Equity in Action: Shaping Local Climate Solutions for All
At ICLEI World Congress 2024, speakers discuss a project combatting food loss and waste. Pictured from left to right is Matthew Bach, Head of Justice, Equity and Democracy for ICLEI Europe; Leonardo Madeira, Environmental Analyst and Coordinator of Agenda 2030 for the City of Teresina; Lena Völlinger, Deputy Team Lead for the City of Ludwigsburg; and María Pilar Bueno, Undersecretary of Climate Change and Just Ecological Transition for the Municipality of Rosario. Photo: ICLEI

Every three years, ICLEI hosts the ICLEI World Congress to showcase how subnational actors advance sustainable urban development worldwide. The most recent installment, ICLEI World Congress 2024, held June 18-21 in São Paulo, Brazil, converged over 1,500 global attendees to celebrate the vital role of international networks in connecting cities, towns, regions and communities.  

Aligning equity and climate mitigation priorities is crucial for developing sustainable cities that cater to all residents, especially those often left behind. Cities worldwide are increasingly recognizing the importance of integrating social equity into their climate strategies and actions.

However, integrating social equity in climate mitigation plans and programs may prove challenging due to a variety of social, institutional and conceptual barriers. These include understanding, including and addressing the needs of impacted residents (especially disadvantaged communities), overcoming departmental silos between social and environmental departments in city administrations, and designing subsidy programs inclusively to ensure fair resource distribution.

A prime example of efforts to integrate social equity into climate interventions is the INCLU:DE project, which supports five German cities in designing and implementing just and inclusive climate actions. Implemented by ICLEI and supported by Stiftung Mercator, INCLU:DE draws on the best practices of international frontrunner cities to align local climate and equity priorities, as well as develop a methodology for scaling up just and inclusive climate action.

The Malmö Commitment on Inclusive and Equitable Communities pursues a similar goal. By positioning local and regional governments at the center of the global response to today’s challenges, international pioneers and supporters are encouraged to prioritize social equity and inclusion at the heart of their sustainability and climate neutrality strategies. Through a community of like-minded cities, equity-focused reporting and monitoring mechanisms are refined to further strengthen collective efforts.

By adopting such inclusive and innovative strategies, cities can overcome local just transition challenges and create synergies between equity and climate goals. Key strategies include:

  1. Participatory approaches: Inclusive planning with impacted residents and communities to ensure that the voices of disadvantaged groups are heard and their needs addressed in climate strategies.
  2. Inter-city collaboration: Multi-stakeholder workshops and co-design projects in municipalities to ensure social and climate objectives are aligned and improve information flow between different departments.
  3. Inclusive design strategies: Tailored subsidy and financial support programs with equity components to ensure municipal funds are distributed fairly and to remove participation barriers for disadvantaged groups.
  4. Equity-based methodologies: Targeted frameworks and tools to ensure climate initiatives and projects are designed to provide multiple benefits such as job creation, public health improvement and fair resource access.

Let’s now explore how the cities of Malmö and Cleveland embed equity into their overarching climate strategies and examine concrete climate actions with equity components in the cities of Ludwigsburg, Rosario and Teresina.

Malmö, Sweden

Malmö integrates social equity into its climate strategy through various initiatives. The city’s public municipal housing company, MKB, plays a vital role in providing low-energy, climate-friendly housing for diverse households. Malmö’s strategic focus includes creating child-friendly environments and ensuring physical availability. Additionally, the city promotes a sharing economy with initiatives like STPLN: a space for inclusive and sustainable projects in arts, culture, technology and design. These efforts aim to foster a socially sustainable city where all residents can benefit from climate-friendly practices.

Cleveland, U.S.

The Cleveland Climate Action Plan includes a Racial Equity Tool, developed by an advisory committee to assess each action objective for equity relevance, with a focus on just distribution of the benefits of climate protection efforts. Equity goals of the climate action plan include: 1) Shared economic prosperity and inclusion by promoting just employment and entrepreneurial opportunities; 2) Resilient and vital neighborhoods by promoting investments in energy-efficient housing and climate-resilient community infrastructure; 3) Community engagement with under-represented populations to define priorities and strategies in an inclusive way; and 4) Transformational change by using the tool to guide decision-makers through a process of recognizing inequities and possible solutions, and create inclusive environments. The tool is designed in a way that it can work as a template for other local governments to advance racial equity and resilience in policymaking, planning and budgeting.

Ludwigsburg, Germany

Ludwigsburg’s commitment to ensuring equity in climate mitigation is evident in its subsidy scheme for plug-in solar devices. Initially, the program faced challenges as low-income households struggled with the upfront costs of solar devices. To overcome this barrier, the city introduced a “carefree package” for low-income residents. Beneficiaries can now indicate their interest online, and the city’s partners handle installation and payment directly. This revamped subsidy scheme ensures that low-income households can participate in and benefit from renewable energy initiatives without financial hurdles; the participation of such households has leaped from two applications under the previous scheme to 60.

Rosario, Argentina

Rosario has effectively embedded social equity considerations into its efforts to combat food waste. Through its RecupeBAR project, the city has contributed to the social and labor inclusion of urban waste pickers by involving them in collecting food from vendors at two major markets—food that would otherwise be discarded. This collected food is either donated to local food banks or transformed into products like jams that can be sold. Through this initiative, the city not only prevents food waste but also creates job opportunities and fosters capacity building within the community. Additionally, the project contributes to emission reduction by diverting food from landfills, thereby reducing emissions.

Teresina, Brazil

With extreme heat and drought especially affecting disadvantaged communities, the city of Teresina has prioritized urban afforestation under the Transformative Urban Coalitions project to mitigate climate change and enhance urban resilience. Targeted primarily at low-income neighborhoods, this initiative to sow native plants and food seedlings substantially improves access to green space for these communities. Positive equity outcomes include the reduction of heat effects, but also improved food security as well as mental and physical health benefits.

International exchanges at the ICLEI World Congress 2024 provided an excellent opportunity to discuss and address the complexities of integrating equity and climate mitigation objectives. “The clear message of this ICLEI World Congress is that we urgently need to take responsibility for creating sustainable cities, towns and regions, even if sometimes it is hard and complex. The choices we make now will determine whether we are able to accelerate a fair and inclusive green transition. I’m fully convinced if we act as one determined ICLEI community, we can achieve sustainability,” stated Katrin Stjernfeldt Jammeh, Mayor of Malmö and President of ICLEI, during her final remarks at the closing ceremony.

A version of this blog originally appeared on ICLEI’s CityTalk.

Matteo Bizzotto is Global Communications Senior Officer at ICLEI.

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