Climate change and urban governance

A new politics?

Authored by: Harriet Bulkeley

Routledge International Handbook of Social and Environmental Change

Print publication date:  October  2013
Online publication date:  October  2013

Print ISBN: 9780415782791
eBook ISBN: 9780203814550
Adobe ISBN: 9781136707995


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Over the past two decades climate change, perhaps as no other contemporary environmental concern, has attracted sustained political attention. From the initial ambitions of the international community to create a legally binding agreement between nation states to the complex picture of climate governance occurring at multiple levels and between state and non-state actors that we currently witness, the issue has been one in which the intimate connections between processes of social and environmental change have been starkly illustrated. Perhaps owing to this realization, it is no longer possible to speak of climate change as if it were (merely) a global problem. Rather, recognizing the connection between social dynamics – of our modes of transportation, heating our homes, disposing of waste and so on – it has increasingly been realized that addressing climate change requires interventions at multiple scales of social action. This chapter focuses on one such site – the city. With estimates suggesting that between 70 and 80 per cent of anthropogenic emissions of global carbon dioxide emissions related to energy use may be attributed to urban areas (IEA 2008; Stern 2006), and significant concerns about the potential vulnerability of cities to the effects of climate change, it is perhaps not surprising that cities should have become the focus for significant climate governance efforts. In the first half of this chapter, the shifting regimes of urban climate governance are examined, and the argument is made that we have witnessed a shift from a period of municipal voluntarism to one that could be described as strategic urbanism. The second half of this chapter examines the current era of strategic urban climate governance in greater depth. Drawing on recent work, which suggests that globally connected cities are seeking to secure their resources and critical infrastructures in the face of climate change (Hodson and Marvin 2010; While et al. 2010), the chapter considers the role of governance innovations or experiments in cities as one means through which this new politics is emerging (see also Hoffman 2011). This analysis suggests that, while such discourses have increasing traction, other forms of political mobilization around the nexus of climate and resilience are emerging in cities, which contain the potential for alternative urban futures.

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