We are the first generation to feel the sting of climate change, and we are the last generation that can do something about it. The time is past when humankind thought it could selfishly draw on exhaustible resources. We know now the world is not a commodity, not a source of revenue; it’s a common good, it’s our heritage. And the consequences of climate change are fully known now – we’re not talking about theories anymore; we’re talking about certainties.
Projects aiming to address global climate change, its drivers, and impacts have emerged and taken center stage in a broader context of ongoing development discourses, policies, and practices. The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC), launched and supported by the World Meteorological Organization and the United Nations, has framed since the mid-1990s the significant discourses and policies about climate change, reflecting scientific evidence of the current and future impacts of climate change and how this evidence relates to development processes more generally.
Climate change discourses of mitigation, adaptation, and resilience have gained hegemonic status within these processes, profoundly influencing development policies and other policy domains (World Development Report, 2010). They are, however, not uncontested. At the juncture of climate change and development policies, there is a growing concern, especially among critical scientists and governments, development organizations, and civil society organizations worldwide, about the possible impacts of these climate-focused discourses, policies, and interventions urgent policy action needed.
However, the bulk of the effects will be felt at the regional and local levels. And these levels of governance hold many of the competencies to implement the policy actions. Therefore, regional governments are important actors and should be incorporated into the negotiation rounds and their voices heard.
Climate change policies need to be designed and implemented at the global and local levels, and an emphasis on close coordination is therefore required. Looking at a problem that affects the whole globe through the eyes of a small region is a difficult, if not overwhelming, task. It is not easy for regions or international institutions to realize the importance of any small player in climate change policy. Yet the reality is moving in that direction.
The success of the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC) and the Kyoto Protocol can only be secured if effective participation is guaranteed and the principle of “common but differentiated responsibilities” is put into practice. It should be carried out at all levels of governance. The IPCC, the United Nations, and other international organizations are now fully aware of this and call for coordinated, cooperative efforts among municipal, regional, national, and international institutions.
In this scenario of needed global coordinated efforts, it is vital to highlight the role that regions can and should play in designing and implementing climate policies to complement the existing national efforts and guarantee that the latter are effectively implemented. There are reasonable grounds for considering regions vital as regional governments are often the central implementing bodies for global agreements on climate change policies. It is because their range of responsibilities requires them to do so. For instance, the competencies of many regions in Europe (in decentralized countries) include environmental, transport, fiscal, research and education, building, transportation, and industrial policies.
Other arguments can be added to this discussion, such as that regions are close enough to people to better tailor actions to their needs. Regions should identify the priorities and difficulties to implement the policy more clearly while being strategic enough to establish links among all the policy areas that need to be coordinated for climate change policy. It may also be worth noting that regions can play a crucial role in the proper citizen consultation processes before adopting any strategies or technologies.
It should ensure much better and more effective implementation of policy actions. At the same time, focusing citizens on low carbon actions, designing options to meet local conditions, and networking with other local stakeholders are also grounds for the role of regions in fighting climate change to be recognized. “Preparing for climate change is not a “one size fits all” process. Just as the impacts of climate change will vary from place to place, the combination of institutions and legal and political tools available to public decision-makers are unique from region to region.”
The UNDP and the United Nations Environmental Programme (UNEP) are actively working with regional networks and associations to successfully foster decentralized cooperation among regions in developing strategies for mitigation and adaptation. The drawing up of Integrated Territorial Climate Plans (ICTP) and supporting the access to financial mechanisms to enable the necessary investments are part of the priorities set for regions.
Association of European Border Regions (AEBR), the Conference of Peripheral Maritime Regions (CPMR), the Northern Forum, The Latin-American Organisation of Intermediate Governments (OLAGI), and The Integration Zone of the Centre-West Region of Southern America (ZICOSUR) are some of the organizations that regions have set up for this purpose.
All of them seek to contribute to re-shaping the regional dimension for development and environmental policies, supporting regional policy actions and exchange of best practices, promoting cooperation agreements among members, and being the voice of regions in international forums. It is essential to recognize the highly active role achieved by some of these networks in all international negotiation processes, including the annual UNFCCC conferences and Conference of the Parties, where they have managed to raise the issue of the need of coordinated-effective action systematically and for climate action to be promoted at the regional level worldwide. They have likewise been accredited with the observer and consultative status at many United Nations conferences. It enables them to access the main international negotiation processes and actively seek full international recognition.
Climate change is a big challenge for policymakers as it requires a quick and decisive response affecting many different areas of policy and all levels of governance. International negotiations are so far taking place at the national level. These are necessary but not enough. Unless efforts are coordinated with regional and local governments, successful and effective implementation of policy actions is not guaranteed. We need to come together and join hands in synonymy with international organizations to achieve the bigger picture of climate change.