Establishment of 4 Climate Action Regional Offices – Dublin Metropolitan, East & Midlands, Atlantic Seaboard North, Atlantic Seaboard South
Climate change requires comprehensive responses at local and regional level which makes local government critical to the delivery of national and international policies. The establishment of four Climate Action Regional Offices (CAROs) as Centres of Excellence based on distinct geographic/topographic characteristics enables them to advise local authorities in their region on climate action strategies ensuring a coordinated response and assisting with the roll-out of national/regional policies at local level.
Climate change requires comprehensive responses at the local and regional level. Local government is therefore critical to the delivery of national and international policies. The local government sector’s statutory obligation is to rollout national and regional plans at local level and to formulate and adopt Adaptation and Mitigation Plans and implement actions. Additionally, the sector is required to deliver on actions arising from the Adaptation and Mitigation Plans of other State agencies. The sector is therefore an important agent in determining the success of Ireland’s climate change obligations.
Challenges for local government are unprecedented. Climate change impacts and measures to adapt do not respect local authority boundaries. Experience to date in responding to severe weather events has recognized the value and necessity for close engagement with adjacent local authorities both in the planning and response stages to such events.
Four CAROs that operate based on distinct geographic and topographic characteristics have been established in Ireland and each region is exposed to different climatic risks. Each CARO therefore has appropriate expertise to develop Regional Adaptation Strategies and advise local authorities in the region on the formulation and implementation of their individual Local Plans. Ensuring consistency across the various local authority plans regionally and dealing with cross-boundary issues within and across the regions will eventually lead to a new model of collaboration with an emphasis on good governance, leadership, strategic planning and societal learning.
CAROs are working to understand regional vulnerabilities and develop approaches that will foster resilience to future climate risks.
The regional offices will encourage economies of scale, avoid costly mistakes and drive preparedness for future climate risk. The approach will help develop a constituency of support within local authorities, amongst the public and at all levels of governance.
The CAROs will establish and facilitate regional authority and agency teams to lead the adaptation planning process and develop overarching regional adaptation strategies. Each CARO will share and exploit regional commonalities in relation to data, know-how and will create synergies between LAs and other state agencies, leading to informed and more cost-effective decision making.
The regional climate action office structure ensures cohesive local authority planning at a regional level, having due regard to local authority interdependencies, broader regional issues and effective and efficient opportunities to build Ireland’s resilience to extreme weather events and long-term climate change. There also exists a danger that ‘mal-adaptation’ could occur when neighbouring local authority plans are not aligned with each other. For example, actions around flood risk management must be in line with those proposed for an entire catchment.
Separately, the local government sector will have a greater ability to meet targets set out in the various agreements and legislation if planning is coordinated at a regional level based on similar geographic and topographic characteristics. It is envisaged that the initial focus of the regional teams would be the formulation of regional adaptation plans. However, competence in adaptation would only form one element of their role, which would be extended to expertise in mitigation, data collection and measurement of key performance indicators, identification of EU funding opportunities and EU project management. It is further envisaged that the teams would engage with local authorities in their region in a ‘train the trainer’ capacity and broadening climate change knowledge and expertise throughout the local government sector.
In addition, the establishment of CAROs is expected to reduce public spending costs associated with the multiplicity of inputs in each local authority.
CAROs also enable expertise to be extended firstly nationally and potentially on a European and international basis. Few examples of such an innovative methodological approach based on geography and topography exist at an EU level.
Each geographical area can become an expert in the particular climate risks which apply to their region and roll out such expertise to other regions. Examples of this could be that the Dublin area develops expertise in energy and the built environment, the midlands in fluvial and pluvial issues and the Atlantic areas in storm and coastal flooding, erosion/accretion etc. The sharing and exploitation of regional commonalities in data and knowledge exchange will create synergies and lead to more informed, cost-effective decision making. Leveraging links to third-level institutions and other organizations for EU-funded projects and exploring business opportunities for enterprise and local development in the future e.g. supporting SMEs developing tailored ‘Climate Services’ for use at regional level and beyond.
What Makes Your Project Innovative?
The methodology for establishing the four CAROs; Dublin Metropolitan, Eastern and Midlands, Atlantic Seaboard North, and Atlantic Seaboard South is innovative in that it is aligned to the prevailing exposure of different regions to different types of climate risk, which are largely determined by geographical and topographical factors. To this extent, it proposes to examine climate risks based on the predominant risk(s) in each region and allows for the development of risk-based climate assessments and in due course climate adaptation and mitigation strategies and plans. This methodology differs from other models that currently exist at a European level. The Irish model supports the advancement of adaptation and mitigation based on regions having common issues of interest.
This regional structure will ensure consistency across local authority plans in a region and deal with cross-boundary issues, something which has been somewhat lacking both at a national and European level to date.
What is the current status of your innovation?
The project is in its early stages of implementation with CAROs currently establishing regional teams who will work to understand regional vulnerabilities and develop approaches that will foster resilience to future climate risks. This approach will also allow for the exchange of appropriate approaches, information and experience. Similarly, the model has established national and regional climate change steering groups that are essential to allow for effective governance, co-ordination and coherence across all levels of decision making.
The CAROs have held several workshops and training events, involving experts from academia, representatives from the Department of Communications, Climate Action and Environment and local authority staff involved in preparing Climate Adaptation Plans to share and exploit regional commonalities in relation to data and knowledge. These events are creating synergies between authorities and lead to better informed and more cost-effective decision making.
Collaborations & Partnerships
Department of Communications, Climate Action and Environment provides funding for the regional office under an SLA. Also National Dialogue on Climate Action with EPA secretariat
National LA Climate Change Steering Group - strategic governance (diagram)
Environmental Protection Agency provides data and research reports for regional climate change planning
Local Government Management Agency - support and coordination
County and City Management Association represents local authorities nationally
Users, Stakeholders & Beneficiaries
Local authorities: eliminates duplication - financially efficient use of resources in formulating Adaptation Plans. Operationally, using local knowledge will result in efficiency in risk and option assessment and adaptation strategy and action development locally. Regional delivery will provide for shared learning and identification of cross-regional interdependent risks. Government - CAROs will help achieve legally binding EU climate change commitments. Citizen engagement - NDCA and CAROs.
Results, Outcomes & Impacts
The establishment of the regions based on geographic and topographic characteristics is the primary innovation achieved to-date and is a model in a European context. In addition, the establishment of CAROs has already resulted in several training workshops and tools/data to facilitate climate change adaptation planning in local authorities.
Measuring impacts: Qualitative feedback with climate action teams in each local authority and from feedback of training workshops have been positive. The success of the CAROs has not been quantitatively measured to-date as they were only established in 2018.
Future expectations: CAROs will aid local authorities to complete adaptation plans, due for finalisation in late 2019. Collaboration with 3rd level institutions is ongoing regarding training, scientific data and research opportunities relevant to each region.
Results: Not possible to provide results at this early stage.
Challenges and Failures
The regional structure based on topography/geography does not align with existing regional groupings for other national strategic planning functions (e.g. Regional Assemblies). Building collaboration where regional groupings are not aligned is therefore challenging. The CARO regional structure is however justified because it is risk-based, outcome focused and has received the support of Regional Assemblies.
Harnessing cross border linkage with Northern Ireland particularly in relation to adaptation plans will be a key challenge for CAROs.
While CAROs are responsible for providing advice and support to local authorities in developing climate action strategies, the advice must align with regional and national strategies, an aspect which has been challenging to-date. CAROs are fostering stakeholder collaborations through regional workshops and building contacts and relationships in public and private networks to encourage integrated planning at local, regional and national levels.
Conditions for Success
- Buy-in from senior management in local authorities, and management structures governing CAROs need to be aligned and effective in decision-making.
- Leadership of the CCMA and support of the LGMA
- Ensuring that CARO staff are fully trained and supported to fulfil their evolving roles over time involves a training programme that is flexible to future needs and climate change risks.
- Collaboration, knowledge exchange and effective communication between CAROs and with all stakeholders will be crucial in ensuring effective adaptation and mitigation planning at a regional level. Collaborative/participation model established
- A strategic approach is needed to ensure consistency in local adaptation plans taking account of interdependencies between and common challenges for local authorities in each region. This also ensures effective use of limited resources and funding. Cross-border collaboration with regions in Northern Ireland will ensure an all-island high level of climate change resilience.
CAROs are in their infancy and therefore have not been replicated elsewhere. Moreover, the unique nature of CAROs which are aligned with geography and topography associated with climate-risks means that their replication to other European states where geography and topography differ may be a worthy consideration in the future.
A key lesson from the establishment of the CAROs to-date is the decision to divide regions into geographically and topographically similar entities and is proposed as an innovative model for managing climate change strategies as well as rolling out national policy and pulling complex, cross-cutting themes together at regional level. Whilst five other models were proposed for CAROs, including i) Business As Usual Approach or aligning CAROs to either ii) regional assembly structures; iii) the Local Authority Water and Community Office (LAWCO) structure; iv) the Waste Enforcement Regional Local Authority (WERLA) structure; v) the Regional Waste Management Plan Office (RWMPO) structure, a detailed feasibility analysis demonstrated the division of regions based on geographical and topographical regions to be the most appropriate option based on dealing with climate risks. Examples of developing climate change strategies based on such models are limited in a European context and may therefore be useful to other European States interested in coordinated adaptation planning at local, regional and national levels.
Making maximum use of existing networks such as the Peoples' Participation Network will be crucial in terms of citizen engagement and effecting behavioural change.
Strategic alliances established with key 3rd level institutions and the Regional Assemblies which will be particularly important in terms of ensuring alignment with relevant EU policies and in carrying out stakeholder mapping at regional and national level. Designating a lead Regional Assembly for each CARO will overcome the mismatch in regional structures alignment.
CAROs have assisted the EPA and DCCAE in scoping the National Dialogue on Climate Action regional events.
CAROs will be pivotal in rolling out at local level of key government policies as reflected in the National Planning Framework and the Regional Spatial and Economic Strategies. Ensuring policy coherence between climate action and spatial planning is important.
The development of KPIs to measure performance against policy targets is a future objective.