Conclusion for global and local action: Key messages


ICLEI-Local Governments for Sustainability

The diversity of themes, approaches, actors and processes tangibly illustrate how progress from small individual schemes to large far reaching interventions in urban planning and development have been achieved. Approaches explored in the first study part Local Sustainability 2012: Taking Stock and Moving Forward. Global overview are underscored in Local Sustainability 2012: Showcasing progress. Case studies. Both studies portray how multiple actors can be involved at all levels in an array of ways. Urban sustainability can and must become a multi-stakeholder and multi-governance process. In the process it proves how the LA21 and sustainability principles are still alive and active today by providing policy guidance to cities in a variety of ways.

1 - Drivers need to be anchored to an organizational, institutional, or other administrative process

Drivers in pioneering cities are often committed local leaders, local councils voting for ambitious targets, forward thinking staff in the administration and higher tiered governments, and citizens. These drivers often advocate specific action or highlight particular challenges requiring urgent attention. Institutionalization of sustainability through a department or other organizational structure, with a particular mandate, is important in order to systematize the drive towards urban sustainability. Business, research or civil society linked to city decision making processes or newly created local or supra-local governmental administrative bodies can also have a crucial role. Local governments and stakeholders can then inform the design of legislative, fiscal and other frameworks that encourages and utilizes the drive of individuals, groups and organizations through a supportive and responsive process.

To accelerate action and to scale-up bottom-up initiatives towards more systematic, holistic and integrated urban sustainability processes, initiatives need to be integrated within local, state and national urban development strategies and institutions.

2 - Assessing and measuring local conditions is essential for identifying the extent of challenges and setting the right priorities

Visions and responses, such as with targeted and effective mechanisms, depend upon solid information and assessments of local conditions and challenges. Local governments play an important role in assessing the local situation and future trends by gathering relevant data and identifying whether the existing organizational conditions allow for an efficient and effective management of the local sustainability process. A baseline review can produce the necessary information upon which achievable, measurable targets and time frames can be developed together with relevant local stakeholders. By establishing and evaluating baseline information, targets and commitments can be better aligned and competing priorities assessed towards long term sustainability. This can further facilitate a transition from individual actions towards more holistic, integrated and comprehensive urban development strategies. Targets need to be monitored and adjusted in a cyclical manner for continuous improvements. This can also ensure that local sustainability stays on the local institutional agenda.

To continuously improve local sustainability processes, the current and future local situation needs to be assessed, so that, together with relevant local stakeholders, ambitious, achievable, measurable targets and time frames can be developed and monitored.

3 - A city vision depends upon political support and commitment to local sustainability

Political support and commitment are essential for a city to embark upon a long term sustainable urban development strategy. Identifying and aligning objectives enable actors to come together to cement action and address current or future challenges. Visions and targets are based upon assessment and measurement of local conditions. City strategies and targets are an important means to align interests, convene actors towards a common goal, and to provide the necessary momentum to tackle key challenges in an integrated manner. This is an important step towards aligning stakeholders’ interests, identifying priorities and developing a common vision for a city or national urban development.

To implement integrated and holistic measures, city visions and targets are powerful means to convene and build momentum around sustainable urban development.

4 - Progress in local sustainability has resulted in ever more integrated and holistic approaches over time

Committed and pioneering local governments have expanded their actions and responses to local challenges towards ever more integrated and holistic approaches. It underlines an increasing awareness and understanding of the multiple inter-dependencies between the human and earth system. New tools and data for analysis enable better decision making. Policy and decision makers understand that strategies which address an issue more holistically and complementarily are a more effective approach. These processes are both subject to and a consequence of local sustainability process evolving over time. It has built upon a willingness to improve upon the status quo and evolve with the demands of more complex challenges.

To achieve holistic approaches, integration and complementary strategies need to be explored and developed in both policy and institutional design at the local government level.

5 - Local governments create enabling framework conditions for other actors

Local governments have an important role to play by responding to citizens’ and city actors’ needs, desires, and initiatives by:

To design concerted efforts at city level together with a range of actors through participatory processes, local governments play a crucial role.

6 - Within a multi-governance framework local governments and actors depend upon enabling framework conditions given to them

For local governments to realize and to be innovative in providing rapid and radical solutions, they need their potential recognized, supported, and enabled. National and state governments have to be locally responsive. Higher tiers of government need to respond to local needs by amending institutional, procedural or other arrangements, and by providing the kind of legal, technical, or financial support and incentives required on the ground. Local authorities and governments need to be empowered to work more closely together with other levels of government, civil society, the private sector, as well as research institutions. Local initiatives in the process can be nationally replicated and scaled-up, and urban and national sustainable development policies can be aligned. Each government tier can be instrumental in improving, changing, or creating institutions to mainstream local sustainability in cities. Progressive local governments have in the process evolved from mere implementers of state or national law to key driver and facilitator of local sustainability processes in not just their own city and in many others.

To develop effective multi-level governance systems, state and national governments have to engage and respond to local needs and demands.

7 - Partnerships among cities play a key role in sharing pioneering experiences nationally and internationally

National and international city networks are an important way for city decision makers to be inspired by actions of other cities actions on sustainable urban development and sharing experiences. International cooperation among local governments is a quintessential component of this knowledge sharing, capacity building, and innovation processes. Facilitation and assistance from international organizations towards this aim is equally important. There is a real and meaningful role for Local Government Organizations (LGOs), which is increasingly being recognized by key international conventions and international organizations.

To strengthen city sustainability progress, a systematic exchange of experiences and knowledge has to be extended.

8 - Cities inform the global debate and support reaching international agreements

Cities in the process not only influence the global debate, they are also essential to the solution of many pressing issues. Local governments have a particularly important role in enhancing human well-being, eradicating poverty, protecting and enhancing natural resources, reducing future costs, and environmental risks. Local governments and LGOs then play a crucial role in supporting national governments in implementing multilateral environmental agreements (MEAs), transforming a city’s economy to a green urban economy, as well as setting more ambitious sustainable development goals and targets. Their contribution has to be fully acknowledged and supported at the respective levels. It requires the further development and support to quantify, measure, report and verify progress in cities.

To inform and contribute to global agreements and targets, cities and their actors require the necessary capacity to be part of their design and have the capacity to report on progress.

9 - Local governments can play a key role in greening the urban economy and creating green urban economies

Local governments can create the necessary policy and regulatory conditions towards greening the urban economy by:

Local governments are key actors to drive, enable and transform towards a green urban economy in conjunction with other local actors within a multi-governance framework.

To successfully transition to a Green Economy, local governments can provide the necessary framework and conditions for the manifestation of the Green Urban Economy.

10 - A stronger international enabling framework for city action is needed to respond to the challenges of a rapidly urbanizing world

State, regional, national and international statutory and institutional frameworks and actions need to be aligned with those of local actors, their requirements, and unique situations. National urban development strategies can more strongly draw upon local government experiences and requirements. It calls for a systematic approach where cities and their actors, in particular local governments, are given greater recognition and support to realize their potential in designing a sustainable urban future.

To design “the future we want”, local governments at city level have an important role and the recognition of this role needs to be acknowledged at national and international level.

Local Sustainability 2012 Case study series: Showcasing progress in local sustainability

Published by :

In Partnership with :

  • Charles Léopold Mayer Foundation for the Progress of Humankind

  • United Nations Human Settlements Program UN-HABITAT

  • Study and editing team: Richard Simpson, Shay Kelleher, Monika Zimmermann, Rüdiger von Krosigk, Steven Bland (ICLEI World Secretariat, Bonn, Germany)


This case study series is part of the Local Sustainability 2012 study that consists of this publication and a global overview report (ICLEI 2012, Local Sustainability 2012: Taking stock and moving forward, Global Report).

To download both parts, visit

ICLEI Case Studies 138-151 summarized in this Global Report are available in full length at

ICLEI Global Reports are research and analytical reports produced by ICLEI - Local Governments for Sustainability. By featuring different themes and characters the ICLEI Global Report series contributes to international discussions and policy developments.

ICLEI Global Reports are available at or in print for a cover fee.

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The cases are presented in alphabetical order by world region and country, but are not representative for that region. Rather the presented cases are a cross-collection of sustainability themes across the world from cities that can be considered pioneering and especially advanced within their regional culture. Also the selection attempted to feature “not the usual suspects”. They illustrate the diversity of approaches to highlight global progress in local sustainability in cities and by local governments. Each presented case showcases progress towards urban sustainability. Firstly by providing an overview of the locally identified challenge and response. Secondly, highlighting significant achievements and results. Thirdly, detailing the process and actors involved in the preparation and implementation, and finally, key factors for the city’s success.

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