Nairobi, 23 March 2022 —Officials from national and local governments, civil society, academia, and the private sector from Malawi, Namibia and Zimbabwe are better equipped to make localised decisions to tackle climate change after participating in an event organised by UN-Habitat that discussed climate change law and research methodology.

Climate change is the defining issue of our time but it requires deliberate and sustained action from both state and non-state actors to implement the Paris Agreement. Urban law plays an important role in increasing cities' resilience as law defines urban forms where land, infrastructure and basic services can be built.

However, in many countries, especially in Africa, the laws, institutions, and policies governing urban planning in cities have unintended effects on their capacities to adapt to the changing climate.

UN-Habitat organised the 24 February “Urban Law for Resilient and Low Carbon Urban Development” webinar so that the 60-plus participants in Malawi, Namibia, and Zimbabwe can acquire a better understanding of this significant pressing issue. The Konrad-Adenauer-Stiftung (KAS) and the University of Michigan were the co-organisers.

The UN-Habitat Urban Law Module of the Law and Climate Change toolkit  is a global resource to assist countries in building the necessary legal frameworks for effective domestic implementation of the Paris Agreement and their Nationally Determined Contributions.  It was developed through a core partnership between the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC), UN Environment Programme (UNEP), and the Commonwealth Secretariat.

The Toolkit includes functionalities to search existing climate change-related legislation and undertake an assessment of a selected country’s legal framework to identify and address legislative gaps. It has been applied in several countries such as Bolivia, Iran, India and Colombia. For instance, in Colombia, the tool managed to clearly highlight the country’s highest environmental priorities, provide a set of recommendations for legal adjustments and best practices to improve national and local responsiveness to climate change, enhancing Colombia’s resilience and sustainability.

“Cities will be severely affected by the adverse impacts of climate change especially the 2.5 billion people expected to live in cities in the next three decades with majority of them being from Africa and Asia,” said Anne Amin, UN-Habitat’s Legal Specialist.

“Law is a powerful tool that can be used to direct spatial planning and design in a climate-friendly direction and promote positive outcomes by directing behaviour towards collectively agreed public objectives,” she added.

Professor Ana Paula Pimentel Walker of University of Michigan shared her experience of running a similar project with UN-Habitat in Colombia.

“It is important to have a participatory stakeholder consultation process across stakeholder segments (government, academic, legal practice, community, civil society, and private sector) to enable local and national dialogue to assist lawmakers in addressing the key issues. Consultation is also crucial to understand how law concretely translates on the ground and impacts on development, climate change and spatial planning,” she said.

One participant, Elize Ndahafa from Namibia, said the focus on climate and procedural justice is required to emphasise fair, transparent, and inclusive decision making while another participant from Zimbabwe, Dorothy Hove, reiterated the need for broad and meaningful involvement of community-based organizations including women-led organizations to reduce existing inequalities and increase climate action effectiveness.