Local authorities facing sustainable development challenges

2012-00

Fonds mondial pour le développement des villes (FMDV)

It is recognised that the world today is more complex than ever before. This is indeed what local authorities experience every day when discharging their regular responsibilities. They are at the forefront of wealth creation and production, and yet are invariably the first to carry responsible commitments made at the international level. They unite hopes and dreams, attract skills and provide recognised momentum for social progress – as best they can and against all odds –, which testifies to their daily involvement in the communities they govern.

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Increasing pressure

Faced with the need for a sound and balanced management of their local public service missions, local authorities still do not, however, benefit from sufficient transfers of skills and resources from their supervisory authorities. They are the first to experience changes, and for several years, have been absorbing repeated and violent societal shocks that the projected explosion in global urbanisation is expected to exacerbate. Even more frequently, as globalised economic and financial distortions increase and fuel health, food, social, political and ecological crises. This increases inequalities and competition to the detriment of solidarity between citizens, territories and cultures.

While the 1992 Earth Summit in Rio de Janeiro had celebrated the territorial level as being the relevant scale for integrating and interlinking the four dimensions of sustainable development (environment, social, economy and culture), the Rio+20 Summit embodied political divisions and other thematic and cultural points of divergence. It was held against a backdrop of a crisis of civilisation but also in a geopolitical world which was recomposed, in the mid-2000s, by the emergence of the so-called “Southern” countries in the global diplomatic and financial arena.

Yet during this latest multilateral summit, stakeholders were reminded of the urgent need to jointly, and as a priority, address the root causes of poverty at the global and local levels and the related problems, for they constitute major obstacles to the environmental sustainability of our activities and impacts on the planet and its resources.

Mobilisation and action : inspiring examples

In this respect, the FMDV, with support from Veolia Environnement, wished to highlight local authorities which have, beyond “green controversies”, made the resolute choice to engage in processes and programmes combining environmental sustainability, economic efficiency and social responsibility.

Each, in its own way and depending on the context, its level of competence and its capabilities, has grasped the reality of its social and ecological environment in order to initiate changes in local cultures of producing, consuming and living together.

For each case study, we have not sought to be exhaustive, but to introduce the specificity of the differentiated approach by which the local authority has decided to address the challenge posed by the sustainability of its territorial project, faced with the reality of political will, the mobilisation of local stakeholders, its financial resources, the organisation of its administration and the availability of the corresponding skill requirements.

Each example illustrates a specific approach chosen by these local authorities to implement – either systematically or on a programmatic basis – the combination between the day-to-day management of its territory and changing the ways of thinking, dialoguing and taking action.

Case studies
from FMDV, 2012

To extend picture

Like other local authorities which have set out on the same sustainable path, their approaches converge towards the objective of creating new mechanisms and tools for decision-making, financing, information and the participation of territorial stakeholders, united around the same common vision of the challenges, emergencies and needs to be taken into account.

Common and unifying areas

Beyond their cultural differences and the diversity of contexts and resources, we have observed the existence of pivotal areas that are common to each initiative.

These elements provide an outline of an integrated and operational approach, which other local stakeholders may draw on for their own projects:

Sustained efforts for the regulatory, budgetary, institutional and systemic integration of the environmental dimension into their public administration. The aim is to implement cross-cutting strategies and programmes that take account of both the duty to preserve natural resources - a priceless capital - and that of access for all to basic services and the local economy,

Strategic links and alliances with all territorial stakeholders (universities, companies, development agencies, NGOs, and particularly the most remote communities). The aim is to pool energies and expertise, strengthen ties of cooperation, solidarity, skills and help build a long-term territorial social contract by and for all,

(Re-)enhancement of wealth and reaffirmation of local potential by effective and efficient reinvestment in the image of the territory – an engine of revitalisation and mobilisation – both towards its external partners and its internal leaders. This is achieved through green territorial marketing with high added value for the attractiveness, dynamism and productivity of the local authority,

Technological and technical monitoring by drawing on integrated environmental management consultancy and tools, to create clear and operational dashboards for policy decision-making, and to conduct a sustainable mapping of the territory and its desirable developments,

Finally, proactive investment in a construction policy that is truly combined with a resilient – more than being “simply” sustainable – multi-dimensional development of the territory. This echoes the increasing shift from the concept launched in the late 1980s by the Brundtland Commission towards practices and positions at the international level turned resolutely towards measurable, accessible and replicable action.

Each case has also allowed us to identify a number of limitations and obstacles.

The most serious, which constitutes the challenge for each of the initiatives we studied, remains the search for alternative and complementary funding, able to foster a hybridisation of resources and ensure that the action taken for the transition of territories, practices and awareness is sustainable.

However, by modifying the usual economic and financial reference frameworks – notably by comparing the contribution made by the programmes that are implemented with the predictable cost of inaction – each experience we have selected has initiated a sustainable transformation in its positioning and practices. By integrating natural resources and the inherent constraints posed by the need to preserve them as direct factors and catalysts of wealth creation, the local authorities presented here are initiating, at their level, a resolutely contemporary transformation in the ways of understanding and taking action.

This key point of access to sustainable funding for local authorities constitutes the rationale of the FMDV. Consequently, this publication paves the way for an in-depth analysis of the opportunities offered by the environmental sustainability of territorial projects as a cornerstone for economic resilience and social benefit for all.

We hope that you find this reading inspiring and invite you to visit our website www.fmdv.net to continue the forward-looking analysis of these territories which, by being fundamentally responsible, are necessarily innovative.

An analysis

15 case studies