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The spread between expectations about local governments on the one hand and the possibilities on the other for implementing their local climate policies is increasing. The Flemish government is increasingly counting on local governments, but there is a growing risk that they will not be able to keep up. A survey of 67 local authorities shows that the vast majority experience a problematic need for more support from the higher authorities in order to pursue vigorous local energy and climate policy. If this support does not follow, a large majority of the boards surveyed consider it unrealistic to achieve the local climate objectives for 2030 and 2050.


Local governments are a key driver for setting up energy and climate projects. As the climate targets approach by 2030 and 2050, efforts must be sharply increased. This puts further pressure on local boards to commit to ambitious energy and climate policies. In doing so, there is a risk that administrations will no longer be able to keep up.

This contrasts with a Flemish government that increasingly counts on the commitment of local governments to implement Flemish climate policy. The spread between expectations and possibilities of local governments is increasing.

In the past, there was a lack of real figures gauging how local governments themselves view the challenges and bottlenecks of local energy and climate policy. On what interventions should be made for local governments to implement stronger energy and climate policies.

The signals reaching higher authorities today are mostly from the larger central cities. However valuable, the insights sent to Brussels from the Flemish central cities are not representative of the lifeworld of the average municipality and provincial town in Flanders.

With this survey among a broad group of local governments, the ambition was to bring together the experiences and challenges they experience around local energy and climate policy. The results of this survey have an important signal function to the Flemish government and the recently established expertise centre for local governments.

About the survey

Out of 300 Flemish cities and municipalities, 150 local authorities received a questionnaire on the challenges they experience in drawing up and implementing climate and energy policy. 67 local authorities (22% of the total number of local authorities in Flanders) completed the questionnaire. The capacity of the individual respondents is mainly climate, environment and sustainability officials (85% of respondents) but also other officials, executives, and local politicians (5% of respondents).

Completion of the questionnaire was anonymous. This ensured that respondents could freely express their opinions without disparaging their city or municipality. This also allowed socially desirable answers to be avoided.

Challenges in developing projects

In the first question, the survey gauges the biggest challenges local governments experience in designing and implementing climate projects. For eight challenges, respondents indicated whether they perceived this as a ‘Top 3 problem’, ‘Important problem’, or ‘Minor problem’. There was also the response option ‘No opinion/No idea’. What is striking is that, except for one, every predefined challenge is predominantly named as important or Top3 problem. The biggest challenge appears to be financing for climate projects. As many as 89.4% of those surveyed say they perceive ‘Insufficient budget in the budget to set up policy/projects’ as a challenge. 57.6% Even named this as a Top 3 problem. ‘Insufficient or conflicting political priority’ is also perceived as a Top3 problem by almost half of the respondents.

Local governments indicate a ‘lack of knowledge to manage complex projects’. There are many aspects to climate policy. There is no ‘ready solution’ to it and an approach that combines top-down decisions with bottom-up ideas and initiatives is needed, which requires a pathway of participation and collaboration.”[1]

In addition to the eight suggested challenges, respondents were given the chance to clarify or supplement their own answers with other key challenges. From this, a ninth very important challenge emerges: ‘lack of time and human resources’. The answers also revealed ‘inadequate internal cooperation between different departments, and insufficient supra-local support (resources, objectives & procedures)’ and ‘insufficient perceived support among the population and in the entire local administration/politics’ as important challenges.

[1] Spaans, E., Van Der Ploeg, G., & Resink, R. (2016). Hoe richt je een zwerm? (2de editie). van Duuren Management.

Climate targets 2030 and 2050

Under the current staff capacity, budgetary resources, supra-local support and higher regulatory framework, 92% of those surveyed do not consider it feasible to achieve the 2030 or 2050 climate targets as local government.

Of the climate and environment officials among the respondents, 93% are convinced of not achieving the climate targets. None of the surveyed politicians and senior officials consider the targets feasible.

On the desired support

First, local governments hope for financial support. ‘Extra financial resources to realise project investments’ (98.5%) and ‘extra financial operating resources to support municipal staff and carry out studies’ (95.5%) are mentioned by almost all local governments as important or top two wishes.

Less than the two above, but the vast majority of respondents nevertheless also highlight the following support as highly desirable: ‘coordinating and facilitating knowledge sharing between local governments’ (86.4%), ‘adapted tools/codes of good practice for local governments in the context of the mayors’ covenant’ (78.8%), and “proactive and smoother adaptation of regulatory barriers that impede local climate policy/adapted local powers” (75.8%).

Again, respondents were given the opportunity to freely supplement or clarify their answers. The local governments indicated a need for ‘a binding, supra-local policy framework’, with emphasis on binding. They want more ‘transparency and consultation between different levels’ because, in their experience, similar projects are often worked on in parallel.

About the necessary knowledge and competences

The survey shows that ‘obtaining and retaining the involvement of internal and external stakeholders’ is perceived by most as the most important competence when elaborating and implementing energy and climate projects. Persuasive climate communication is also an important competency for developing projects. When looking at Figure 3, it is striking that all predefined knowledge areas and competences are perceived as important.

Respondents express concern about setting up participation processes and climate communication so that it ‘does not become pedantic’ and does not lapse into merely ‘informing’ but participants effectively co-decide in a co-creation process. They emphasise that not only their own knowledge and competences are important for the success of a project. It is also necessary to ‘train’ other board members, politicians, citizens, municipal services in different aspects such as the above competences and knowledge areas so that everyone experiences the ‘sense of urgency’.

On the importance of training

68% of respondents consider training in the named knowledge areas necessary for projects to succeed. Another 19% find training in the listed themes desirable but not necessary for successful projects. When asked which themes are then most urgent regarding training, the answers are very similar to those in Figure 3 (most important knowledge areas and competences).

Of the 67 respondents, just over half (54.6%) have been working on climate themes for more than five years, and 28.2% have been working on climate themes for less than two years. It is noteworthy that the majority of both experienced and less experienced profiles consider training necessary.


Until now, it has been difficult to give well-founded advice to higher authorities on what interventions should happen to make local governments adopt stronger energy and climate policies. Objective figures were lacking for this purpose. In that sense, this survey offers an important insight into the living environment experienced by these local governments in dealing with local energy and climate policy.

Despite the local energy and climate objectives that municipalities take on, behind the scenes there appears to be little belief in the feasibility of those objectives given the current policy framework. Out of 67 respondents, 92% do not consider the 2030 or 2050 climate targets feasible under the current framework. This is worrying in light of the fight against climate change.

Flemish support policy should take care that the current support philosophy does not lead to stronger municipalities only becoming stronger, and weaker municipalities falling further and further behind with their local climate policy. A switch in this support philosophy to local governments is imperative if we want to avoid the local climate goals 2030 also becoming for many a measure of nothing like the 2020 goals.

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