Climate compatible development in cities - lessons from Latin America and the Caribbean

Climate compatible development in cities - lessons from Latin America and the Caribbean

Share this:
Story detail:
Date: 13th November 2015
Type: Feature
Tags: implementation, resilient cities, sustainable livelihoods approaches, vulnerability assessment

Maria Jose Pacha, Knowledge and Networks Coordinator for CDKN in Latin America and the Caribbean, shares lessons learned that were developed in a knowledge-exchange event in Quito in July 2015. Ten projects implementing climate compatible development in cities in Argentina, Peru, Ecuador, Colombia, Belize and Jamaica presented their work and reflected on their achievements and challenges.

Several cities and regions in Latin America and the Caribbean are testing approaches for planning and managing their resources to tackle climate change. This includes initiatives to reduce emissions, adapt to climate change and minimise its negative effects on their economy, society and environment. Cities are testing new models for climate compatible development.

When considering climate compatible development initiatives, cities and (subnational) regions provide a suitable scale to test approaches to foster low emission development and policies. We need to consider that since 2012, 50% of the world’s population live in cities, they are responsible for generating 60-80% of global emissions and 70% of GDP. Latin America is the region with highest urbanisation rate: 41% in 1950, 81% in 2012, and expected to reach 90% in 2050. Cities, therefore, are and will put a higher pressure over scarce resources, there will be high levels of poverty in urban and peri-urban areas and increased vulnerability to climate change impacts.

The development of projects in cities and sub-regions creates valuable “knowledge capital” accumulated in both the teams carrying out the projects in each country as well as experts, advisers and technicians that manage, implement and monitor activities at different geographic scales (local, national and global). The exchange and transfer of this knowledge among all actors involved is essential for fostering concrete progress and for up-scaling experiences on development scenarios where climate change has been included as a variable within decision-making processes. For this reason CDKN LAC held a regional knowledge and learning workshop on 27-29th of July in Quito (Ecuador), co-organised with Fundacion Futuro Latinoamericano (FFLA). Teams from ten projects working on climate compatible development at the city and sub-national level; the Caribbean, Colombia, Ecuador, Lima, Bolivia and Argentina shared their experiences, articulated challenges and discussed what climate compatible development means in a Latin American and Caribbean context.

Lessons learned are key for sharing our work with others

The teams focused on sharing lessons learned: recommendations to othersthat reflect the learning that comes from experience. There are no recipes that can be applied in one place and extrapolated somewhere else in exactly the same way, so the lessons learned are the parts that can be used as a reference.

The lessons learned that are presented below are from projects that are striving to introduce the concept of climate compatible development in different ways in LAC.

CDKN supports work at the city level, for example:

  • Cartagena de Indias on the coast of Colombia, is the first city in the country that has worked for several years on a process to first assess how vulnerable it is to climate change and now to implement Plan 4C: Cartagena Competitiva y Compatible con el Clima and develop adapted neighbourhoods.
  • The Andean cities of La Paz, Quito and Lima are involved in an iconic project to develop tools and methods to assess their water and carbon footprint, and concrete measures to mitigate their footprint.
  • Quito has developed a vulnerability assessment and has taken its recommendations to develop concrete adaptation measures in pilot areas and now studies the health hazards of five vector-transmitted diseases.
  • In Buenos Aires, Mexico and San Pablo, CDKN supported an analysis of their climatic agenda and the factors that influence its implementation (or lack of implementation).
  • In Lima, CDKN is supporting an innovative research project looking at climate urban traps.

CDKN also supports work at the subnational level:

  • In the region of Antioquía (Colombia), we are working with several municipalities to introduce the concepts of climate compatible development and green growth in their planning.
  • In two watersheds in Jamaica, CDKN is assessing the risk of flooding and is forecasting risk for the next 25 years.
  • In the coastal area of Belize, CDKN is assessing how climate change will affect the important ecosystem and the implications of climate change for the tourism sector and the communities living there.
  • In Bolivia, we were interested in reciprocal watershed agreements at the municipality level and their differences and similarities with payments for ecosystem services.

What did we learn about…

Programme design

  • Linking the project with local problems or issues is a key factor in advancing in the climate agenda at the city level. When assessing the climate change agendas of Mexico, Brazil and Sao Paulo, we saw the importance of raising issues of climate change (which are generally perceived as being long-term issues and/or on a global basis) with local situations and problems that are more tangible. This increases opportunities to build coalitions and social policies that support and sustain policies and strategies of climate compatible development.
  • Political will at the highest level of local governments needs to be engaged to achieve commitment and ownership as part of their agendas. In the Carbon and Water Footprint project it was necessary to go through an initial process to engage mayors and provide space for them to express their interest in participating in the project. Interested mayors needed to send a letter of intent and demand to be considered. This requirement enabled the active involvement of municipal staff, including the Ministry of Environment, and helped to generate quality information that has been shared. In addition we have tried to align project activities with local agendas of municipal governments so that the project does not run in isolation. From that perspective, the mayors saw the necessity and importance of getting involved in this project as part of their own agendas.

Programme implementation

  • When selecting the appropriate geographic scale for implementation of adaptation measures there should be non-negotiable enabling conditions such as (a) political will, (b) interest of the broader public and (c) (where relevant) being anchored to local land-use plans. At the start of the Pilot Adaptation Measures in Quito project, despite the willingness of local government to work in certain localities, there was not the same predisposition in the population. This political opposition negatively influenced the project’s implementation by delaying actions and planned activities. • When implementing a climate compatible development project, it is key to prioritise actions looking at impact results in the short term so as to stimulate the implementation of other actions. Our experience showed this in the process of building the Plan 4C in Colombia, where many actions and ideas were included in the final very comprehensive document. The implementation process has been slow because of the high number of actions, and the lack of prioritisation and resources. This experience shows that it would have been better to prioritise actions at the beginning of the process generating short term results and impacts to motivate the implementation of more complex actions. In fact this was successfully achieved by implementing educational and communication activities in order to raise awareness on climate change issues and its effects on the city.

Achieving effective participation for climate compatible development

  • When there are various stakeholders involved in a participatory process, the awareness process is best when it is gradual and by sector. This allows building on a common language, so that it is easier to integrate different views and perspectives. During the formulation of the Plan 4C in Colombia we needed to talk with several sectors: industry, tourism, port, private companies and the public sector, but at first there was no understanding, and suspicion between them. Then it was decided to create dialogues with each sector separately so their interests, needs and problems were better understood. Then all sectors were gathered and it was easier to integrate their different views and perspectives and to generate a solution for each sector that would lead to climate compatible development.


  • When carrying out vulnerability assessment on a large scale, it is necessary to develop smaller-scale studies as the basis for a local action plan. Baselines should be validated or refined with local participatory assessments. Vulnerability studies on a large scale must be strengthened and retro-fed with input and validation from local communities. This was particularly important because in the vulnerability study conducted for Quito, the scale of the study did not reflect the local reality, and generated some inaccuracies in the results. This failure hindered the action on the ground to design concrete adaptation measures.

Research and adequate communication for climate compatible development

  • Data, information and knowledge must be mobilised through scales (bottom-up) and in a way that can be particularly understood by local communities, decision makers and grassroots movements. The scientific information and results of climate models are generally not translated into simple words and this makes it difficult for communities to understand the results. For example, scientific information in Jamaica indicates that floods will increase 10% but this must be translated into simple words so communities can understand how this will affect their daily lives (e.g. if people live near a river, how it will affect their crops, etc.). Also, in Belize it was important that the information presented should be appropriate for decision makers and the tourism sector, this means making it short, precise, concise and free of jargon.

Project governance

  • A regional, multi-actor project, with different sources of funding, requires horizontal governance and adaptive management system. For the Carbon and Water Footprint project, an effective governance system was developed by implementing a steering committee represented by different actors (municipalities, funders and project implementers). This became a strategic space where decisions were taken among all involved. It is expected that this model could be replicated in other cities. When more than one organization is funding the projects the many financial and budgetary requirements can hamper, to some extent, the implementation. Therefore, the administration and management must be flexible and work with great openness.
  • It is important to standardise and agree on complex concepts with key partners. In the project in Antioquia (Colombia), it was necessary to have agreement on key concepts of green growth and climate compatible development by project partners to avoid confusions and misunderstandings (in this case between CORNARE (beneficiary), CDKN (funder) and Fundacion Natura and WWF Colombia (implementers).

Sustainability of a climate compatible development process

  • It is essential to leave installed capacity and tools in local governments with the technical support to sustain the process and extend the scope to other cities. In the case of La Paz, Lima and Quito, the Carbon and Water Footprint project left installed capacity to measure and manage footprints so that each municipality can provide continuity to the process. This transfer of local capacity has also allowed other cities to become interested in measuring their footprint and express their interest in getting involved in future phases.

Regional network for climate compatible development in LAC

Once the experiences are shared by the team implementing the project (suppliers, beneficiaries and donors) and there is a common understanding of their lessons and challenges, it is key to keep in touch with other teams to continue in this exchange process. This is why we developed a Climate Compatible Development Network in the region with the aim of exchanging doubts and concerns, sharing achievements and growing together in implementing climate compatible development. If you are interested in joining you can become a member.


 Image: Quito, credit Kevin Lablanco

Add new comment

Plain text

  • No HTML tags allowed.
  • Lines and paragraphs break automatically.
  • Web page addresses and email addresses turn into links automatically.
CAPTCHA This question is for testing whether or not you are a human visitor and to prevent automated spam submissions.