Unravelling the virtues and (im)practicalities of innovative / experimental / collaborative / joined-up / voluntary / glocal / etc. urban climate governance

Over the last decade or so, I have had the opportunity to study how governments, citizens, and firms in 30 cities around the world are involved in governing the transition to research efficient, low-carbon, and climate resilient cities in ‘novel ways’. When I use the wording ‘novel ways’ I refer to the broader trend of addressing pressing societal problems through interventions other than the traditional force of law.

These ‘novel ways’ of urban climate governance are captured in a wide range of terms. Sometimes scholars talk about ‘innovative urban governance’ or the ‘new urban governance’. Other times they use more colourful terminology such as ‘experimental urban governance’ or ‘joined-up urban governance’. Scholars (myself included) have a tendency to be very critical about the exact use and meaning of terminology such as ‘experimental’ or ‘joined-up’.

Whilst I acknowledge that the details of all these ‘novel ways’ are relevant and point to considerably different governance approaches, mechanisms, and instruments, I feel that we (scholars) should not lose ourselves too much in polemics and concept coining. To me, the different terms and concepts revolve around understanding the broader trend of moving away from traditional government-led interventions that were developed by somewhat distant bureaucrats, implemented in a top-down manner, and enforced through punitive measures.

That is, in a nutshell, what I try to achieve with the research projects I am involved in. I am particularly interested to better understand whether often high normative expectations of these ‘novel ways’ are realised in the cities that I study. What are the practicalities and impracticalities of these ‘novel ways’ when the rubber hits the ground?

This explains why I look at different ‘novel ways’ for improved urban sustainability and resilience, and not focus on one specific concept or term only.

Joined-up governance for low-carbon cities (2017-2021)
Focus: Amsterdam, Cape Town, Hong Kong, London, Mexico City, Nairobi, Sao Paulo, and Vancouver

Cities have the potential to substantially contribute to climate change mitigation. Seeking to realise this potential city governments are increasingly collaborating directly with firms and citizens in urban governance. This approach to governance has become known as joined-up governance. It is progressively recognised as a promising means of addressing complex urban challenges, including the necessary transition to low-carbon cities.

Collaborative Governance for Low-Carbon and Resilient Cities (2015-2018)
Focus: Mumbai, Seoul, Shanghai, Taipei, and Tokyo

There is a pressing need to improve the resource sustainability of cities and their resilience to hazards. Increasingly, governments seek to achieve such improvement by engaging directly with businesses and citizens. Whilst this collaborative city governance holds a promise for transforming resource use and resilience of cities, little is known about its performance benefits and effectiveness. The project addresses this knowledge gap through a systematic empirical analysis of a series of collaborations in four global cities. Results will help to refine theories of collaborative governance, and will provide policymakers and practitioners with lessons on how to improve sustainability and resilience of cities in Australia and elsewhere.

Voluntary Programs for Low-Carbon Building and City Transformations (2012-2016)
Focus: Adelaide, Amsterdam, Berlin, Boston, Brisbane, Chicago, London, Melbourne, Mumbai, New York, New Delhi, Rotterdam, San Francisco, Singapore, Stuttgart, and Sydney

The Voluntary Environmental Governance project investigates an emerging trend of governance arrangements that aim to improve their participants' environmental performance without the traditional force of law. It examines the conditions for the successful implementation of such arrangements and questions how they relate to and interact with existing environmental legislation.