An increasing number of local authorities in developing countries, influenced by international momentum and pressed by civil society, are pledging to make their public policies “climate-compatible”. However, despite these good intentions, few initiatives are successful or effectively implemented. Indeed, the experience of development partners shows that the operational translation of climate strategies into investments likely to be implemented and financed remains critical. How can the different development partners help them put these commitments into practice? This issue was debated at the RhôneAlpes General Delegation in Brussels.

© AFD 2015
© AFD 2015

The conference-debate was coordinated by Sandrine Mercier, journalist at RFI. The conference was introduced and sponsored by Gilles PARGNEAUX, French Member of the European Parliament, Vice-Chair of the Environment, Public Health and Food Safety Committee, rapporteur of the European Parliament’s text of initiatives on COP21.

The speakers were Bruno CHARLES, Vice-President for Sustainable Development, Biodiversity, the Green Network and Agricultural Policy, Lyon Urban Community ; Jean-Paul JOULIA, Head of Unit, “Regional Operations Continental Latin America and Caribbean”, European Commission ; Claire ROUMET, Executive Director of the Energy Cities network, a European association of cities in energy transitio and Claire VIGÉ HÉLIE, Project Manager, “Local Authorities and Urban Development”, Agence Française de Développement.


“The fight against climate change is the fight of the century” (G. Pargneaux). Cities are at the heart of the problem: they are home to 50% of the world’s population, are responsible for two-thirds of greenhouse gas emissions on the planet, and are the first to suffer the consequences of climate change. They are also the first to be able to take action, provided they manage to implement adequate technical and financial resources.


The climate transition: An economic, social and spatial asset for cities

All local authorities are gradually becoming aware of an essential question: How to ensure that climate change does not exacerbate social divisions?” (C. Roumet). Cities are key actors in the economic system and must conceive the fight against climate change as a paradigm shift. To do so, they must not integrate the climate as a new constraint on the path to growth, but understand that “the climate transition is an economic and industrial asset” (B. Charles).

A territorial diagnosis and the concerted implementation of a climate plan can directly generate positive economic and social impacts for communities: “There is a real awareness of the links between poverty and limiting emissions, between job creation and low-carbon techniques” (B. Charles). On a macro level, sustainable urban policies also bring about significant savings: for example, the European Commission estimates that “traffic-related problems (traffic jams, delays…) experienced in a number of European cities cost Europe 1% of GDP every year” (G. Pargneaux).

The urban transport issue also serves to highlight another fundamental aspect of the climate transition in cities: the spatial paradigm shift called for in all reflection on sustainable mobility. It is an opportunity to open up certain neighborhoods, like in Johannesburg where “the public transport program allows residents of poor neighborhoods to access the center and areas where jobs are available and has a climate co-benefit” (C. Vigé Hélie). It is also an opportunity to rethink the urban space as a whole: it is necessary “to design cities where people find what they need near where they live” (B. Charles).


Move into the operational stage

However, to establish the climate transition in cities, it is necessary to proceed in stages. First of all, it is important to gain the support of all actors, as “politics cannot replace people” (B. Charles). In the implementation of a climate plan, civil society is all too often “consulted momentarily, then forgotten”, even though it “must be a stakeholder and assume its share of responsibility”. It is also necessary to ensure there is support from industrial actors. For example, in Sweden, a Volvo factory located in the city of Växjö has played a pioneering role: it is “the first automotive company to have a 100% renewable energy supply” (C. Roumet).

The other major challenge is to implement appropriate means. The circular economy, which seeks to combine the drive for profit and a low-carbon footprint, can be established thanks to public-private partnerships. In Lyon, the municipal team has set up a partnership action plan which has significant leverage: “EUR 1bn of public investment triggers between EUR 5bn and EUR 8bn of private investments” (B. Charles).


Provide specific support to Southern cities

The processes are more complex in Southern cities. While “the priority issue is to improve living conditions for [their] residents” (C. Vigé Hélie), it is essential to coordinate the social and climate components: “We cannot separate the problem of climate change from the problem of the fight against poverty” (J.-P. Joulia).

Cities which have climate strategies experience “difficulties in proceeding with the actual implementation via projects and investments” (C. Vigé Hélie). This is for financial reasons: insofar as “the problem of climate change in the urban context is closely related to taxation” (J.-P. Joulia), the size of the formal sector limits the financial leeway of public authorities in particular. The problem is also the “lack of skills” which developing countries suffer from in the preparation and implementation of climate plans (C. Roumet).

AFD and the European Commission support the approaches of their Southern partners through financing with a significant leverage effect or technical assistance. AFD offers payment facilities and seeks to structure a program which “by financing feasibility and vulnerability studies [could] lead to concrete projects which are subsequently financed by donors” (C. Roumet). The European Union, for its part, has set up “an instrument to support investments, the Latin America Investment Facility, which combines grants and loans in order to have a stronger leverage effect” (J.-P. Joulia).


Exchange of experiences via territorial diplomacy

But “exchanges are just as useful as financing” (C. Roumet). Unlike State diplomacy, the relations between cities and local authorities are not competitive. “Cities support each other and establish cooperative diplomacy” (B. Charles). Local authorities can share their problems and their innovative solutions by setting ambitious emission reduction or decarbonization targets. The Covenant of Mayors, launched by the European Union, is one of the initiatives that unites them to work for common objectives: it will soon be exported to Sub-Saharan Africa and is “a model which provides local authorities with a framework” (C. Roumet).


The opinions expressed on this blog are those of the authors and do not necessarily reflect the official position of their institutions or of AFD.

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