Amujae Leader and Mayor of Freetown, Sierra Leone Yvonne Aki-Sawyerr contributed recently to multiple publications about how local action can address climate change, including the Brookings Institution’s Foresight Africa 2022 report and a position paper produced by research organization Samuel Hall.
Writing about the direct effect of a changing climate on city dwellers for Brookings, Ms. Aki-Sawyerr emphasized that solutions must address local needs and be looked at through the double lens of adaptation and mitigation, without prioritizing one approach over the other.
In her effort to transform the city, Ms. Aki-Sawyerr wrote, she was able to implement the #FreetownTheTreetown initiative—which aims to plant one million new trees—and introduce a climate-friendly public transportation scheme, thus delivering both adaptation and mitigation solutions at the local level.
She also called for reforms that give local authorities more control over the decisions that matter most in their regions and have a significant impact on the environment, such as land use and building regulations:
“Local leaders must be brought more substantively into the conversation, listened to, funded, and supported to act decisively. Nation-state organizations like the African Union can do more to create platforms for city-level authorities to contribute to wider conversations about climate change.”
Climate financing, Ms. Aki-Sawyerr added, should be channeled directly to local areas to avoid bottlenecks that “inhibit efforts to deliver fast solutions to tackle this existential threat in not just Freetown, but in many cities.”
In another contribution to the discussion on climate action at the local level, Ms. Aki-Sawyerr wrote in a Samuel Hall position paper on climate migration that local leaders are best placed to design effective climate policies and mobilize community action:
“Local authorities are on the frontline: they are closest to communities, have a better understanding of their needs and aspirations, and will be the first-responders to natural disasters provoked by climate change.”
She added that her experience at the head of Freetown’s Council taught her that municipal authorities can be more agile, responsive, and receptive. Across the world, these authorities have become “changemakers in the true sense of the word,” she wrote.