Sustainable and Resilient Cities: Challenges and Opportunities

Mainstreaming and Implementing Urban Climate Response Strategies: Results from the Urban Climate Change Governance Survey
Alex Aylett, Banting Postdoctoral Fellow, MIT

Urban responses to climate change are entering their third decade. In the face of the failure of international climate negotiations, pioneering cities like Portland, London, or Vancouver are held up as proof that cities may be the unlikely Davids that allow us to face down the Goliath of rising emissions and a rapidly changing climate.

But while cities may be responsible for between 45%-70% of global greenhouse gas emissions, important barriers to action remain. And, in fact, cities taking ambitious action remain the exception rather than the rule. Progress in terms of both mitigation and adaptation measures has yet to reach the levels needed to reduce the future severity of climate change and to protect populations and infrastructure from a more volatile climate.

This presentation will look some of the key barriers to action, as well as tactics for breaking institutional inertia, enabling effective collaboration across silos and sectors, and facilitating implementation. It is based on the results of the Urban Climate Change Governance Survey (UCGS) which is the first global survey to look specifically at these issues.

Conducted at MIT, in collaboration with ICLEI, the survey gathered information from hundreds of local governments around the world. Based on their feedback, the UCGS unpacks how different approaches to urban climate governance affect the way in which cities take action on climate change.
Cities are complex socio-technical systems. Public and private infrastructure of various kinds is built, operated, and maintained by multiple agencies and organizations. The rules and regulations of the organizations determine the shape of urban infrastructure, but at the same time the existing infrastructure re-enforces establish institutional structures and ways of doing business.

Urban responses to climate change, in other words, must produce changes in path-dependent systems that are both human and technical. While the technical aspects of urban sustainability are increasingly well understood, the institutional dimensions continue to pose serious challenges.

To address this, studies of urban responses to climate change are increasingly shifting from a focus on government to a focus on governance. There is a realization that the networks that connect multiple different players (municipal, community-based, and business) have a determining influence on how climate policies are designed and implemented. Whether good ideas make it into practice depends on the internal dynamics of municipal institutions, as well as the relationships that connect them to civil-society groups and local businesses. Engaging strategically with these relationships can be the key to successful climate policies and programs.
Drawing together many of the themes covered in this session, this presentation will start with a quick overview of the current state of urban climate change action. It will then look at:

-internal institutional structures that guide climate planning and implementation within local governments,
-the impact of external public and community-based partners on climate policy design and implementation,
-the key motivations and competing priorities that impact urban climate change policies and programs,
-and a selection of key challenges and enablers to effective local climate change action.

References:
-Berkhout (2002) “Technological regimes, path dependency and the environment” Global Environmental Change 12 p. 1–4
-Broto and Bulkeley (2013) “Maintaining Climate Change Experiments: Urban Political Ecology and the Everyday Reconfiguration of Urban Infrastructure.” International Journal of Urban and Regional Research Volume 37.6 November 2013 p. 1934–48

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