The Need to Strengthen Legislative Action on Sustainable Development

The Need to Strengthen Legislative Action on Sustainable Development

Climate-informed policy decisions that successfully mitigate environmental concerns within the state’s development agenda are the need of the hour. Tackling climate change requires a multi-stakeholder inter-disciplinary approach.

In June 2015, a group of 886 Dutch citizens won a landmark case against their government, who they held responsible for failing to reduce greenhouse gas emissions within a reasonable time frame. This incident has set several critical outcomes:

(a) firstly, it is the first case in the world that has used existing legal frameworks (that include tort and human rights law) to fight for climate action and hence creates anticipation to look at global environmental governance from a legal perspective

(b) secondly, it puts the spotlight on government as an active stakeholder and agent of change within the discourse on climate action

Currently, mainstream discourse on climate change has been restricted to scientists, think tanks and civil society organisations. Unfortunately, the political community has often been a neglected stakeholder in combating climate change. However, with greater need for environmental governance especially at the local level, and the signing of the global agreement on climate change at the recently concluded COP21 in Paris, the need to bring legislators to the forefront of climate action is being appreciated.

Legislators are critical to the climate change discourse as they are in a unique position to create inclusive and integrated climate-informed legislative decisions as well as institutionalise long-term initiatives towards climate action.

Specifically, legislators are pivotal to strengthen local action on sustainable development through:

A. Aligning broader policy with local community needs: Legislators are in a unique position to connect conceptual features such as legislative and policy decisions with practical issues that include the needs of their community. Sub-national legislative action not only ensures effective implementation of local action on sustainable development, but it also has the ability to influence broader policy priorities at the regional and national level

B. Optimising long term priorities with short-term requirements: Climate change bears short term as well as long term implications across various levels of governance. Legislators, given their strong relationship with their constituency as well as policy makers, have the ability to optimise priorities accordingly. Specifically, legislators have a crucial role to play in community livelihood protection-an issue that is strongly threatened by immediate (as well as long-term) climate change impacts. To this measure, political representatives also have the ability to direct investments that incentivise low carbon development initiatives while keeping in mind the community needs

Tackling climate change at the legislative level is not only a necessity but also provides opportunities to the legislators. Specifically and immediately, legislators need to be made aware about the following three things in combating climate change:

A. Climate change is socio-economically important

7 out of the 17 SDGs directly refer to climate adaptation and mitigation. Climate action is increasingly seen as an opportunity to create jobs, boost GDP growth, and improve livelihoods. Various research studies also indicate the relevance of climate action in boosting economic growth and minimising climate risk. Moreover, climate-informed development is required to prevent more than 100 million people from being pushed into poverty by 2030 and ensure development is achieved in an equitable and sustainable manner.

B. Climate change is locally relevant

According to UNDP, 50 to 80 percent of adaptation and mitigation actions will be implemented at the sub-national level of administration. The impacts of climate change are experienced in a direct and immediate fashion, locally. Hence, sub-national institutions will have a more critical role to play. Legislators will especially be required to make climate change deliberations relevant to the local context by aligning policies with community needs

C. Climate finance is a growing opportunity

COP21 has witnessed a greater responsibility taken up by the private sector towards climate finance expenditure and forging of new partnerships. Climate finance pledges amounted to a total of USD 41 billion at the COP. Further, by 2020, an annual commitment of USD 100 billion per year is required to assist developing countries to successfully adapt and mitigate climate impacts. Finance is increasingly becoming an indispensable instrument towards tackling climate change and this provides legislators with an opportunity to evaluate financing options suitable to implement their climate initiatives

Legislators are critical to the climate change discourse and their role in climate action needs to be highlighted significantly now more than ever. The complexity lies in communicating the political relevance of climate change to legislative stakeholders. Connecting the Dots is a 2 year programme commissioned to Athena Infonomics by the British High Commission towards ‘equipping legislators to strengthen local action on low carbon development. The Programme focuses on equipping legislators with relevant information to make policy and legislative decisions that link with the national and international discourse on climate change.


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Uttara Narayan
Uttara is interested in energy and sustainability, along with understanding the socio-economic relevance of climate action, urban climate resilience and infrastructure, environmental governance and political ecology.