More than 900 French local authorities have committed in a local Agenda 21 for the 1990s. Half of them were engaged before the Grenelle process in 2007 and have already finished their first action plan. Today, two generations – and maybe three - of local Agenda 21 coexist in France:
The Agenda 21 are not static processes; they can evolve over time according to continuous improvement. This ability to self-transform is a proof of the actors’ maturity and their appropriation of the process Agenda 21. But some issues remain! Large and long-term mobilization, but also evaluation and participation remain key methodological issues.
French local Agenda 21 emphasize the participation of citizens, in accordance with chapter 28 of Action 21. They use or complete tools which pre-existed by environmental laws: public debate before the construction of big infrastructures projects, Conseils de quartiers (law Démocratie de proximité in 1992), public surveys for the elaboration of planning documents (law Solidarité et renouvellement urbain in 2002)…
But these processes try to renew and deepen the citizen’s participation and diversify the tools: surveys in mailboxes or on websites, thematic workshops, meetings open to the public, steering committees like “Forum Agenda 21”… They are useful to present and discuss the diagnosis, define the priorities for the strategy, imagine and precise the actions of the future plan, evaluate the action plan.
Despite this diversity and the investment of the people, the citizen’s participation remains weak and unsatisfying. Some elected people still refuse to commit to a local Agenda 21 because they are not convinced by the input of the citizen’s debate… Young, active or poor people do not express well. Few people come to the meetings. The difference between information (passive participation) and active participation (co-construction) is not clear, and not effective. The local authorities have to show a better accountability to citizens and the effective results of the participation have to be valorized.
Most of the time, representatives of local businesses do not participate to the Agenda 21, because they are not asked or because they are not interested.
The Local Agenda 21 has fundamentally changed the conduct of local politics and the appearance of the territories concerned by this process.
On the one hand, they used to upgrade local public action by introducing transversality, consultation and evaluation.
Participation and evaluation have been the most visible changes in the local public action for a few years. These principles were stated by the environmental laws in the 1990s, but the Agenda 21 brought some tools to concretize these new practices: common rules for citizen’s participation such as the Charter of participation in Echirolles, work in project mode, definition of indicators for each action, annual or triennial reports and their presentation to the Assembly… Agenda 21 are vectors of cooperation between different levels of local authorities by creating networks on the territory (municipalities and their groupments or their departments or their region), such as Conseil départemental des Agenda 21 de Gironde. They give meaning to the territory and to public service. The common work on local Agenda 21 strengthen the relationship between elected officials, residents and local stakeholders around a real project, it enhances the local public action through dialogue and partnerships, it provides more consistency and clarity in policies. According to Jean-Claude Antonini, Mayor of Angers, "Agenda 21 (...) considers the cohesion of the territory by integrating services to the population, environmental issues (water, energy, noise, green space ... ), housing (residential history, quality of the buildings ...) transportation, diversity (social and functional) and consultation. "
Transversality between policies is conditioned by new cooperations between sectorial directions. These cooperations were encouraged by the Agenda 21 and developed in the tranverse composition of the steering committees or technical committees.
On the other hand, they have helped to transform the real territory. The efforts made by the local authorities during their Agenda 21 have already shown all efficiency: 165 211 tonnes of CO2 saved in 2007 in Clermont-Ferrand after installing renewable energy equipment on 17 public buildings, 192 799 m3 of water and 417 000 euros saved through the implementation of smartgrid in Le Havre, 300 long-term unemployed hired for the construction of the tramway in Grenoble, 350 children fed with organic and local products in Pamiers (Ariège) ... The deployment of soft modes of transport alternative in inner cities has led to their renovation and conversion to pedestrian areas in many French cities.
The city of Clermont-Ferrand has an active policy since the early 1990s in favor of environmental protection and quality of life. This commitment was reflected in the Aalborg Charter (1997), the plan "Energy +" (2002) and the Agenda 21 awarded by the “Rubans du développement durable” and the label “Agenda 21 France” delivered by the Ministry of SD. Updated a first time in 2007, the Agenda 21 should be revised in 2011, in line with the Climate Action Plan, the responsible purchasing policy, the multi-year investment plan and the new obligations coming from Grenelle.