Norway’s ambition is to be climate neutral by 2030. This requires a paradigm shift in terms of radical and fundamental changes in how we live and use resources. Local governments are increasingly seen as important contributors to the transformation to a low-emission society, and in the TRANSFORM project, we have studied the barriers and conditions that will affect the potential for change. The transformation would require that the UN Sustainable Developments Goals are institutionalized and developing networks within municipal areas and between municipalities and other actors. The role of local government has three parts, prepare own organization for transformation, address transformation within the areas of responsibility, and act as a facilitator and catalyst for transforming the local community. Local governments differ, and our findings show that we can distinguish between i. frontrunner municipalities deeply engaged in climate work; ii. municipalities focusing on short-term measures and policies; and iii. those that hardly address climate change. The latter is categorized as lacking political and community support. We know that climate policy competes with mandatory tasks, (e.g., health, education, and care for the elderly), and many municipalities lack resources to address climate issues. Societal transformation policies are also seen by some as a barrier to economic growth. Finally, municipalities are dependent on clear and decisive national policies that provide a framework for transformative change. Addressing transformation is a continuous and longitudinal process, and even if science calls for radical and fundamental changes, this is not the municipal approach – they take small in-depth transformative steps. The case municipalities differ in the depth and scope of measures and plans. But it surprised us that they align in their short-term ambitions. None had plans for future long-term emission cuts. TRANSFORM has developed a board game (based on the HOPE project) to reveal the barriers and potential for change in municipalities. We also investigated whether the local governments were prepared to address indirect household consumption. The board game was tested by the reference group and adjusted and was played in five of the cases. The focus is on how the local government can contribute by expanding the focus on direct emissions to develop policies for indirect emissions from household consumption. The board game will be available for download after the project has ended. Barriers to transformation can be ensured by sustainable alternatives, network support, and through positive emotions from protecting the environment. Nudging people in the right direction is inadequate, but households are more accepting of the “stick” rather than the “carrot” if measures are in place to ensure fair and just distribution of burdens. A forthcoming article discusses how including indirect emissions from private consumption in municipal climate change efforts will expand the potential for ensuring transformation. The project has carried out case studies in 13 Norwegian municipalities, selected based on input from The Norwegian Environment Agency (NEA) and the Norwegian Association of Local and Regional Authorities (KS). Several of these municipalities have been involved in transformation processes in other areas than climate change. For them, transformation is a continuous process, both within the municipal administration and in the community. They see an obvious need for climate transformation but it is necessary to harmonize with employment and economic security. Developing “green” jobs is therefore key, as is the local context, norms, and framework conditions for understanding the needs, opportunities, and legitimacy for transformation processes. We have compared transformation processes in two Swedish and two Norwegian municipalities and have conducted interviews with people holding the same positions in each municipality to ensure comparison. An article addressing urban transformation in Sweden and Norway will show how the transformation to a low-emission society has developed over time in two leader/committed and two follower/ less committed municipalities. The COVID-19 pandemic had a significant impact on the project in general and on fieldwork and playing the board game.
Outcomes and impacts are related to the insights into the significant role local government has in ensuring transformation to a low-emission society. Local governments have dual roles in such transformation. They have to transform the municipal organization and they also serve as a catalyst for local efforts, including households. Successful local transformation depends on the ability to connect transformation processes to other municipal tasks, broad and in-depth engagement, an environmental identity, and political and community support. Understanding the local context is important for the effectiveness of municipal climate mitigation policy. Municipal plans and actions for transformative change differ greatly with respect to depth and scope but are consistently favoring short-term actions. Long-term policies for future emission cuts or transformative change lack commitment. The success of municipalities’ efforts to transform also depends on clear and decisive national and global policies that provide a framework for transformative change at the local level. In theoretical terms, radical and fundamental transformative changes are desired, while small, incremental, and in-depth wins for transformative action are the reality. This has significant impacts on how national policies should approach local governments in their transformation processes. Conversely, municipal insights that small and in-depth actions also contribute to transformation are significant. Local governments can overcome barriers among individuals and households by ensuring the availability of sustainable alternatives and positive emotions in protecting the environment. Nudging voluntary mitigation is inadequate, while changes in consumption (and thereby emissions) are accepted if policies are in place to ensure fair and just distribution of burdens. Household consumption is one aspect of local governance and the climate game co-designed in TRANSFORM is a useful tool for triggering deep reflections on how the local authorities can extend their climate policy landscape to also include indirect GHG emissions from private household consumption. Another piece of the puzzle has been addressed.
The ambitions of the Norwegian climate policy increased significantly when the Parliament, as a response to the Paris Agreement, voted in June 2016 that Norway is to become a carbon neutral society by 2030. Reaching the Norwegian target implies radical changes to the ways in which our society is organised and functions. Transformation, in the sense of radical, fundamental, and paradigmatic change, is necessary, rather than adjustments within or tweaking of the current system.
Local authorities have a significant role to play in such a transformation, as recognised in the Paris Agreement, due to their roles as public service providers, community developers and social entrepreneurs. Led by the municipal council, and equipped with a planning system based on the sustainable development principles, municipalities are in a unique position to merge scientific and local knowledge in the quest for a low-emission society.
Own research shows that factors such as degree of institutionalisation of climate policy, committed municipal administrators or politicians, and the extent to which national policies call for local implementation are important factors for explaining the level of commitment by local authorities in climate policies. Although these factors are likely to be important for a transformation to a low-emission society, we have little knowledge of barriers to and potentials for transformation at the municipal level.
This project addresses this issue by investigating how the local level of governments can contribute to transformation to a low-emission society. Case studies and experiments (simulation gaming) will address how municipalities relate to transformation and will uncover potential transformation pathways. The project fills important knowledge gaps by contributing to the theoretical understanding of transformation processes at the local level, and by contributing to a knowledge base of transferrable learning examples of local transformation processes.