Devolution or revolution? How do governments create the conditions for cities to take action on climate change?


Devolution or revolution? How do governments create the conditions for cities to take action on climate change?

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Date: 15th November 2013
Author: Ali Cambray
Type: Feature
Country: Africa

Ali Cambray reflects on a key theme for African cities at the Local Climate Solutions for Africa (LOCS) Congress 2013, hosted by ICLEI – Local Governments for Sustainability and the City of Dar es Salaam from 31 October to 1 November.

Home to most of the world’s population, with high consumption rates and vulnerability to climate impacts, the battle for climate compatible development will be won or lost in cities.

The pace of urbanisation in Africa is staggering – 40% of people now live in cities, with an additional 800 million set to join them by 2050, many of them in unplanned informal settlements, and many of them the poorest and most vulnerable to climate change. Cities like Dar es Salaam, where I joined 400 leaders of African municipalities two weeks ago, are doubling in size every 10 years, putting enormous pressure on infrastructure and services.

There is a real opportunity in African cities because, unlike in other parts of the world, 60% of the infrastructure and systems needed by 2050 have not yet been built. The African city of the future need not be constrained by 'locked in' investment to date. However there is also a real challenge; cities are often nested within complex multi-level governance frameworks and do not necessarily have the mandate or policy levers to tackle climate change. Do cities really govern cities? What do city mayors need from national governments and other levels of governance to create the conditions for climate compatible development?

Many African countries are going through a period of devolution and decentralisation. However,  devolution is often incomplete, with counties, cities and districts as yet without the required associated policy levers, resources and capacities:

  • In Tanzania, taxes and revenues collected locally go to central government and only a fraction is then returned for local spending. There is a sense that better sharing of revenues between national and local government, combined with a participatory approach to engaging citizens in 'climate proofing' city budgets, would provide a different set of incentives.
  • Coordinated access to and capacity for climate finance for cities, such as through Rwanda’s FONERWA, through access to international climate finance, and through centres of excellence such as FMDV, is also needed.
  • Other delegates want national governments to set carbon reduction targets for cities. This would help provide policy and regulatory certainty for longer-term investment planning. C40, ICLEI and the World Resources Institute (WRI) are developing a new harmonised greenhouse gas emissions reporting protocol that will aid monitoring, reporting and comparison of carbon emissions in cities. This is currently being piloted around the world including in Lima and La Paz, funded by CDKN in Latin America. Delegates were split on the principles of accounting for cities – should we focus on carbon emissions at point of production, or point of consumption, or both? One city’s industry and emissions are produced for export and consumption in another. Personally, I think the more information and awareness decision-makers have about the direct and indirect emissions associated with their cities the better.
  • Some delegates went further, calling for countries to develop a full national policy on climate change and citiesThere is a sense that national governments do not yet understand cities and their potential for innovation. Countries should have a specific national policy that recognises the increasing significance of cities, empowers cities and their citizens to act, and provides a framework for integrated infrastructure planning. This could be linked in turn to some minimum expectations or standards, and incentives for success such as greater budget flexibility.

But city mayors are taking action anyway, even without all the required policy levers in place. Bold leadership and action at a local level can catalyse further action at the national level. An example is from my own home city, London. In 2007, the then mayor set an ambitious new carbon reduction strategy for the city, divided into two parts. The first set out the emissions reductions achievable by the city on its own; the second identified further emissions reductions only achievable through policies outside the city’s control and which required national policy change, throwing the challenge to national government to address the policy gap. Whilst this approach will not be appropriate in all countries, it would be great to see more cities driving the revolution and national policy change.

Creating the right conditions for climate compatible development at city level is more complex than vertical integration alone. City mayors also need to think about horizontal integration with a number of other administrative units. There are many dimensions to this, but here are a few of the opportunities:

  • Integration within the city boundary – Multiple departments with different responsibilities need to work together to increase resilience of the city system. I know from my own experience that integrated drainage planning at city level in the UK can require seven different government departments to share information! In developing country cities, it is often civil society that plays the role of broker to bring these departments together; for example in Gorakhpur, a local action group worked with the district disaster management authority to coordinate across drainage, roads, housing, health, and power supply departments to improve flood resilience.
  • Bridging the formal and informal economy – Informal unplanned settlements will be a large part of African cities for some time, are forms of urbanisation in their own right, and often home to the poorest and most vulnerable to climate change. Municipalities need to engage and work with community-led organisations of informal settlements in order to develop appropriate and workable responses. But the opportunity is bigger than this. The informal economy is often home to a city’s most innovative and entrepreneurial ideas - which will be key to transformative change. Municipalities need to create and preserve space in the way they design services and govern economic growth for these social entrepreneurs. An example is in Hout Bay, Cape Town, where a waste collection social enterprise operates in synergy with the city’s municipal waste contractor. CDKN is currently thinking about how to work with informality in African cities and would love to hear of other examples.
  • Transboundary coordination – Cities and municipalities are part of broader ecosystems and networks. In many cases the opportunities for climate compatible development are in other jurisdictions; for example flood risk in one municipality is directly affected by drainage, waste management, construction and land degradation due to settlement, agriculture and industry in the upstream river basin area. It’s a leap for a municipality to invest money in another jurisdiction to address these issues, and requires transformative change. One example we heard is that eThekwini municipality (Durban) in South Africa is looking at how to support improvements to land management practices in the hinterland because it is cheaper than the costs of managing the effects on water quality and flood risk in the city.
  • Combining forces to reach scale – I think there is also another dimension to coordination between municipalities and how this could create transformative change. In the UK, local authorities use their combined purchasing power to jointly procure low carbon and climate resilient goods and services in key sectors such as energy, construction materials, telecommunications equipment and waste collection services. By combining forces and sending one large signal to the market, this drives innovation and lowers costs at the same time. How could this collective thinking support city-level climate compatible development in Africa, whether for access to climate finance or for provision of goods and services?

What is clear from the LOCS Congress is that there is real momentum and leadership emerging on climate compatible development in African cities, and that networks to share good practice and scale out success, such as ICLEI Africa, have an essential part to play.

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