Local government action on climate change relating to governance

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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. Starting with governance style, Boehnke et al. (2019) [46] denote four types of local governing styles for climate action: governing by authority, self-governing, governing by provision, and governing by enabling [46]. A study of 627 climate experiments in 100 global cities by Broto and Bulkeley [64] affirms the prevalence of the provision style, which enhances the importance of the “governing by enabling” mode as a complement to achieving the desired climate action [64]. As Boehnke et al. explain, governing by provision entails that the municipality is the provider of sustainable services (water, electricity, public housing, transport, etc.) [46]. In the case of governing by enabling, Boehnke et al. state that the role of the municipality is as a facilitator that implements subsidies and loan schemes, distributes information, coordinates climate action among actors, and establishes public-private partnerships [46]. The author of this research assumes that the city-level focus of Boehnke et al. (2019) and Broto and Bulkeley (2013) could be replicable at the municipal level.

Analyzing the importance of the public-private partnerships, as mentioned by Boehnke et al. [46], local authorities could integrate local stakeholder into their CCM processes. Establishing stakeholder partnerships could be seen as a way to distribute responsibilities that seeks cooperation on municipal-level climate action. Although evidence is limited, case-study results indicate that engaging institutions in stakeholder engagement is important to successfully implement mitigation policies [16, p. 1184]. Partnerships are important for local government because they extend the operation of the state through other actors [64]. For example, the IPCC remarks the institutions’ responsibilities on stakeholder engagement, via creating spaces for stakeholder participation, considering the organizational resources of the stakeholders them-selves and the general policy environment [16, p. 1184]. Given the complexity of climate change, the range of stakeholders is immense [16]. The author of this research suggests classifying local stakeholders into the following groups: business and industry (private sector), non-governmental organizations (NGOs) and non-profit associations, and civil society and other related public institutions. For example, NGOs could have an important role in connecting “knowledge with responsibility” and promoting norms of accountability [16, p. 1184], which would help ensure successful CCM policies. Some of the major roles of NGOs might include raising public awareness, lobbying, influencing investment deci-sions, and monitoring and implementing agreements [16, p. 1184]. Collaboration among municipalities, regional agencies and other public institutions may also be necessary for successful CCM. For example, the Covenant of Mayors suggests presenting joint SECAPs among municipalities in case a municipality faces a lack of human and financial resources required to achieve covenant-related commitments on its own [43]. The author acknowledges that the acceptance of civil society is also needed for successful climate action. Citizens' assemblies are an example of civil society engagement that leads to more inclusive, co-designed, and collaborative governance [65]. In the right context, citizens’ assemblies can facilitate societal buy-in with respect to policy decisions, thereby increasing the legitimacy of decisions [65].

In terms of institutional policies and instruments, the IPCC classifies them by economic instruments (taxes, subsidies, subsidy removals, and emissions trading schemes), regulatory approaches (rules and objectives with penalties in cases of non-compliance), information policies (good information quality is essential to raise public awareness and concern about climate change, to identify environmental challenges, to better design of environmental policies, to monitor their impacts, and to provide relevant information to inform consumption and production decisions), government provisions of public goods and services and procurement, and voluntary actions (actions taken beyond regulatory requirements) [16, p. 94]. As local governments’ authority differs from country to country, some instruments are not suitable for every municipality. Thus, the author focuses on three instruments that may be universally accessible and encourages the use of regulatory and economic policies when possible. In terms of voluntary actions, as an example, the author highlights the importance of engaging the Covenant of Mayors initiative by local authorities not only for the support and guidelines that this initiative provides for climate action but also for the opportunity to publicize municipal climate actions [43]. Integrating the Covenant of Mayors also requires the creation of a baseline emissions inventory that contributes to municipal information policies by providing information about the current emissions situation of the municipality. This information can enable appropriate, effective, and targeted measures in the sectors contributing the most to GHG emissions [43].

Municipal-owned and managed services could be essential in provisioning sustainable services. The author uses the term (re)municipalization in reference to the process of bringing previously private or privatized services under local public control and management, including services that have always been in private hands or services that previously did not exist [66]. The Transnational Institute collected 835 cases of (re)municipalization across 45 countries. The institute defends publicly managed services be-cause these services generally focus more on quality, are universally accessible and affordable, and deliver on broader social and environmental objectives [66, p. 158]. Thus, (re)municipalization could be the key to achieving local CCM goals depending on the local conditions and the different motivations for (re)municipalizing [66, p. 161], [67]. This fact is particularly obvious in the energy sector, where new local public companies and co-operatives have been pioneering an energy transition based in renewables, but also in other sectors such as transportation and waste management. As an example, it is nearly impossible for a private waste company to engage in a genuine “zero-waste” policy because their whole business model is predicated on maximizing volumes of collected waste [66, p. 162].

The internal organization of the municipality plays a key role in fostering local climate action. Effective climate policy involves building institutions and capacity for governance [16, p. 41]. Most climate policies intersect with other societal goals, either positively or negatively [16, p. 39]. Due to the multidisciplinary character of CCM, fostering internal collaboration, cooperation, and information sharing among local administrative divisions could play an important role in enhancing potential policy co-benefits and reducing the risk of adverse side effects [16, p. 40]. For example, in the Syros Workshop of the BEACON project “Engaging with colleagues for ambitious climate action,” 27 participants of local administrations from Germany, Greece, and Portugal discussed which internal structures are necessary to implement successful, ambitious climate action [68]. In their report, they identified three internal structuring options: a centralized climate structure (climate unit), a decentralized climate structure (expert team), and a decentralized expert team led by one coordinator (hybrid). The author recommends the hybrid structure because of the advantages of having a decentralized expert team lead by a coordinator. The increased need of human resources embedded in the hybrid structure may not feasible for every municipality. Nonetheless, the final aim is the cooperation between departments to not only avoid potential double efforts but also to share relevant information for developing appropriate climate action plans.

In relation to cooperation-based internal structures, the IPCC highlights the importance of capacity building and institutional education for CCM. Decision makers often have insufficient or imperfect knowledge about climate risks. This knowledge deficit could be addressed through better data communication and public education [16, p. 160]. Understanding climate change is crucial for mitigating it. Several articles from UNFCCC acknowledge the role of capacity building in promoting collective action on climate change [16, Ch. 13], a finding that can be extrapolated to local institutions.[1]

In Table 2, Matias and colleagues suggest recommendations for municipalities to pursue local CCM linked to appropriate SDG targets.

Table 2 – Recommendations for local climate change mitigation (CCM) related to the governance domain. 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

In relation to the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs), the proposed recommendations also link to SDG13 (Climate action) and SDG17 (Partnerships for the goals). Garcia that the targets proposed in Goal 13 could be modified from national to municipal level and that partnerships for climate change mitigation can also be considered to be partnerships for the SDGs.


  1. 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