only focusses on the end-use energy of the building sector, which includes residential, commercial, public, and service sectors [16, p. 22]. Most of the GHG emissions in the building sector are indirect CO2 emissions from electricity used in buildings, and the OECD countries contribute the most GHG in this sector, with moderate GHG growth between 1970 and 2010 [16, p. 678].

To achieve mitigation in this sector at the local level, the last IPCC report suggested two different dimensions to focus on that are related to energy efficiency and human lifestyles, cultures, and behavior [16, p. 23]. In terms of energy efficiency, the IPCC cites existing knowledge, advanced technologies, and policies for stabilizing emissions related to this sector as opportunities [16, p. 23]. As examples, the IPCC highlights the advances achieved through the adoption of very low energy codes for new buildings and from reducing heating and cooling energy use. Along with building codes, appliance standards (if well designed and implemented) have been among the most environmentally and cost-effective instruments for reducing emissions [16, p. 23].        

Regarding the social aspect, awareness raising that encourages people to reduce their energy use could be essential. In Europe, scenarios indicate that behavioral changes could reduce energy demand by up to 20% in the short term [16, p. 23]. European municipalities already have the EU commission’s guidelines for increasing energy efficiency in buildings, and these could be supported by engaging local stakeholders to pursue the same goal. Reducing energy consumption is the final aim of increasing energy efficiency; nonetheless, reducing energy consumption could also be fomented directly in the municipal territory from out the energy efficiency umbrella.

Table 7 presents the author’s recommendations related to energy for municipalities’ local CCM activities and links these activities to appropriate SDG targets.

Table 7 – Recommendations for local climate change mitigation (CCM) related to the energy domain.

Energy-related Recommendations SDG Targets
Energy Production and Supply A - Promote Appropriate Renewable Energy (RE) Production 7.2
B – Decentralize Energy Production (Both Social and Technological Aspects)
C – Facilitate Citizen and Private Sector Involvement in the Energy Supply Dimension
Energy Efficiency and End Use D - Increase Energy Efficiency in Municipal or Local Buildings and Infrastructure 7.3
E - Facilitate Citizen and Private Sector Involvement to Increase Energy Efficiency
F - Encourage Energy Consumption Reduction

Transportation and mobility

Main page: Local government action on climate change relating to transportation and mobility

The global transport sector accounted for 27% of final energy use (6.7 GtCO2) in 2010, with OECD countries being the highest contributors in this sector [16, p. 21]. The emissions of this sector are expected to increase significantly, up to between 9.3 and 12 GtCO2/yr by 2050 based on the IPCC scenarios [16, p. 72].

Turning to the details, Figure 9 presents the total emissions from 1970 to 2010. One can observe how transportation emissions have increased through time, with road transportation being the highest transportation contributor to global GHG emissions [16, p. 606]. It is with road transportation where local authorities can mitigate climate change, as mobility is one the local authorities’ competences, especially as concerns light-duty vehicles (LDVs). Light-duty vehicles includes passenger cars and commercial vans below 2.5–3.0 tons in net weight [16, p. 605]. Their number is expected to double in the next few decades from the current number of 1 billion vehicles globally [16, p. 611]. Thus, there is a high potential for mitigation through shifting into different modes of low-carbon transportation or to non-motorized transportation (NMT), combined with an increase in LDVs’ engine performance [16, pp. 603, 620]. Nowadays, exchanging conventional LDVs for electric vehicles will only save an insignificant amount of CO2eq where electricity systems rely on high-carbon intensity (500–600 gCO2eq/kWh), and the mitigation costs can be hundreds of dollars per ton [16, p. 624]. In addition, the material needed to proceed with transport decarbonization through new technologies may create adverse effects on local environments because of unsustainable mining of resources to supply low-carbon transport technologies [16, p. 632]. Mitigation pathways at the local level prioritize reducing the number of LDVs instead of completely replacing the current fleet for low-carbon LDVs. This measure can also be supported by other means of transportation (NMT, collective transportation, or other already existent low-carbon modes of transportation).

Within this context, the concept of “sustainable transport” arises as a priority for CCM. It defends the accessibility of all in helping meet the basic daily mobility needs consistent with human and ecosystem health, but to constrain GHG emissions by [16, p. 609].

Figure 17 – Direct GHG emissions of the transportation sector (shown here by transport mode) rose 250%, from 2.8 Gt CO2eq worldwide in 1970 to 7.0 Gt CO2eq in 2010 [16, p. 606].

The IPCC reports clearly reaffirm the mitigation potential within this sector through different areas of actualization: changes in the built environment (urban and community redevelopment to increase accessibility), behavioral changes (avoiding long journeys where possible and shifting to lower-carbon transport systems and NMTs), investments in related infrastructure (public transportation, walking and cycling infrastructure, etc.), less energy-intensive modes of transportation (by enhancing vehicle and engine performance), and reductions in carbon-intensive fuels (biofuels, electricity or hydrogen produced from low GHG sources, etc.) [16, p. 603].    

Changes in the built environment could be linked to the spatial planning domain, where the urban form and infrastructure could play important roles in reducing vehicle-kilometers travelled (VKT) [16, pp. 951, 958].

All these mitigation pathways could be integrated by municipalities in a sustainable urban mobility plan (SUMP), where local authorities could provide appropriate measures regarding their local context. The Urban Mobility Observatory, which is under the European Commission’s general directorate for mobility and transport, has created useful guidelines for developing and implementing a SUMP [119]. They reaffirm the following eight principles for correctly developing such a plan: (1) plan for sustainable mobility in the “functional urban area,” (2) cooperate across institutional boundaries, (3) involve citizens and stakeholders, (4) assess current and future performances, (5) define a long-term vision and a clear implementation plan, (6) develop all transport modes in an integrated manner, (7) arrange for monitoring and evaluation, and (8) assure quality [120].

An example of a municipality that has appropriately designed, planned, and implemented sustainable mobility is the municipality of Pontevedra, Spain. Pontevedra was awarded with several international prizes regarding sustainable mobility and urban planning, such as the Smart Mobility Award (Hong-Kong 2015) and the first EU urban road safety award (2019) [121]. Among the measures that they have implemented, the following can be highlighted: speed limits up to 30km/h in all urban areas, the installation of 300 speedhumps, and the prioritization of pedestrians over LDVs, with spaces free from motorized transportation (except for those needed for residential or commercial activities) [122]. As a result, in 2014, Pontevedra has reduced its fossil-fuel consumption by 66% compared to 1999 levels [123]. There is a varied range of policies that could address sustainable transportation at the local level. Municipalities should play their role by contextualizing appropriate policies and measures according to their own local reality.

Following the model of governing by provisioning [46], providing reliable and efficient low-carbon collective transportation services is important for fostering sustainable transportation [16, Ch. 8]. Aside from municipal responsibilities, the (re)municipalization of transportation services could be the key to inducing the change needed for moving towards sustainable transportation systems due to their better alignment with local urban development policies, which could encourage the use of public transportation or non-polluting transport over LDVs [66, p. 31].

Table 8 – Recommendations for local climate change mitigation (CCM) related to the transportation and mobility domain.

Transportation- and Mobility-related Recommendations SDG Target
A - Implement Local Policies for Sustainable Transportation 11.2
B - (Re)municipalization of Transportation Services
C - Reduce Automobile Dependency, Especially Dependency on Light-Duty Vehicles
D - Promote the Reduction of Fossil-Fuel Dependency in Transportation
E - Promote Low-Carbon Collective Transportation (Trains, Waterborne, and Low-Carbon Buses)
F - Promote and Increase Accessibility and Safety for Non-Motorized Transportation (For Example, Cycling or Walking)
G - Promote Sustainable Transportation Through Awareness-Raising Campaigns, Education, and Advertising

By following the concept of “sustainable transport,” this research suggests the following actions to be taken by local authorities to promote CCM: induce mobility behavioral changes through communication campaigns, promote alternative low-carbon or NMT transportation for long and short distances, prioritize collective transportation over individual transportation, and reduce the need for conventional LDVs.

Table 8 presents the author’s recommendations related to transportation and mobility for municipalities’ local CCM activities and links these activities to an appropriate SDG target.

Spatial planning

Main page: Local government action on climate change relating to spatial planning

In 2006, urban areas accounted for between 71% and 76% of CO2 emissions from global final energy use and between 67%–76% of global energy use [16, p. 927]. Urban form and infrastructure significantly affect direct (operational) and indirect (embodied) GHG emissions and are strongly linked to the throughput of material and energy in cities, the waste they generate, and their related system efficiencies [16, p. 927]. Mitigation options vary by urban type and development levels [16, p. 927]. The options available to rapidly developing cities include shaping their urbanization and infrastructure development trajectories [16, p. 928]. The main goal of pursuing CCM for this dimension for municipalities is to shape urban form and integrate and improve urban infrastructure by developing it toward low-carbon pathways [16, p. 928]. Thus, the author structures the local CCM approach according to three main areas: urban form, infrastructure, and the spatial planning process.

Urban form and structure are the patterns and spatial arrangements of land use, transportation systems, and urban design elements, including the physical urban extent, the layout of streets and buildings, and the internal configuration of settlements [16, p. 949].        

Regarding urban form, the IPCC cites the importance of four key interrelated drivers to consider in reducing GHG emissions: urban density, land-use mix, connectivity, and accessibility [16, p. 952].

§  Density: Density is the measure of an urban unit of interest (e.g., population, employment, and housing) per area unit [16, p. 952]. Density affects GHG emissions in two different ways. Low density of employment, commerce, and housing increases the average travel distances for both work and shopping trips (and thus increases VKT) [16, p. 952]. Low density of employment, commerce, and housing also brings more difficulties in switching to less energy-intensive and alternative modes of transportation [16, p. 952]. To achieve mitigation with respect to density, the IPCC suggests prioritizing medium-rise buildings (less than seven floors) over single-unit and high-rise buildings [16, p. 955]. They state that medium-rise buildings can increase urban density without the increased need of materials and embodied energy of high-rise buildings [16, p. 955].

§  Land-Use Mix: Land-use mix refers to the diversity and integration of land uses at a given scale [16, p. 955]. Diverse and mixed land uses can reduce travel distances and enable both walking and the use of NMT, thereby reducing aggregate amounts of vehicular and associated GHG emissions [16, p. 955]. For service-economy cities with effective air pollution control, mixed land use can also benefit citizen health and wellbeing by promoting walking via more walkable distances [16, p. 955]. Increasing mixed land use would facilitate reductions in GHG emissions.

§  Connectivity: Connectivity refers to street density and design [16, p. 956]. High urban connectivity is characterized by finer-grain systems, with smaller blocks that allow frequent changes in direction [16, p. 956]. When connectivity is high, there is typically a positive correlation with walking and thereby lower GHG emissions [16, p. 956].

§  Accessibility: Accessibility can be defined as access to jobs, housing, services, shopping, and, in general, to people and places in cities [16, p. 956]. It can be viewed as a combination of proximity and travel time and is closely related to land-use mix [16, p. 956]. Highly accessible communities are typically characterized by low commuting distances and travel times, which are enabled by multiple modes of transportation [16, p. 956]. Metanalyses show that VKT reduction is most strongly related to high accessibility to job destinations [16, p. 956].

These four dimensions should be approached simultaneously to be most effective in reducing annual VKT [16, p. 957].

Infrastructure affects GHG emissions primarily during three phases of its lifecycle: construction, use and operation, and end-of-life [16, p. 951]. Analyzing all emissions for each phase associated with new infrastructure, including transboundary emissions, is important for shaping its sustainability and resilience [16, p. 951]. Related energy should be accounted for from the use and operation phase and the end-of-life phase, including that from reuse, recycling, and primary and embodied energy from building materials used [16, p. 951]. For example, the manufacturing of steel and cement, two of the common infrastructure materials, contributed nearly 9% and 7% to global carbon emissions in 2006, respectively [16, p. 951]. Thus, at the planning stage when choices of materials are made, a forward-looking life-cycle assessment can help reduce undesired lock-in effects with respect to the construction and operation of large physical infrastructure [16, p. 391]. The placement of infrastructure could also modulate the GHG emissions associated with its use and operation phase. Infrastructure is linked to urban form, especially among transportation infrastructure, travel demand, and VKT [16, p. 951]. Municipalities should consider reducing direct and indirect GHG emissions related to municipal infrastructure and give special consideration to potential lock-in effects.     Consequently and in accordance with SDG 9 (which focuses on developing quality, reliable, sustainable, and resilient infrastructure) [35], information about infrastructure-related GHG emissions could facilitate a better acknowledgement of its costs and benefits for CCM and its long term sustainability.

Spatial planning is a broad term that describes systematic and coordinated efforts to manage urban and regional growth in ways that promote well-defined societal objectives such as land conservation, economic development, carbon sequestration, and social justice [16, p. 958]. The framework for infrastructure and urban form could be the base for facilitating a CCM perspective in the municipal spatial planning process. There is no single recipe for approaching spatial planning from a CCM perspective. Nonetheless, based on case studies, the IPCC highlights the success and effectiveness of strategies that combine a spatial planning process with climate action. Doing so harmonizes and integrates each scale plan (regional, district, and neighborhood) and requires institutional capacity and political wherewithal to align the right policy instrument to specific strategies [16, p. 958]. Each municipality should choose a context-specific combination of policy instruments to accomplish CCM within the spatial planning dimension.

Green infrastructure (GI) plays an important role for CCM in the spatial planning process. The EU green infrastructure strategy defines GI as a strategically planned network of natural and semi-natural areas with other environmental features designed and managed to deliver a wide range of ecosystem services [124]. Green infrastructure can refer to rural, peri-urban, or urban settings covering terrestrial, coastal, and marine areas [124]. One of the key aims of the GI EU strategy is to foster the potential co-benefits of GI, namely CCM and climate-change adaptation, reduced energy use, disaster risk management, food provision, biodiversity conservation, health and wellbeing, recreation, increased land and property values, competitiveness and economic growth, and enhanced territorial cohesion [124]. Green infrastructure is linked closely with E/NBS, as both could potentially increase ecosystem services, leading to more carbon sinks and reduced GHG emissions. Recommendations for municipalities on that field comes through the integration of the ecosystem service approach (by GI, nature-based solutions, or both) into urban planning processes, maximizing the ecosystems’ provision, adopting methods for mapping, assessing, and measuring ecosystem services, promoting payments for ecosystem services, and calculations the (economic) cost of their use [124].        

For bringing out co-benefits, GI can be seen as a connected network of green and blue spaces, either in the city or countryside, that are linked to the concept of ecological connectivity [124].  

Funded by the European Commission, the EKLIPSE project has developed an evidence- and knowledge-based report that analyzes the different benefits and challenges of applying E/NBS; defined as “an impact evaluation framework to support planning and evaluation of nature-based solutions projects” [125]. They highlight the importance of NBS in increasing green spaces, which not only increase carbon storage and sequestration in vegetation and soil but also improve the local or regional micro-climate through cooling, shading, and shelter [125, p. 19,20]. The European Commission has provided a preliminary list of possible NBS interventions for urban areas, depending on the pursued goal (e.g., protect and increase urban green spaces, plant green roofs and walls, use phytoremediation and phytostabilization, encourage the planting of appropriate plants and caterpillar food plants, etc.) [126, pp. 40–51].

The process of integrating GI and/or NBS are site specific, adjusting different related designs and plans to each local context, where municipalities plays an important role. As a practical example, the city of Vienna has had an ongoing large-scale green infrastructure strategy for more than two decades [125]. It contributes to numerous national strategies (e.g., Biodiversity Strategy Austria, Netzwerk Natur, Natura 2000), is embedded in urban plans (e.g., the Urban Heat Island Strategy Plan, City Development Plan 2025), and covers existing, recovered, and new NBS such as small- to large-scale parks, trees, rivers and streams, green bridges, green roofs, green walls, and large-scale nature protection areas (e.g., Naturschutzgebiet Donauauen) [125].

Table 9 presents the author’s recommendations related to spatial planning for municipalities’ local CCM activities and links these activities to appropriate SDG targets.

Table 9 – Recommendations for local CCM related to the spatial planning domain.

Spatial Planning-related Recommendations SDG Targets
Spatial Planning Processes A.1- Enable the local administration in integrating climate change mitigation perspectives into municipal spatial planning processes 11.3
A.2 - Integrate nature/ecosystem-based solutions into the spatial planning process 11.3 & 11.7
A.3 - Implement adequate spatial planning policies and instruments to support low-carbon fluxes in the municipality
Urban Form B.1 - Increase density 11.3
B.2 - Increase land-use mix
B.3 - Increase connectivity
B.4 - Increase accessibility
Infrastructure C - Prioritize Sustainable and Resilient Infrastructures while Minimizing Lifecycle GHG Emissions 9.1 & 9.4

The spatial planning process and urban form can be linked to SDG 11 and targets 11.3 and 11.7. Doing so, the author acknowledges local administrations’ capacities for pursuing sustainable urbanization and therefore low-carbon-flux urbanization. The author also acknowledges that appropriate spatial planning policies and the NBS approach would lead to increased access to green public spaces, leading to sustainable urbanization.

The infrastructure recommendation is linked to SDG 9 and targets 9.1 and 9.4. The author also acknowledges that pursuing a reduction of related GHG emissions in municipal infrastructure is a way to enable their sustainability.

Potential Monitoring Indicators

Monitoring was highlighted as important for achieving SD and therefore CCM [36, Ch. 2]. In addressing the CCM challenge, efficiency and effectiveness are crucial and require measuring climate impacts and identifying priorities for reducing carbon. These come along with an appropriate planning and monitor-ing system [38]. The UN suggests implementing a solid, efficient, inclusive, and transparent reporting and follow-up system at every level in order to better achieve climate- and sustainability-related goals [36, Ch. 2].

Regarding the local context, Boehnke et al. (2019) mentioned deficiencies in both data collection and action planning, which have led to inadequate practices [46]. The IPCC has also noted that municipalities often highlight progress on the implementation of mitigation projects, but the impacts of these initiatives are not often evaluated [16, p. 974].

The monitoring process seems to not be a priority, especially at the local level. As claimed in the last Global Environmental Outlook of the United Nations Environmental Program, the current monitoring process is severely inadequate and significant improvement is needed to be more effective in the decision-making process and to increase the credibility of local actors [47, Ch. 6]. The UN has already prepared indicators for monitoring the SDGs’ implementation, with every goal and target having at least one associated indicator [48]. Unfortunately, few of these indicators could be addressed to the subnational level [48], where it seems to be more complicated to find a single recipe that suits every local context. Despite the challenge of localizing, different organizations are committed to strengthening local capacity building and local monitoring processes. For example, UN-Habitat created the City Profiling Tool, which introduces different indicators for climate action in cities to facilitate city resilience assessments by local governments [49]. Local Governments for Sustainability has developed the global protocol for community-scale greenhouse gas emission inventories (GPC), which follows the guidelines of the IPCC and aims to support the implementation of local emissions’ inventories [50]. The Covenant of Mayors also created general guidelines for municipalities to prepare a Sustainable Energy and Climate Action Plan (SECAP), which includes in general terms how to develop the monitoring aspects associated with the designed plan [51]. In their guidelines called “How to develop a Sustainable Energy and Climate Action Plan,” the Covenant of Mayors indicates that municipalities should identify data and indicators to monitor progress and results of each action undertaken [52, p. 56].

With all this available information, some municipalities have begun integrating climate action and the SDGs into their local agendas, including monitoring processes. This is the case of the Cascais municipality in Portugal. They have started to localize the SDGs by trying to integrate indicators for each goal, including climate action [53]. Unfortunately, as they affirm, their local adaptation of the SDGs into the municipal agenda is just an experimental process where the indicators, good practices, and the index used are indicative and do not accurately represent the reality of the municipality [53].

There is no concrete guidance to follow from municipalities with respect to SD monitoring within their territories. With this in mind, research projects were initiated in Portugal to facilitate this process. For example, the Center of Opinion and Polling Studies (CESOP) of the Catholic University in Lisbon, Portugal started developing indices to assess local sustainability in 2018 [54]. They are trying to adapt global SDG indicators to the local level by localizing the data that is already available at the Portuguese National Statistical Institute (INE) and PORDATA and by proposing new indicators when relevant data is unprocessed [54]. Another example of a local monitoring initiative is ODSLocal, an online tool that allows for the monitoring, visualization, and communication of municipal progress towards implementing the SDGs [55]. This website, developed by 2adapt, was launched on November 12th, 2020 [56].


  1. (59, p. 46)
  2. (59, p. 46)
  3. 16, Ch. 5
  4. [60]
  5. 5.0 5.1 5.2 5.3 5.4 Matias Mesa Garcia, 2020. Local Science-based Recommendations and Monitoring for Climate Change Mitigation in the Context of the Sustainable Development Goals - European Municipal Perspectives and Key Indicators. Master thesis. Faculty of Science, University of Lisbon. 248 pp