Policy Paper: The Governance of Climate Strategies in Metropolitan Cities

Janina Walkenhorst, Tomás Vellani, Franziska Oehlert, Prof. Dr. Fabian Schuppert and Prof. Dr. Sabine Kuhlmann have written a new policy paper on the governance of climate strategies in metropolitan cities. Read below a summary or have a look at the whole paper here.

Summary of: Policy Paper: The Governance of Climate Strategies in Metropolitan Cities.

By Janina Walkenhorst, Tomás Vellani, Franziska Oehlert, Prof. Dr. Fabian Schuppert and Prof. Dr. Sabine Kuhlmann

This policy paper provides first insights into the current challenges regarding urban climate policy. This study aims to show which innovative governance processes – especially involving citizens – lead to more effective climate policy in metropolises. The two dimensions of governance and citizen participation are examined. Therefore, we are looking at two different stages within the political system. The input stage deals with citizen participation and other involved non-state actors in the decision-making process. The throughput as well as the output stages are especially important when looking at administrative structures and processes around policy creation and implementation.  Concerning the governance side, relations within the administration, as well as vertical and horizontal intergovernmental relations were looked at and recommendations derived from the interviews conducted in the city administrations of Berlin, Paris and Buenos Aires. Regarding the participation side, the main approaches and goals of citizen participation were identified. We clarify where tension conflicts arise in the objective of citizen participation and where the previous limits of citizen participation lie. As a result, we argue for a sensitive and transparent approach towards citizen participation formats. This information is intended to offer orientation to city administrations and policymakers in the revision of their climate action plans and their ongoing implementation or, more broadly, on how to devise and implement mitigation and adaptation policies.

But why were metropolitan cities chosen as the object of study, and why Berlin, Paris, and Buenos Aires? First, there is a broad consensus in research that cities are responsible for over 70 per cent of greenhouse gas emissions. Despite recognizing that cities are essential players in climate change mitigation and adaptation and the increasing willingness of cities to find solutions, urban governance remains an underdeveloped topic in the climate policy literature. The comparative study is based on 29 expert interviews conducted in 2022 with civil servants in the three studied cities. The selection of city cases is guided by a most different cases approach, according to which a considerable degree of variation between the cases regarding key explanatory variables (such as institutional structures, functional configurations, and participatory practices) is expected to provide valuable insights into relevant causal relations regarding the climate policy effectiveness (as our key dependent variable). At the same, the comparability of these cases is ensured since all selected cities are exposed to similar external pressures (e.g., heat waves) and have formulated similar goals (e.g., carbon neutrality by 2050 or even 2045, as in the case of Berlin). Furthermore, the three cities are part of the C40 network, which sets common standards for climate strategies in metropolitan cities, thus aligning their climate policies.

After looking at Berlin, Paris and Buenos Aires (as a representative of the global south), the case selection will be extended to include more cities in the global south and having another political system (autocratic) to get further and deeper insights into the influence of politico-administrative characteristics on the urban governance and participation processes.  Besides identifying good practices in climate policy-making for policymakers, the project aims to engage with key civil society stakeholders, political and administrative decision-makers, and private actors to present the project’s findings to a broader audience.

Challenges regarding Governance

We identified three challenges from a governance perspective.

  1. Relations within-administration

The existence of dedicated units for tackling climate change adaptation and mitigation overall has a positive effect on within-government coordination for the development and implementation of climate strategies. However, the special-purpose character of climate mitigation and adaptation administrative units can present challenges to accessing high spheres of political decision-making within the local government and, thus, complex coordination. Coordination mechanisms that gather political decision-makers, as well as a clear political direction, can mitigate coordination challenges.

  1. Vertical intergovernmental relations

Insufficient involvement of the submunicipal level (Bezirke) in the BEK elaboration and implementation process has been highlighted as a challenge in Berlin, leading to lower awareness and acceptance of the climate strategy among the submunicipal level. A more intensive, earlier involvement of the submunicipal level in the BEK elaboration process would be advisable. Both Paris and Buenos Aires exhibit a different approach of centralized city-level functional responsibilities for the elaboration and implementation of climate policy. Buenos Aires does not present a significant involvement of its submunicipal level (comunas). Paris has begun to involve the submunicipal level (arrondisements) more intensely in the re-elaboration of its climate strategy in 2022. However, functional responsibilities for climate policy remain at the central level while the arrondisements have been involved in activities related to the mobilization of citizens such as workshops and neighbourhood walks.

  1. Horizontal intergovernmental relations

Local climate action plans must consider surrounding subnational units. An extension of the BEK over Berlin borders, or the creation of a metropolitan strategy for climate change, as in the metropolitan area of Paris, would be meaningful steps in this direction. Fundamentally, cooperation in the Berlin-Brandenburg area is lacking beyond some specific policy fields. The large number of actors involved both at political and administrative levels (two Länder and a series of municipalities) makes coordination a complex affair. Coordination capacities, such as the Joint regional planning B-BB (Gemeinsame Landesplanung B-BB), must be strengthened. Political alignment between both Länder presents an opportunity for strengthening coordination units in general and in the field of climate change mitigation and adaptation in particular.

Challenges regarding Citizen Participation: Tensions between Legitimacy – Effectiveness – Social Acceptance 

 What exactly can citizen participation deliver in the context of climate policy? In our interviews, we could identify three main normative goals, which policy-makers commonly associate with citizen participation: increasing democratic legitimacy, effective climate measures and social acceptance. The original idea of citizen participation is that more citizen involvement increases democratic legitimacy, especially at the input level. In all observed cases, “social acceptance” of climate action measures is stated as the primary goal. The participation formats aim to achieve an overall social vision for societal transformation that citizens can identify with. At the same time, it is also about the acceptance of climate measures in general through the legitimacy of the participation process itself. Furthermore, it was important for the administrations to gain more insight into the preferences of citizens.

The above examples show that, especially in relation to climate policy, participation formats are confronted with different expectations and cannot always fully meet all of them. A pure instrumental understanding of citizen participation formats aiming at social acceptance could lead to the assumption that citizen participation is primarily a means of democratic whitewashing, whereas a pure targeting of effective measures does not inevitably require the involvement of citizens. Therefore, we argue for a more sensitive approach to the conflicting goals of citizen participation. Moreover, the problem of insufficient institutional linkage of the recommendations from the respective participation formats can be identified in the cases analyzed. Reasons for the limits of citizen participation are not only seen in the representative system, but also in ensuring the effectiveness as well as the feasibility of the measures. To avoid (political) dissatisfaction, it is therefore important to operate with appropriate transparent expectation management on the part of politics and administration. The extent of citizen consultation as well as who decides on the inclusion of recommendations afterwards should be both clearly communicated.

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