Urban Climate Governance

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 resource 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 this terminology, and like to coin their own terms.

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 urban climate governance research projects I am involved in. I am particularly interested to better understand whether often high normative expectations of these ‘novel ways’ of governing 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. The following three research projects give some insights in what my research in this area entails.

Joined-up governance for low-carbon cities (2017-2022)
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.

Joined-up governance has, however, been more theorized than empirically studied. Little is known about whether, to what extent, or in what ways joined-up governance ‘works’. This holds particularly in the area of low-carbon city development and transformation. This research project will address this major gap in our current understanding by evaluating and refining theorising on joined-up urban governance.

The project is theoretically innovative because it complements joined-up governance theorising with state-of-the-art insights from environmental governance and urban transformation studies. This adapts the lens provided by joined-up governance scholars to studying real-world city transformations. It is empirically innovative because of its systematic, critical analysis of joined-up urban governance practice in eight global cities in developed and rapidly developing economies. This will improve understanding of the strengths and weaknesses of this approach to governance for low-carbon city development and transformation around the globe. . 

The research program is funded through a five year VIDI Fellowship from the Netherlands Organisation for Scientific Research (grant number 016165322).  .

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.

The research program was based within the Regulatory Institutions Network at the Australian National University. It was funded through a three year DECRA Fellowship from the Australian Research Council (grant number DE15100511).

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.

The research project was based within the Regulatory Institutions Network at the Australian National University, and the Amsterdam Law School at the University of Amsterdam. It was funded through a four year VENI Fellowship from the Netherlands Organisation for Scientific Research (grant number 45111015).

Hungry for more?

If you wish to read more about this work, please visit my publications page. Also, between 2013 and 2016, I have actively blogged on this topic on the urban sustainability and resilience blog. I am currently less active on that blog, but add something new every so often.