How to Make Local and National Governments Work Together : A Big Idea to Tackle Climate Change | FUTURE CAPE TOWN

“How do we ensure that representatives from across levels of government really understand that sustainable development requires them to collaborate much more closely?”


The coming Habitat III proposal : National Urban Policy Commissions, seen as being a potential solution to apply a multi-level governance to tackle climate change.



The environment is now one of our largest global concerns. Earlier in 2015 COP21, where the world gathered and talked about the objectives to fill to tackle climate change took place in Paris. However, this agreement seems not to have substantially changed the development paradigm.

One may have noticed the lack of political will when it comes to make our cities greener, cleaner and liveable; more sustainable. The question is; what will generate this political will and what are the causes of its absence? What do we have to change so that mayors, local authorities and governments will actually start to engage?

Sustainable development needs to engage three domains; economic, social and ecological. Indeed the different measures for making cities more sustainable need to make economic sense, they need to fill the needs of the people, they have to be compatible with the social DNA of places and they have to be respectful of the environment.


But that’s not enough. They also need to be supported by national governments. Most importantly, the different governmental levels need to work better together. This article focuses on this latter point. How do we overcome the competition for power between national, regional and local governments? How do we ensure that representatives from across levels of government really understand that sustainable development requires them to collaborate much more closely? How do we make better use of integrated urban development policy approaches?

Why Habitat III could be a solution to apply a multi-level governance?

Habitat III is the United Nations Conference on Housing and Sustainable Urban Development. The upcoming summit is hoped to be a real opportunity to launch and promote cross-cutting proposals to enable this multi-level governance that we so much need. Hosted in Quito next October, it will bring together a huge range of stakeholders and actors, ranging from the UN-level down to the municipal level to discuss on important urban challenges and questions, such as how to plan and manage cities, towns and villages for sustainable development.

A concrete proposal: National Urban Policy Commissions (NUPCs) to underline the importance of local governments.

Concrete tools to improve multi-level governance are expected. Among them, a concrete proposal already emerges and advocates for an increasing role of the local governments : The National Urban Policy Commissions. They would pave the way for more cross-ministerial and cross-governmental projects that would include the national, regional and local scales and then help the effective implementation of national programmes within the local context.

The Commission would be composed of members from different levels of government (from the city to the national level). This will ensure representation of all government levels and that these can work cohesively and constructively on establishing and implementing a sustainability roadmap for cities. Other stakeholders such as civil society organizations, interest groups and the private sector would also be involved within these commissions to ensure comprehensive representation and to stimulate cross-sectoral collaboration.

These NUPCs would also be the institutional platform for the design as well as the implementation and monitoring of National Urban Policies (as outlined in Habitat III Policy Paper 3) as well as of the New Urban Agenda (as to be agreed by the UN General Assembly in October 2016). This would allow the commission to assume two key roles. On one hand, the role of improving multi-level governance by supervising cross-level collaboration. On the other hand, it would serve as a dedicated national taskforce for the implementation and monitoring of the New Urban Agenda following its ratification at the Habitat III in Quito in October 2016.

Habitat 3 chrono

What would NUCPs actually do? 

To be effective, the main tasks of the Commissions would include:

  • Design National Urban Policies.
    The Commission is in charge of the design, implementation and monitoring of National Urban Policies.
  • Facilitate coordination and help cross-departmental collaboration.
    The Commission is in charge of encouraging projects and collaboration across governmental departments and national ministries to find integrated, and cross-silos policy solutions for cities. Often, the collaboration between national and municipal levels remains complicated and sometimes is a real struggle. The Commission therefore facilitates this collaboration to ensure coherence at multiple levels.
  • Establish the subsidiarity principle
    The Commission ensures enhanced coordination and collaboration across the different levels of government. The principle of subsidiarity holds that a larger and greater body should not exercise functions which can be carried out efficiently by one smaller and lesser, but rather the former should support the latter and help to coordinate its activity with the activities of the whole community. This is essential in ensuring improved effectiveness of policy implementation, greater efficiency in the administrative procedures as well as ensure consistency and coherence between national and local policies. It is also important to ensure a balance between top-down and bottom up approaches.
  • Supervise the Implementation of the New Urban Agenda
    The Commission is in charge of ensuring that the coming agreements of the New Urban Agenda are considered when designing and implementing National Urban Policies. This Commission will be adapting the international targets and objectives agreed in the New Urban Agenda to the national and local contexts and explore concrete action-oriented solutions to achieve those targets. The Commission therefore facilitates the enactment of the New Urban Agenda and ensure consistency of national and local policies with international agreements.
  • Coordinate Multi-Stakeholder Engagement
     The commission engages different experts and stakeholders from a variety of sectors (government, private sector, civil society, etc.) when drafting National Urban Policies. This ensures that all voices are heard and all interests considered in an open, fair and transparent way.
  • Coordinate City-to-City Collaboration
    The Commissions also facilitate the cooperation of cities across the country and promote exchange of knowledge and best policy solutions among cities from the same country and from abroad.

To sum up, the core of the summit might focus around new tools to facilitate political decisions, and thus ensure more development efficiency. The world now needs concrete solutions to tackle climate change. Returning to the issue of lack of political will; this may well be the case at the moment, but it helps no one to assume that it cannot change. Let us not be fatalist and consider this as a point of departure. We should be working to generate political commitment.


Article originally published at, on Monday July 4th 2016.


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Images credits : 

  1. UCLG
  2. Habitat III 3 Quito