Navigating the Grid – A Dialogical Approach to Multi-Level Climate Governance

To act on climate change we need to address the dialogue gap. Cooperation between actors and levels starts with dialogue. Experiences from the Climate Dialogue- (2013-15) and V-LED- (2015-19) project.

Last year, the world celebrated a huge success: 195 countries signed a new international climate agreement at the COP21 in Paris. Soon after, numerous publications, papers and panels “après Paris” set out to discuss the big question: how will the global commitment be translated into local climate action?

The Climate Grid (Lock)

Acting on climate change means dealing with complexity. Climate change is affecting people, places, businesses and sectors, driven by different objectives and interests, across multiple scales. Successful responses will have to bring together all relevant actors to act collectively. This means, above all, building bridges:

“If we do not achieve building a shared understanding across the borders of stakeholders and sectors working on different aspects of essentially the same issues, we will remain in the silos that work in isolation, being weaker, or even undermining each other’s efforts” (Minu Hemmati & Francois Rogers, 2015)

People with different professional backgrounds have to join forces to act on low emission development, climate change adaptation and disaster risk reduction for a response to be meaningful. Government departments need to think about solutions across sectors. National policies need to be translated into concrete changes at the local level. Local governments want to scale up grassroots’ solutions of citizens and community groups into higher-level political processes. Climate action thus needs to be coordinated vertically and horizontally. This can be seen as a complex grid of actors, levels and sectors that we need to “navigate” to find common solutions.

Currently many countries are facing coordination gaps, evident in difficulties of “localizing” national climate targets, as well as bottom-up integration of local climate initiatives into national frameworks. Different government levels suffer from conflicting or overlapping mandates and multiple climate instruments, plans and reporting demands.

How can we foster coordination and unlock synergies for climate action?

Climate Action Starts with Dialogue 

The Climate Dialogue and V-LED project both rest on a simple premise: as the basis of coordination, dialogue opens up potential for collective climate action. If you convene people and allow them to constructively spend time together, to listen to and interact with each other in a meaningful way, dialogue can help build trust, coordinate efforts, initiate learning, inspire innovation and generate a sense of ownership of solutions. Like this, inclusive dialogues can produce better coordination and more comprehensive strategies capable of addressing the collective climate challenge.

The “who”, the “what” and the “how”

So how can we create a space that allows effective dialogue on climate action? We believe, what matters is the “who”, the “what” and the “how”. Here are some insights that we have gained during the Climate Dialogue and V-LED project:

The “who”

...its important to:

  • Provide the convening power to bring all relevant parties to the table.
  • Talk with (and not about) the other levels: next to involving important representatives of groups, such as the South African Local Government Association (SALGA) in South Africa and the League of Governments in the Philippines, local government staff should also have the opportunity to speak for themselves.
  • Work with different perspectives and break silos, inviting “unusual actors”, i.e. activists who don’t usually engage with governmental processes, can bring new viewpoints into the conversation.  
  • Find a  ‘champion’, such as a designated climate manager, who will be a driver of coordination.

The “what”

...don't forget to:

  • Convene around a practical theme or process that is relevant for all, linking to the budget cycle and partnership opportunities.
  • Interweave with the existing day-to-day work, supporting i.e. local governments in their undertakings and in implementing their mandates, and tackle practical issues that might block or drive processes.

The “how” is essential to:

  • Create a “space” for actors to meet on “equal footing”, i.e. employing a language accessible to all, set principles to guarantee equal speaking time and participation.
  • Embed dialogue events in wider processes, i.e. a series of workshop or a multi-stakeholder consultation and training process.  
  • Use the discussion outcomes to work towards common agreements and concrete steps ahead.


Hemmati, M. & Rogers, F. (2015). Multi-stakeholder engagement and communication for sustainability: Beyond Sweet-Talk and Blanket Criticism – Towards Successful Implementation. CatalySD.

Jänicke, M. (2013). Accelerators of Global Energy Transition: Horizontal and Vertical Reinforcement in Multi-Level Climate Governance. Institute for Advanced Sustainability Studies (IASS) Potsdam.