Initiatives: Local action
for sustainable development

Agenda 21 at local level

The role of local communities in implementing sustainable development

Anne DuPasquier, Federal Office for Spatial Development (ARE)

In 2007 15 Swiss cantons (provincial states) officially committed themselves to following a path of sustainable development, and 150 communes (local communities) joined them, representing close to 30 percent of the population. In the State of Geneva a dozen communes have an Agenda 21* or similar programme, among them the city of Geneva. Though the trend so far is mainly urban, the smallest communes also have their role to play. In addition, more and more small communities are joining together to tackle regional development from the perspective of sustainability.

What does sustainable development mean for a commune? After a stage of analysing strengths and weaknesses, the commune - in collaboration with its various partners and involving the population - sets its guiding lines and objectives for the future. It then defines a plan of action and implements it according to its priorities, resources available and opportunities.

The federal authorities encourage the launch of such initiatives in the largest possible number of cantons, regions and communes, guaranteeing their quality and permanence. For this it offers logistical, methodological and financial support. A Forum for Sustainable Development has been created for the cantons and towns as a platform for information and exchange. A database contains details of the cantonal and communal initiatives. Indicator systems are made available to follow the evolution of a community, along with tools which enable the evaluation of projects according to the criteria of sustainable development. A support programme also finances activities that meet the sustainable development criteria if they are innovative and can serve as models for others.

Finally, the long-term aim of sustainable development projects is to integrate its principles into all domains of policy. To be effective, the initiative must be anchored in the day-to-day management of a commune and be coordinated with other public policies.

* Agenda 21, adopted at the UN Conference on Environment and Development, sets out a programme of action for sustainable development at all levels.

Anne DuPasquier is Deputy Head of the Sustainable Development Section of ARE.

Responsible consumers

The Geneva Climate Action Partnership has joined with the local cantonal authorities to translate 24 leaflets on «how to be a responsible consumer» into English for the benefit of the estimated 40,000 anglophones in the Geneva region. The Cantonal Service of Sustainable Development produced the leaflets as practical tools for readers to think about improving their behavior as consumers. The most recent deals with electronic gadgets such as mobile phones and digital cameras.