Challenges in Strengthening Global-Local Linkages

Makiko Yashiro

Intrinsic linkages between the local and global levels seem like a logical aspect of any environmental policy or project. But challenges remain - at the global level, and especially at the local and urban levels. With a growing proportion of humanity choosing to reside in cities and urbanized areas - as a choice or being compelled to do so.

What are the challenges in stregthening the global-local linkages? What barriers do local governments and stakeholders face? What change in mind-sets do we need for this purpose? Some key points for consideration:

  • Global and MEA objectives are not included in local projects and programmes. Most local governments focus on local problems and issues of immediate, visible and tangible concern to urban residents. Global issues are too 'distant' and 'unconnected' to local activities, and such concerns are not kept in mind when developing and implementing local projects and programmes.

  • Environmental issues are complex and difficult to prioritise. This is particularly true for cities in developing countries. Issues such as jobs, income generation, health, poverty, etc. receive immediate and higher priority than 'environment' - which is seen as a luxury that only developed countries can afford. In circumstances when cost-cutting in local governments becomes necessary, environmental projects and programmes are usually the first to suffer.

  • Need to have a clear understanding of local needs and priorities, that are significantly different from national and global levels. The goals and objectives at the local, national and global levels change, while the issues and problems essentially remain the same. While POPs and other chemicals are an issue at the global level, the corresponding issue at the national level is more specific - say the levels of dioxin in the atmosphere, and air quality. At the local level, the concerns and targets for action shifts once again - to hazardous wastes or waste incineration that generate dioxins.

  • Incorporating environment in all national plans, policies and programmes is crucial. In particular, relation to other development objectives and priorities (such as poverty alleviation, equity, efficiency) needs to be clarified. Environmental issues can become an 'excuse' to initiate programmes and projects that have long-term effects and meet developmental objectives. For example, an environmental project can not only create jobs (and hence higher incomes), but can also improve health (and hence labour productivity), and create better quality of life (and hence better decisions of lifestyle choices).

  • Multi-stakeholder participation is limited. There are several reasons for this - (a) low awareness of the concerns and contributions of other stakeholders, (b) low capacities and skills/capabilities, (c) conflicting interests and needs, (d) skewed decision-making structures, (e) lack of adequate partnerships and participation mechanisms etc. Multi-stakeholder participation should go beyond being a mere buzzword to concrete action. Proper modalities and legislative support for ensuring multi-stakeholder participation need to be developed

  • Building 'ownership' of problems and solutions, and enhancing capacities of local stakeholders are necessary. Participation of the community and affected stakeholders need to be incorporated in all stages of an initiative - from problem identification to implementing a solution and its monitoring/evaluation. This is crucial to build ownership of the problem/solution. But these actions are not easy and cannot be performed by everyone - clearly capacities need to be built at all levels, and for all stakeholders

  • Need to build trust among actors and stakeholders through communication, transparency, and accountability among and within them. In order to present a coherent and relevant view of local concerns and needs/wishes at the global level, it is imperetive to build trust among the stakeholders, but also enhance governance structures that include transparency and accountability.

  • Need to increase the visibility and capacities of local and national NGOs at the global level. Local and horizontal networking among NGOs will enable the strengthening of their voices, and will increase their visibility in global environmental processes.

  • Need to have tools and demonstrations of good practices. Convincing local governments and stakeholders of the relevance of global issues at the local is crucial in initiating local environmental actions that have cumulative and beneficial effects/impacts at the global level. Documenting good practices and developing tools that assist local governments to take such action is a first step in enabling the global-local linkages.

  • Need to balance standardization and differentiation. Sometimes, MEAs do not adequately reflect significant differences in culture, history, geography, etc. and usually leave it up to national governments to reflect on this difference. 'Adaptation' of MEAs - its localization and anchoring - is an essential element of successful implementation at the local level

  • Integrated community development is very critical - empowerment of the community, especially with sustainable livelihoods. Just as the starting point for most global environmental problems is at the individual and household level (in terms of lifestyle, values and behaviour that generate the demand for good and services), so is it the starting point for solutions and implanting action (in terms of changing lifestyles, green choices, waste minimization etc.). Critical to initiating this process is an integrated and holistic approach to community development with the community in the driving seat.

  • Economic consequences of implementation needs to be understood. Short-run costs are sometimes exaggerated and the long-term benefits underestimated. Also, distribution of costs and benefits of implementation - that powerfully affects the social and political acceptability of MEAs - need to be kept in mind.

  • Need to define 'balanced' roles for different levels of government. Sometimes, city-level implementation is hampered by the lack of proper distribution of authority and responsibility between the national, sub-national and local levels.

Three key messages emerge from the discussion above:

We need to keep in mind the cyclical links between global environmental problems and their implications at the local level
There is a need to create an environment (legislative, financial and institutional) to facilitate subsidiarity of decision-making (appropriate decisions need to be taken at the appropriate levels), build capacities and incentives, raise awareness, and change lifestyles
Global policies and programmes need to take the local level into account, incorporating strong elements of participation and partnership that is translated to concrete action and outcomes

We are consequently left with two questions:

  1. What kind of actions can local actors take to address the requirements of MEAs?

  2. What needs to be done to enhance the capacities and capabilities of local stakeholders to address MEA issues?

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