Tackling Climate Change at the Local Level


Moldovan Mayor of Paulesti with cultural center renovation
In Moldova, Paulesti Mayor encourages energy efficient renovation of the town’s cultural center

To tackle climate change, the focus should be on local solutions that create sustainable, green development.

While climate change is about saving the planet, sustainable development is about saving our local forests and fisheries, using renewable resources to provide energy to remote communities or increase energy security by reducing imports of fossil fuels.People can feel the positive effects of concrete actions taken in their local communities in their everyday life, and that’s a strong incentive.

Sustainable development is about using resources to promote economic development for the current generation while leaving resources intact for future generations.
What we need to achieve sustainability is for local leaders (formal and informal) to be convinced that it’s the best way to improve the quality of life in their territories. Then they will take it upon themselves to convince members of their communities and local businesses to jump on board.

That’s why the Network of Associations of Local Authorities of South-East Europe (NALAS) organized a meeting of mayors to put sustainable development and climate change on the agenda of local governments. NALAS is following in the footsteps of big-city mayors that met in Rio through C40 Cities. New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg said that as innovators and practitioners, cities are at the forefront of sustainable development and climate change. The mayors said that through improved waste management, efficient lighting, and green city transportation, cities are on track to reduce their combined greenhouse gas emissions by 248 million tonnes by 2020.

Back in South-East Europe…
The location of the NALAS meeting was quite appropriate: in Tulcea, Romania, home to the arid Măcin Mountains that are some of the oldest in Europe, and the Danube Delta which is the “newest” land in Europe, formed over the past 10,000 years from sandbars in the Black Sea and sediments from the Danube River.

“We are in Mother Nature’s home,” said Tulcea Mayor Constantin Hogea. Climate change is an important and painful topic for Tulcea where the threat of floods, tornadoes and even desertification are all too real.

But somehow it’s still an uphill battle to talk about climate change with many mayors in South-East Europe. “Ninety-five percent of mayors would laugh in your face if you talked about climate change in Albania because of the immediate needs they are addressing and above all the priority of economic development,” says Fatos Hadaj, Secretary General of the Association of Albanian Municipalities.

In Moldova, where 98 percent of final energy consumption is imported, energy efficiency and finding local energy sources is a matter of economic security as much as an approach to climate change mitigation.

Even in this context, most local authorities are not aware of what they can and should do to promote energy efficiency and biomass energy, says Mayor Tatiana Badan, President of the Congress of Local Authorities of Moldova.

Vice-President of the Congress of Local and Regional Authorities of Europe, Ludmila Sfirloaga, believes that the only lasting response to climate change lies in building a sustainable environment at the grassroots level – changing consumption patterns and a new energy culture. She said that although local governments are part of the problem, they are also part of the solution.



Can we explore community-led prototypes?

A prototype differs from a pilot because it starts small and is allowed to fail. Optimally, several prototypes will be tested in parallel. The question I have is how prototyping can fit into our work on participatory planning and create social capital while creating user-led solutions?

In the 1990s, Robert Chambers created the Participatory Rural Appraisal methodology to bring the community into the definition of the development problem.

It is now used extensively from identifying children with disabilities to climate change adaptation. Some of the elements of participatory rural appraisal that create a basis for successful prototyping are:

  • Role reversals,
  • Feedback sessions,
  • Preference ranking and
  • Visualization of the problem through mapping and diagrams.

What participatory rural appraisal and prototyping have in common is the perception of the users (a.k.a. the community) is the starting point.

In the case of prototyping, solutions can emerge from the community – for example innovation walks used by a foundation in Malaysia that reveal how members of remote communities are being creative to get around a particular problem.

A more structured approach to identifying solutions is the Human-Centred Design Toolkit, or innovation guide to facilitate the work of NGOs and social enterprises in working with impoverished communities.

This isn’t so different from the Cooperative Design (or Participatory Design) approach originating in Scandanavia in the 1970s as “collective resource approach.”

While it is used for getting citizen input on the built environment, from buildings to streetscapes, the approach is extending to social services such as health and social care institutions for user-centred healthcare design.

Back to UNDP’s work in community-based programming…

One of the main assets of UNDP’s work in community-based programming has been the social capital created: confidence of the community in itself, confidence of the local government, and trust between the two. With this as a basis, local governments may be able to open up several potential areas for citizen-participatory prototyping:

  • Municipal services (both introduction of new technologies and how services are delivered: heating solutions, transport, youth and cultural services, agricultural extension services)
  • Municipal processes (planning, budgeting)
  • Municipal interface with citizens (public access to information, complaint mechanisms)

A brief prototyping process would get citizens ideas on how the local government’s services, processes or interface could be improved.

Instead of an open call to Citizen X, there could be structured meetings similar to the participatory rural appraisal methodology and bringing in elements of participatory design. In some cases, experts in mobile technology could participate, but it would be important for low-tech solutions to emerge as well.

Do you know of local governments that are already prototyping in these areas?

Do you know of organizations that are helping local governments to prototype?

What other areas do you think that local governments can prototype with citizen input?