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The importance of quality management for climate policy

By 6 May 2022June 11th, 2024No Comments
As part of the European-funded project IMPLEMENT, Bond Beter Leefmilieu guided six Flemish cities and municipalities over the past four years. As part of this, Transition Stories supported the evaluation and audit of the climate policy of these local authorities to obtain the European Energy Award certificate.

Local climate policy in Flanders

The ambition of the Mayor’s Covenant 2020 is to save 20% CO2 over the period between 2011 and 2020. However, little has happened in terms of evolution in local energy and climate plans over the past 10 years. Only 15 out of 300 Flemish cities and municipalities are on track to effectively achieve this target. Indeed, 50 cities and municipalities are now emitting more than in 2011. The remaining cities and municipalities do realise a decrease, but it is not strong enough to achieve the 20% CO2 reduction target.

We see savings in all local governments in the areas of households and public lighting. In particular, emptying provides savings of up to 70%. The share of households comes to an average saving of 10%. This is mainly due to the fact that several local governments have experienced strong growth in population in recent years. In addition, we are also starting to see the positive effects of energy efficiency policies and premium policies. So a good report for existing households and public lighting but things can and will have to improve.

In the agricultural and industrial sectors, we see a different picture. Half of the local governments realise savings, the other half an increase. These two extremes are due to the fact that in the last 10-15 years, many municipalities have seen further development of business parks and agriculture. On the other hand, there has also been a big push towards energy efficiency and renewable energy, leading to a decrease in energy consumption and CO2 emissions. The tertiary and transport sectors are experiencing substantial to average increases in many local governments.

Some reflections

It is important to note some caveats with these figures as well. For instance, a number of SECAP sectors are hugely sensitive to growth effects at the local level. This works against the figures and makes the efforts less visible. In addition, for local governments the year 2011 is used as the reference bar, while Flanders and quite a few other local governments outside Belgium use 2005 or even 2000. This means they already include historical savings in their targets towards 2020 or 2030. It sometimes also makes more sense to look at evolution and ambitions at regional level rather than at municipal level. The message, based on the figures of the past decade, is that there is no point in burying one’s head in the sand. The Mayor’s Covenant 2030 is just around the corner, we have eight years to drastically reverse the trend.

Solid local climate policy… so much more than mere money

There are a number of problems that require a fundamental debate to solve. When we sound out local authorities in Flanders about what their challenges are, we very often see a lack of investment budget, capacity and personnel. A lack of knowledge, know-how and expertise is also common. In the coming years, more resources will undoubtedly flow to local governments, both from Europe and from the regions and the federal level. But we will not solve the problem just by opening the money tap. A sound local climate policy is so much more than just money. There are many other aspects to consider such as:

  • Embedding in the organisation
  • Building partnerships
  • Playing the role of manager
  • Measuring, monitoring and follow-up
  • Integral participation and communication
  • Full use of powers
  • Project implementation machine

Wouldn’t it be helpful if a quality and benchmarking framework enabled local governments to grow further?

We plan something, we do it, we check whether it was successful and we make adjustments. That is also partly encoded in the policy and management cycle, which also forms the basis for quality thinking. With the IMPLEMENT project, Bond Beter Leefmilieu in Flanders has built up experience and worked on a quality and benchmark framework for energy and climate policy. And what do we learn from this? Many local authorities need a coach, someone outside the organisation who can be a companion in planning, supporting and implementing those actions. But also someone who can occasionally be a sounding board and ask critical questions. This coaching role is hugely important because the energy, sustainability or climate officer is often alone in the organisation. In addition, there is a great lack of knowledge and existing knowledge is often hardly or not shared. A coach who visits several local authorities can thus pass on knowledge, skills and mental strength to the official.

We need to seek a clear relationship and a constructive tension between local governments that are coached and supported by an independent person and, on the other hand, an auditor who can also identify progress at appropriate times. And thus can give that final push to take the next step in the cycle. Thinking in terms of quality management and benchmarking has not penetrated governments that much, while this is actually no different from what we see within industry, for example. Because of a lot of ISO quality frameworks, EPP declarations, energy certificates et cetera, that sector is also under quite strict control, coaching, auditing and review of quality frameworks from the government. It is only logical to extend that same bar to local governments.

3 reasons why a quality and benchmark framework can help Flanders move forward

  1. CO2 evolution does not say everything about a local government’s effort
  2. Peer comparison and pressure pulls the group forward
  3. Accelerate the learning curve in the organisation by understanding how things can be done differently and better

What is needed to make this work in Flanders?

The combination of sparring, coaching and auditing must be maintained. We do not believe in a system where an auditor visits once every four years and otherwise leaves the local authorities to their own devices. We need to jettison as much administrative ballast as possible. Local boards today are already drowning in collecting information and documentation. We need an audit system that spares them as much as possible from additional administration. Sometimes this is unavoidable, but we must dare to take a critical look at it. We need transparent criteria and benchmarks. If we want benchmarking to work, we must dare to be as transparent as possible on the points on which you are assessed as local government. In part, we must also make visible how other local governments in the same weight class score on these. This motivates and incites them to strive for the same performance. We should also link this as much as possible to the living environment of the local authorities and, in doing so, think about an audit system 2.0 that matches the multi-year planning and existing tools. Making the performance of others visible is vital. For example, the websites of the or should be able to make visible what each local government’s climate plan looks like with some key figures. This is golden to motivate and demonstrate to the administration and politicians that things can be done differently.

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