Administrative Decentralisation and Climate Action: Concepts and its operationalisation in current era

The response to the serious global challenge of climate change is gaining momentum and changing at both the domestic and international levels. In the 2015 Paris Agreement, signatory nations agreed to pursue efforts to limit global temperature rise to 1.5°C and to more aggressively adapt to the effects of climate change. They also agreed to keep global temperature change under 2.0°C over pre-industrial levels. The development of successful answers depends on a wide range of scientific and technical knowledge, which, while fundamental, also rely on the management of climate change action. To put it another way, successful reaction necessitates action by capable governments able to coordinate with different partners and at various sizes inside domestic intergovernmental systems, in addition to working beyond national boundaries and at the national level.

Even though action at all levels of government is crucial, public sector changes to combat climate change, support decentralisation, and/or improve intergovernmental relations typically are created and handled separately. There are initiatives to strengthen specialised government systems and capacity in developing nations to manage low-carbon and environmental transitions, but these are typically not done in tandem with more comprehensive reforms that reshape the functions, roles, and resources of subnational governments (Hickman et. al. 2017; Puppim de Oliveira 2019). Similar to the previous point, there is no evidence that efforts to restructure intergovernmental relations and decentralise power have been specifically coordinated to take into account regional and global climate change activities.

Political, financial, and administrative aspects of intergovernmental relations exist. It is essential to concentrate on addressing climate change at the subnational government level through administrative decentralisation and intergovernmental cooperation. Of course, in order to effectively address climate change, administrative and financial functions must be taken into account alongside political factors when developing policies and assistance.

The Paris Agreement recognises the link between decentralisation and climate change, stating that “participation of all levels of government and numerous players” is required. Nationally Determined Contributions are non-binding climate action plans submitted by central government participants to the pact (NDCs). However, only a cursory discussion of subnational government functions was made in the initial round of NDCs. For instance, a review of forest sector climate measures in 60 country NDCs found that 18 only reference subnational governments, and another 21 indicate a subnational participation in implementation, capacity-building/knowledge exchange, or decision-making, though most often with sparse information (Sarmiento Barletti, Larson, and Cisneros 2018).

Transnational, multi-stakeholder efforts for climate action have evolved since the Paris Agreement. Transnational players are working harder and harder to persuade subnational governments to adopt climate action at various sizes and in various fields. For instance, an examination of nine reporting platforms discovered that 823 cities and 101 areas around the world, with a total population of 846 million, had committed to having net zero emissions (Data-Driven EnviroLab and New Climate Institute 2020). However, most of the effects of this activity on government reorganisation and recalibrating remain a “black box” (Hickmann et al. 2017).

The lack of a solid theoretical foundation and solid empirical evidence is a major obstacle to progress in defining precision on the administrative tasks of subnational governments in the climate change arena. There are well-established theories and empirical research in the domain of fiscal decentralisation (fiscal federalism), but there isn’t anything analogous for administrative decentralisation. This is a reflection of the far wider range of varied functions that fall under its purview. Furthermore, what little empirical evidence there is dispersed among several administrative roles and academic disciplines, frequently rests on isolated examples, and/or is mostly anecdotal in nature.

Because of the very nature of climate change, more difficulties arise. Regarding their potential severity and the timing of their effects, climate hazards are characterised by a great deal of uncertainty. Determining the precise roles and associated actions of the various actors is complicated by the differing priorities and relationships between local issues and those with a wider or even global scope. Particular needs for climate action are also influenced by location-specific climate stresses and vulnerabilities.

The fact that different countries have different intergovernmental institutions, levels of decentralisation, and demands for climate change means that the right combination of subnational climate initiatives will vary. As a result, the relationships between them and the relative roles of various levels of government and other actors are inevitably extremely varied. Different conditions, requirements, and capacities may justify uneven treatment of subnational players even within nations. These variations must be taken into account when determining what function subnational governments should fulfil in administrative decentralisation measures that promote climate action and provide transparent lines of accountability.


The views expressed in this article are the author's own.

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