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World indicators on the environmentWorld Energy Statistics - Time SeriesEconomic inequality
World Resources 1996-97
(A joint publication by The World Resource Institute, The United
 Nations Environment Programme, The United Nations Development
 Programme, and the World Bank)
(Data edited by Dr. Róbinson Rojas)

6. City and Community: Toward Environmental Sustainability

Box 6.1 Cities Take Action: Local Environmental Initiatives

Action at the local level is essential if the host of urban environmental challenges are to be met and cities are to become more livable and sustainable in the long term. Realizing this, many cities have begun local environmental initiatives or embarked on ambitious planning processes to guide their future development. The best of these efforts are consultative in their design and action, involving input from residents, civic organizations, nongovernmental organizations (NGOs), businesses, and labor unions. A few of these initiatives are profiled below (1).


Agenda 21, the plan of action developed in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil, at the United Nations Conference on Environment and Development (UNCED), recognizes the importance of local authorities in planning for sustainable development. Local authorities often oversee planning, maintain infrastructure, establish environmental regulations, assist in implementing national policies, and are pivotal in rallying the public to support environmental objectives.

Agenda 21 challenges each local authority to work with its citizens, local organizations, and private enterprises in adopting a "Local Agenda 21." Through consultation and consensus building, local authorities are encouraged to formulate strategies that reflect the environmental goals of the community.

Since 1992, approximately 1,200 local authorities in 33 countries have established Local Agenda 21 campaigns. The focus of these Local Agenda 21 campaigns is on the process itself--mobilizing community resources and commitments, setting clear targets, maintaining accountability, and measuring concrete progress--rather than on the community environmental plan that results. Yet, these plans incorporate many of the elements necessary to reduce urban impacts on health and the environment, such as the provision of basic services, conservation of resources, and pollution prevention.

Cajamarca, Peru, is one of the many cities that has successfully developed a Local Agenda 21. Cajamarca ranks among the poorest communities in the world. In 1993, the infant mortality rate was 94.7 per 1,000 live births, 82 percent higher than the Peruvian national average and 30 percent higher than the average for low-income countries. The Kilish River, a source of drinking water for many of the region's poor, has been contaminated by mining operations and untreated sewage. Farming on the steep Andean hillsides, overgrazing, and the cutting of trees for fuel have resulted in severe soil erosion, exacerbating flooding problems and threatening the livelihoods of the area's rural population.

In 1993, the provincial municipality of Cajamarca, which governs the entire province, initiated an extensive Local Agenda 21 planning effort with two main components. First, Cajamarca City was divided into 12 neighborhood councils and the surrounding countryside was divided into 64 "minor populated centers" (MPCs), each with its own elected mayors and councils. This dramatic decentralization of government power meant that local government decisions would better reflect the needs of the province's many small and remote communities.

Second, a committee was established to develop a Provincial Sustainable Development Plan. It consisted of representatives from the province's different jurisdictions, NGOs, the private sector, and key constituency groups. The committee established six "theme boards" in the areas of education; natural resources and agriculture; production and employment; cultural heritage and tourism; urban environment; and women's issues, family, and population. After gathering local input from the various regions, each board developed a strategic plan for its particular area.

The initiatives proposed by these groups reflect the different concerns of the constituents. In the rural communities, the plan included initiatives for items such as terracing on steep hillsides, seed banks, and woodworking training centers. Water delivery systems were considered a top priority. Farmers' concerns about mining pollution resulted in plans for more rigorous environmental assessments and a new tax system.

The urban board, in contrast, drew up a strategy that included development of health services, a refuse collection program, and a park improvement program. The urban board is also considering the creation of an ecological belt and a land use plan that will guide the city's expansion.

In many cities, developing local indicators to measure progress is a key component of the Local Agenda 21 process. The region of Hamilton-Wentworth in Canada is at the forefront of these efforts. Local officials used an extensive public consultation process including focus groups, questionnaires, and community meetings to design indicators that are now being used to assess progress toward tangible goals.


Municipal authorities are also making great strides in improving urban environmental quality. Initiatives address a broad range of problems, from providing basic services such as water and sanitation in Quito, Ecuador, to conserving biodiversity in Durban, South Africa, to reducing car emissions in Quezon City, Philippines. These programs prove that huge sums of money and advanced technologies are not always necessary to make localized improvements.

In Graz, Austria, the challenge was to find a way to reduce pollution from small businesses (automobile and machine production, shoe manufacturing, brewing)without undermining their economic viability. In 1991, the city initiated a partnership with the Institute for Chemical Engineering at the Graz University of Technology to work with a sample group of small businesses. The initial participants included three printing companies, a large vehicle repair shop, and a wholesale coffee roaster and chain store company.

After an initial training session, each company set up a project team to develop a cleaner production program. The Institute helped the companies to review new technologies and a variety of other waste management measures based on the major waste streams of each company. Identified measures were classified according to their economic payback. For example, the small print shops had 54 technically feasible management options for waste minimization and pollution prevention. Twenty-four percent would be profitable in 1 year, 30 percent would be profitable within 2 years, and 15 percent would be economically neutral.

As an additional economic incentive, companies that achieve a threshold reduction in wastes and emissions are awarded an "ECOPROFIT Label" that they can use for marketing purposes for 1 year. After 1 year, companies need to achieve further waste reduction to continue to display the label. The biggest incentive, however, is direct cost savings: production costs for participating companies have been reduced by as much as 60 percent.

Since the project's inception, approximately 40 firms have participated, and t he volume of toxic and solid wastes generated by these companies has been reduced by more than 50 percent.

Many local governments are also realizing the role that cities play in regional and global environmental problems. Cities are banding together under the auspices of various associations to tackle problems such as regional water pollution (as in the Mediterranean). Partnerships among cities also transfer information and technology concerning approaches and solutions to common urban problems.

One of these partnerships is the CO2 Reduction Program coordinated by the International Council for Local Environmental Initiatives (ICLEI). More than 100 local authorities from 27 countries have joined an International Cities for Climate Protection Campaign. Participants pledge to meet and exceed the requirements of the Framework Convention on Climate Change by reducing carbon dioxide emissions by up to 20 percent by 2005. As part of this initiative, ICLEI worked with 14 cities to develop comprehensive local action plans to reduce carbon dioxide emissions.


These examples represent only a fraction of the various efforts of local authorities. However, they illustrate several key points. First, despite the seemingly overwhelming challenges, local governments are not stagnant. Many are making great strides in addressing urban problems through partnerships with local businesses, NGOs, and even other cities. Second, a crucial component of successful urban planning consists of public participation and consensus building. Third, although most policy analyses assume a top-down approach in trying to introduce pollution regulations or carbon dioxide emission reductions, these problems can also be addressed from a decentralized, community-based perspective.

Finally, urban development failures of the past decades demonstrate that local governance cannot be replaced by international infrastructure programs, the relocation of central government agencies to secondary cities, the establishment of parastatal service companies, private companies, or NGOs. Without strong local governments, policies will not reflect local priorities, programs will not be responsive to local conditions, budgets will not reflect local realities, the actions of different sectors will not be coordinated, and communities will lack the consistent voice they need in national and international policy processes.

--Jeb Brugmann

Jeb Brugmann is the Secretary General of the International Council of Local Environmental Initiatives, Toronto, Canada. This contribution was commissioned by the Earth Council, San Jose, Costa Rica.

References and Notes

1. Box is drawn from case studies published by the International Council for Local Environmental Initiatives, Toronto.

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