At the Rio Earth Summit in 1992, the United Nations agreed that the best starting point for the achievement of sustainable development is at the local level. In fact, two thirds of the 2500 action items of Agenda 21 relate to local councils. Each local authority has had to draw up its own Local Agenda 21 (LA21) strategy following discussion with its citizens about what they think is important for the area. The principle of sustainable development must form a central part of the strategy. LA21 regards sustainable development as a community issue, involving all sections of society, including community groups, businesses and ethnic minorities. Involvement of the whole society will give everyone the opportunity to participate and will generate a resource of enthusiasm, talent and expertise, which is vital to achieve sustainable development. Many local authorities have begun schemes of co-operation to allow them to exchange ideas about sustainable development. Groups of local authorities can join together to give themselves a louder voice to influence large companies.
An effective LA21 strategy requires a few core elements, which have been outlined by the Local Government Management Board (LGMB).
- A Vision Statement is required to identify the main sustainability issues and to set targets for action.
- An Action Plan puts the targets for action into practice, showing which organisations are going to take action, how they are going to achieve it, and over what time period.
- Implementation Mechanisms describe how actions will be made and how their success will be assessed.
These three points provide a good overview of the key elements of an LA21 strategy.
LA21 follows the principles of sustainable development and the goal of ensuring a better quality of life for everyone, both now and in the future. Like Agenda 21, it focuses on an economic, social and environmental agenda, and develops solutions to problems through encouraging better, more efficient practices. It realises that sustainable development is achievable, without sacrificing the quality of our lives. However, sustainable development can only be achieved if we learn to think more sustainably and adopt more sustainable behaviour.
As part of Local Agenda 21 in Liverpool, for example, the public and the city council have drawn up their own indicators to discover the success of sustainable development. These indicators include the number of parks and people living close to them, education standards and crime figures. In Cheshire, the local authority has set up a transport task group as part of its LA21. This aims to set up commuter plans to discourage people from travelling by car. Kirklees council, in West Yorkshire, has encouraged partnerships between themselves, businesses, charity groups and members of the public to help them to achieve a sustainable level of development.