Local Authority Responses to Climate Change in South Africa: The Challenges of Transboundary Governance

Hayley Leck, David Simon

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Recent progress and innovation are testament to the willingness of municipal authorities to address climate change. However, urban regions worldwide exhibit an immense diversity of conditions, capabilities and responses to the challenges of changing climatic conditions. While separated by politico-administrative borders, adjacent municipalities within such regions are connected through biophysical, politico-economic, and social systems likely to be reconfigured under changing climatic/environmental conditions. Yet, to date, politico-administrative borders have largely determined the parameters of local government climate change adaptation strategies, with insufficient attention to the role of inter-municipal collaboration, especially between neighbouring rural, peri-urban and urban municipalities, for co-ordinating such policies and interventions. Within a multi-level governance framework, this paper considers the recent evolution of climate agendas in the eThekwini (formerly Durban City Council) metropolitan municipality and the adjacent Ugu (predominantly rural) district municipality on the south coast of KwaZulu-Natal province (KZN), South Africa, focusing particularly on cross-border collaboration within the greater city region. The challenges were investigated by means of 53 in-depth, semi-structured interviews with municipal, regional and local authority association staff in November 2009, March 2012, and August 2017. Our core argument is that weak inter-municipal collaboration, particularly between urban, peri-urban and rural areas within metropolitan and functional city regions, has been a significant impediment to realizing transformative adaptation within such regions. The experiences of these two contiguous yet contrasting municipalities represent a microcosm of the dramatic discontinuities and inequalities on all variables within adjacent urban metropolitan and rural contexts in South Africa and beyond. Despite promising recent signs, the challenges of inter-municipal collaborative action are therefore formidable.
Original languageEnglish
Article number2542
Pages (from-to)1-18
Number of pages18
Issue number7
Publication statusPublished - 19 Jul 2018


  • climate change adaptation; local authorities; cross boundary governance; collaborative governance

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