Commonwealth Local Government Forum


02 November 2021


The Commonwealth Local Government Forum made an early impression at the 26th Conference of the Parties – or Cop26 – which is taking place in Glasgow over the first two weeks of November.


CLGF and Secretary-General, Lucy Slack, have been working with partners, Cities Alliance and UK Research and Innovation, to deliver an event on day 2 of COP26, entitled: Urban Informality and Inequality: a global call for climate justice. The aim is to determine how best to serve the local authorities and communities on the frontline of climate change and, in particular, those living in informal settlements.  

The event brought together international speakers and audience members from local and city governments; central governments; research communities; and civil society to discuss climate justice and the importance of taking account of the cumulative risks created by conditions of urban informality, inequality and climate vulnerability in developing effective responses to climate change. An impressive panel of experts looked at the priorities for action and explored the role that researchers, civil society actors, city governments and policy-makers can play in strengthening local action for sustainable climate justice. You can listen to the event in full, using this link.


The keynote speech was delivered by Yvonne Aki-Sawyerr, Mayor of Freetown, Sierra Leone and CLGF member. This can be viewed separately, as it provides a very human view of the issues for consideration for a city local government, grappling with the realities of providing services to those people living in informal settlements, against a backdrop of the impact of climate change,


The following presentations, although from different perspectives, echoed and reinforced Mayor Aki-Sawyerr's comments in a variety of ways.


Data collection for adaptation

Rose Molokoane from the Federation of the Rural and Urban Poor, South Africa spoke of the importance of speaking directly with communities to gather data and be connected with cities and municipalities. There are many problems with planning, as often data about where informal communities have settled, or are moving, to is not available or accurate. Data collection is an opportunity for adaptation.

Role of cities

Rubbina Karruna from the Foreign, Commonwealth and Development Office, UK said there needed to be better mapping, especially for flooding. Those living in informal communities need to be part of the dialogue and invited to work in partnership to come up with solutions. Research on climate action must be supported to increase our understanding of urban inequality. It has been a struggle to get cities on the climate change agenda, but much progress has been made and Cities Day in the next week will be a great opportunity to emphasise the role of cities. The next step is how we can bring communities into the discussion.   

Upgrading not disrupting informal settlements 

David Dodman from the International Institute for Environment and Development, UK said that informality delivers many things that are vital for people living in cities and this cannot be delivered solely by governments. Many characteristics of informality are very positive for climate change: response time, resource efficiency and the circular economy. Informal settlements are already well practised in reusing and recycling; they undertake jobs with low barriers to entry. Low wages, however, mean it is very difficult to reduce vulnerability. He agreed with the Mayor on the importance of looking at upgrading, because so much harm can be done by disrupting informality. He said we need to learn from experiences, for example, how to provide security of tenure in cities; and the informal economy does not mean that issues like safety standard will be ignored, they just have to be less rigid in terms of implementation.

Innovation funding 

Harriet Bulkeley of Durham University, UK said that the cities agenda is growing, and COP is not the last hope; we must ensure we go forward and strengthen climate action at city level. The provision of services to the world’s poorest in our cities must not lock in an increase in carbon levels; we need to work with informality. Nature based solutions are required: reforestation, electric vehicles etc., but vast amounts of finance will not impact people today; hi-tec solutions will not lead to climate justice. We need to look to development finance, and small amounts of climate change finance. Why is innovation funding not addressing these issues? We need to think about what kinds of innovation we want to see and the potential impact of such innovation. How do we work with nature-based solutions? But we must also work with people, as well as nature, as it is people who live in nature.


Sonia Dias, a waste specialist from WIEGO, Brazil added that reusing and recycling were the easiest and most efficient ways to reduce emissions. They can also provide employment to millions in informal sectors in the developing world. In Mozambique, university and students are working with local people to collaborate on precise answers to the challenges presented by the climate to informal living.

Systematic change

Aromar Revi of the Institute for Human Settlements, India spoke of the particular need to give a voice to local communities on climate justice where the damage has directly impacted the poor, the vulnerable and the young. It is vital that local and regional governments commit to systematic change in the coming decades, when we will see the greatest social and economic changes. He talked about the scale of the work; 30 years after the climate summit in Rio de Janiero, there are five billion people in our cities, a third of which are living in slums. We know where we want to be in the future: in a 1.5% world, no poverty, no hunger, access to housing and health; and no one left behind. This will take partnerships – local, regional and national governments. He said we must strengthen engagement with researchers, policy makers and the community.

Integrated approach

Heike Henn from the Federal Ministry for Economic Cooperation and Development, Germany, stressed the challenges of expanding city populations and trying to take an integrated approach. He said that sustainable urban development requires coordination between sectors and different levels of government, together with academia, civil society and residents. Close coordination of all stakeholders is vital if solutions are to be successful; for example, in Namibia, the support for the deformalisation of land registration and use of public spaces. The app used in Free is an efficient use of hi tech and digitalisation to promote progress. His final point was about the need to support partners, such as CLGF and UCLG, to access municipal finance for sustainable construction. 

The reality of informality

Emilia Saiz from United Cities and Local Government said that we need a different type of financing, locally raised. We need to improve our know-how on how to do this and this is why we must make a strong case for innovative solutions, that our cities are more than capable of bringing to the discussion. She explained the important task for organisations like UCLG and CLGF in raising awareness and explaining what informality actually looks like. She asked people to imagine how it would be if we referred to these people as migrants, requiring equal services and help with settlement. Informal spaces are just places which have no services. The only way forward is to make resilience part of the solution for the problems we are facing.


Research around earthquakes is finding that there needs to be a shift to caring and solidarity to solve some of nature based solutions, but few are willing to fund these. She said we need to define the essential components and feed them into service delivery: a kind of renaturing. On financing, Ms Saiz said that, critical to this, we have to recognise the need to incorporate urban issues and ensure the engagement of regional and local governments. We need to emphasise that it is important to not just have big multi-nationals providing data to inform solutions, our sector must play a greater role and hold national governments to account. 

In summary

In summary, Dr Greg Munro of Cities Alliance said the session had confirmed the following points:

  • Finances must be leveraged from the North to the South
  • National and local governments must work together
  • Action must be taken in partnership with community members 
  • We cannot separate the responses from the people and we need to create a more caring society


CLGF Secretary-General Lucy Slack said: "There are many priorities for local government in dealing with climate action, for example, speaking directly to communities and involving them in choices and solutions. I believe, however, that research-gathering is of the utmost importance, with every action taken, having its firm roots in the type of evidence that can only be obtained through effective research and data gathering."




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