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Revving up the clean energy transition requires local and senior government collaboration

This post is the first in a series being published in advance of State-City Collaboration on Clean Energy Transformations, taking place from May 29–30, 2019 in Vancouver, British Columbia in parallel with Clean Energy Ministerial 2019.

Around the world, individual governments at the local, subnational and national levels are implementing policies to spur the adoption of clean energy.

From building efficiency to renewable energy supply, the pace of adoption and breadth and depth of clean energy policies has increased dramatically, in cities and at the national level. For example, in just the past decade the number of national governments promoting renewable energy in transportation sector has tripled, from fewer than 25 countries to 70.

Some of the most promising examples of clean energy policy in the world have taken a collaborative approach. In this way, comprehensive policy frameworks are designed to leverage the natural strengths presented by each individual level of government, or other actors such as utilities or transit authorities.

Examples of such frameworks include the BC Energy Step Code in British Columbia, LA County Metro’s zero-emission bus fleet strategy, and the Klimaatcovenant in the Netherlands. These jurisdictions have found success in a formula that coordinates different levels of government (and other actors) to implement clean energy at the urban level.

What is collaborative governance?

Sometimes called “multi-level governance”, collaborative governance goes beyond the idea of simple cooperation.

Collaborative governance frameworks recognize that collective climate and energy goals can be defined and pursued where the national government is not necessarily the only or most important actor. These frameworks coordinate common goals and standards where different parties have the latitude to act.

For example, a senior government, such as a province or state, can set a baseline target or policy, such as a building code, that each individual local government must meet, but that municipalities can choose to exceed.

Conversely, in a bottom-up approach, pioneering local governments can experiment with and implement clean energy policies that, if ultimately successful, become templates for senior government programs and actions aimed at municipalities.

In addition to a comprehensive role for each level of government, collaborative governance is often inclusive of other critical actors—such as industry, utilities and regulators—in policy development and implementation.

Collaborative governance of clean energy:

  • Acknowledges that no one level of government has all of the authority
  • Recognizes that each level of government or actor has unique strengths and weaknesses
  • Achieves shared clean energy goals through shared policy frameworks where each level of government and other actors have a unique role to play

Why is collaborative governance important?

Collaborative governance offers promising returns towards effective clean energy policy, which will be needed to achieve greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions reductions and activate other co-benefits, such as addressing affordability, economic development and air quality.

The Paris Agreement has recognized that effective climate action requires all levels of government to coordinate and engage with each other. Further, the IPCC acknowledges that enabling a global energy transition will require urban expertise and multi-level climate governance. ICLEI says that, “… co-designed, evidence-based national policies that enable local climate action” need to be part of every country’s suite of policies to limit global warming to 1.5°C.

Given that urban environments are responsible for most of the world’s energy use and GHG emissions, cities are a natural launchpad for the clean energy transition. However, local governments often do not have the full jurisdiction or resources necessary to go as far as is needed.

Collaborative clean energy governance in practice

BC Energy Step Code | British Columbia, Canada

The BC Energy Step Code has been called North America’s most innovative building standards for energy efficiency. It allows individual local governments to create a compliance path to net-zero energy ready buildings by 2032 by implementing a series of intermediate performance-based energy efficiency requirements for new construction. As of January 2018, 19 local governments in the province of B.C. reference the BC Energy Step Code and 34 are considering its adoption.

The BC Energy Step Code is novel in that it recognizes the individual circumstances of each individual municipality and creates a flexible mechanism to ratchet up building energy efficiency for new builds. It also presents a remarkable precedent for collaborative clean energy governance; initiated by the provincial government, the Code was co-developed with local governments, builders, utilities and other stakeholders, of which a subset informally governs through an Energy Step Code Council.

LA County Metro zero-emission bus fleet by 2030 | Los Angeles, California

With over 2,300 buses, LA County Metro in Greater Los Angeles is home to the second largest bus fleet in the United States. In August 2017, the transit authority adopted a target to transition to a fully electric, zero-emission bus fleet by 2030. While other transit authorities in North America are transitioning to zero-emission, the size of LA County Metro’s bus fleet and ambitious timetable make it the leader on the continent. Importantly, this leadership has helped lay the groundwork for California’s Innovative Clean Transit rule, which adopted in December 2018, will require all transit in the state to shift to zero-emission vehicles by 2040.

LA County Metro is creating a zero-emission bus infrastructure working group, consisting of representation from federal and state government, regulators, utilities and California Transit, to advance the installation of charging stations. The agency is also part part of Zero Emissions Roadmap 2028, which is helping to drive Greater Los Angeles’ transition to electric transportation ahead of the 2018 Olympics.

Klimaatcovenant | The Netherlands

An older example of collaborative governance, the Dutch Klimaatcovenant is an multi-level, soft law agreement signed in 2002 by the Ministry of Housing, Spatial Planning and the Environment association of provinces and municipalities. Through the Klimaatcovenant, local governments are eligible to receive funding to cover climate plan implementation (such as for staffing and research) in buildings, mobility, sustainable energy and other local sectors.

Local governments choose between three different activity levels: active, advanced and innovative, of which the latter two levels require targets and measures that go beyond national standards.

The first phase of the program, disbursed 36 million Euros in 2002, resulted in the development of over 250 municipal implementation plans, which has since been topped up. Klimaatcovenant demonstrates an early precedent where a senior, in this case national, level of government has recognized the crucial role that communities play in achieving climate targets. The program is also laudable in that is has recognized and helped to address a substantial obstacle for local governments: a lack of research and staff capacity.

Interested in collaborative clean energy governance? Join us at State-City Collaboration on Clean Energy Transformations in Vancouver.

Featured image courtesy of Stephen Hui, Pembina Institute, other images courtesy of the Government of British Columbia, LA County Metro and the Government of The Netherlands