How can local governments address climate change and its effects? This discussion paper from the Commonwealth Secretariat suggests that local governments can play an important role in mitigating the causes of climate change and adapting to predicted challenges through local level policy and citizen engagement. Financial and other capacity development mechanisms need to be diversified to support local governments in this role.
Natural and human-related climate change negatively impact economic and social development. Inaction against climate change can cost between 5 and 20 per cent of global GDP. Additionally, climate related natural disasters have increased five-fold over the last 30 years, most affecting the poorest populations. The effects of climate change are of particular concern in the Commonwealth States where many of the fastest growing cities are on the coast. Additionally, the many low-lying atoll nations face flooding and population relocation issues.
Local level governments benefit from proximity to the community that makes them the most accessible authority when disaster strikes. Additionally, local level government possesses the most up-to-date knowledge on the local environment and population. While international and national climate change policies are still the norm there is increasing attention to the role of local government. For example, the Lake Victoria Commonwealth Climate Change Action Plan of 2007 outlines a framework for prioritised actions, including many for the local government level.
Combating climate change at the local level requires governments to create local climate change plans. Successful plans include both adaptation and mitigation elements.
- Combining spontaneous (based on indigenous knowledge) and planned (based on scientific thought) adaption strategies is an effective twin-track approach. It results in community-wide ownership and commitment to the adaption process thus ensuring more robust climate responses.
- Investing in social capital strengthens the ability of local governments to respond to climate change. Capacity building in terms of human resources, skills, knowledge, planning and negotiation capabilities of individuals and communities is an effective way of leveraging the scarce resources of local governments.
- Climate change preparedness is only effective if it is incorporated into existing local development plans.
Central governments should support the development of local government climate change plans that incorporate both adaption and mitigation elements. In cases of acute vulnerability and weak central government, local governments should have recourse to international support.
- Focusing on adaption over mitigation can have two benefits. Adaption strategies are often less expensive and may result in mitigation effects. For example, promoting energy saving mitigates the causes and saves financial resources to enable better adaption to the inevitable impacts of climate change.
- Mitigation can be investment intensive and countries can only make efforts according to their means. However, less expensive mitigation mechanisms such as land-use planning and carbon pricing bring high returns on investment, including climate stabilisation.
- The most vulnerable local governments should have access to international funds to cover their adaptation costs through global or multilateral mechanisms and bilateral development assistance.