Ambitious climate policy with Collaborative Climate Action

San José Costa Rica
In the project partner country Costa Rica, the government has introduced climate action certificates for cities and communities. Photo: iStock.com/G.J. Beck

Successful climate policy can only be the result of political will and well-organised cooperation at all levels of government.

Without ambitious climate action policy, the climate goals that the international community of nations has set will remain forever out of reach. This requires cooperation from public administration at a local level right up to government ministries. This can only be developed and implemented if the political will is there to organise effective cooperation among all levels of government on a set of predefined climate targets, – in short, Collaborative Climate Action (CCA).

In many countries, the decision makers responsible for climate action policy at a national and subnational level often lack the experience, knowledge and expertise that is necessary for the analysis of urban mitigation potential and its systematic inclusion in national climate action efforts. From September 2016 to July 2020, the ‘Vertically integrated climate policies (VICLIM)’ project provided support to relevant actors and institutions in the partner countries of Costa Rica, Georgia, Indonesia, Mexico and South Africa with the aim of exploiting this potential. The goals here included contributing to an ambitious national climate action policy on the one hand while explicitly involving all levels in the fulfilment of climate targets and simultaneously enabling greater climate action at the subnational level.

A key role for national governments

Costa Rica as one of the partner countriesoffers us an excellent example of how national governments have a key role to play in CCA. After all, even the largest and most capable cities can only realise a part of their mitigation potential on their own. Often, they are financially and administratively – dependent on basic climate policy decision-making at national level. Good cooperation at all levels, that accounts for subnational actors and includes them in strategic decision-making, is therefore especially important. Waste management is a good example: while the national government sets out the legal framework for cities, it is the cities themselves who are responsible for their own waste management. However, cities can only fulfil this role while staying as climate-friendly as possible (i.e. avoiding short-lived greenhouse gases) if the national framework gives them enough room for independent action while also ensuring an appropriate level of financing, – either by means of budget appropriation or by granting them the option of levying taxes themselves.

In Costa Rica, half of the urban population lives in towns and medium-sized cities. These require a far greater level of national support than large cities, – both financially and in terms of the expertise required to develop long-term solutions. Proactive steering on the part of national governments and effective partnerships with other levels of the administration (e.g. larger cities) are a basic requirement for ensuring that cities can develop their full potential for climate action. Experience shows that roughly a third of climate action measures are possible only if national and subnational levels collaborate.

A 2020 study from the Deutsche Gesellschaft für internationale Zusammenarbeit GmbH (GIZ) entitled ‘Multi-Level Climate Governance – Supporting Local Action’, examined the question of whether suitable instruments could foster efforts for climate change mitigation and adaptation at local level, and underlined the decisive role played by national governments in the creation of favourable conditions for subnational climate action. One specific and highly effective instrument is to draw up a ‘Climate Mandate’ for the national government, for example, which requires its municipalities to contribute to the achievement of national targets. This can occur as part of national climate legislation or be voluntary commitments from municipalities.

In the case of Costa Rica, this climate mandate has led to the introduction of municipal climate action certificates for cities and communities. This aims to motivate the municipalities to measure, reduce and offset their greenhouse gas emissions. The national government has also integrated municipalities into its climate strategy by issuing such certificates with its ‘Programa País de Carbono Neutralidad 2.0: Categoría Cantonal’ (PPCNC, programme for municipal contributions to national low-emission development). Cities and communities can participate voluntarily in the programme and have themselves certified for the steps involved in their efforts to reduce greenhouse gas emissions. Since 2016, VICLIM has assisted six municipalities in the calculation of their CO2 footprint and development of local climate action plans. The first municipalities received their climate action certificates in 2018, thereby making an important contribution to the achievement of carbon neutrality at local level.

Support for action at subnational level

A key requirement for climate action at all levels is that the responsible units are capable of taking such action. These units not only require appropriate mandate and powers, but also need qualified personnel, knowledge, infrastructure and funding. This is where the higher ranks of government have a particular responsibility to delegate, share and create capacities. Only in this way can municipalities contribute independently to national climate targets. One example from Germany is the highly successful National Climate Initiative (NKI), which is a structure that channels funding for climate action projects from a national level to subnational levels (cities and state governments).

A comparable example is also found in Mexico, where the state of Jalisco has developed guidance for the creation and updating of municipal climate action plans, and where climate action projects can bid to obtain funding. In the coastal city of Puerto Vallarta, VICLIM accompanied the pilot project for this approach, in which 70 representatives of federal and municipal authorities as well as civil society organisations worked together over a total of nine months. Total of three forums and a webinar were used to involve more than 200 citizens in the process, and the climate action plan (‘Programa Municipal de Cambio Climático de Puerto Vallarta’) was adopted officially in early 2020. Another lesson learned from VICLIM is that ensuring the success of invitations to tender or bids for climate project funds depends on having communities that possess the knowledge and resources (e.g. personnel) to submit applications of an appropriate quality. Otherwise, the funds will remain uncollected.

Climate action and reductions to public spending

An ambitious climate action policy is not the only result of climate action measures at municipal level. One additional benefit is on  the public budget. This can be seen directly in reductions to expenditure on power, in cases where climate action measures have reduced municipal consumption in terms of heating, cooling and lighting. Energy efficiency is the primary lever here that brings together climate action and savings for the public purse.

This can also be seen in the ‘Programme for Energy Efficiency in Public Buildings and Infrastructure’ (EEPBIP) in the project partner country of South Africa. This programme is promoting public-sector energy efficiency by reducing investment risks and providing support in the form of domain expertise. The primary audience for the EEPBIP programme consists of actors from municipalities, provinces and the national government. These own and manage buildings and infrastructure, and implement energy efficiency measures in areas such as public buildings, street lighting or wastewater facilities. EEPBIP is also supporting the integration of the three government levels in South Africa by ensuring collaboration and coordination between the various actors from the national, provincial and municipal administrations, as well as the private sector.

VICLIM assisted EEPBIP with targeted capacity building in the fields of energy data acquisition and management at the three levels of government: in nine municipalities, in the health authority for North-West Province and in the National Ministry for Public Works. These administrations have used the standardised instruments developed by VICLIM for project planning, monitoring and reporting to improve energy efficiency in public buildings. In the future, such projects will be run at a much larger scale. Currently, ten project drafts have been submitted, alongside detailed feasibility studies for three projects, which will now be financed by EEPBIP. The underlying potential for municipalities to cut both CO2 and costs is immense: with measures similar to the ones being planned here, 20 municipalities have saved over 190 million kWh/year over the last few years. As energy prices continue to rise rapidly, return on investment periods modelled by VICLIM for energy efficiency measures are now as short as three to five years. This shows that such measures are not merely climate-friendly but can also make a considerable contribution to municipal budget savings.

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