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 following table presents recommendations related to waste management for municipalities’ local CCM activities and links these activities to appropriate SDG targets.[5]

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


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

The following table presents recommendations related to energy for municipalities’ local CCM activities and links these activities to relevant SDG targets.[5]

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 following table makes ecommendations for local climate change mitigation related to transportation and mobility.[5]

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

Garcia further 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 non-motorised transportation for long and short distances, prioritise collective transportation over individual transportation, and reduce the need for conventional vehicles.

Spatial planning

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

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

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 - Prioritise Sustainable and Resilient Infrastructures while Minimizing Lifecycle GHG Emissions 9.1 & 9.4

The spatial planning process and urban form can be linked to SDG11 and targets 11.3 and 11.7 acknowledging local administrations’ capacities for pursuing sustainable urbanisation and therefore low-carbon-flux urbanisation. Appropriate spatial planning policies and use of nature-based solutions would lead to increased access to green public spaces, leading to sustainable urbanisation.

The infrastructure recommendation is linked to SDG 9 and targets 9.1 and 9.4; in addition, 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 5.5 5.6 5.7 5.8 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