SYMP 24-3
Social and political infrastructures of resilience: Cities as leaders in climate change governance?

Friday, August 9, 2013: 9:00 AM
Aditorium, Rm 1, Minneapolis Convention Center
Jennifer L. Rice, Geography, University of Georgia, Athens, GA
Background/Question/Methods: Cities have been firmly established as active sites of climate governance during the past decade. From voluntary greenhouse gas mitigation programs, to urban climate adaptation efforts, many municipalities and local governments in the United States are tackling the issue of climate change in the absence of federal leadership on the issue. Typically achieved through urban planning mechanisms related to land use and transportation, some scholars and policy-makers have argued that cities will lead the way to a more sustainable future. At the same time, critical research on environmental governance questions the degree to which local climate change programs represent new social or political infrastructures for dealing with the underlying problems of climate change. Using a "political ecology" approach, which emphasizes the role of social relations in the production of urban environments, this paper explores the role of cities in global climate policy. Drawing heavily on interviews, archives, and observation as part of a case study in Seattle, Washington, this paper articulates the successes and challenges of local political infrastructures for addressing global climate change. 

Results/Conclusions: The use of urban governance in climate change policy has resulted in several transformations of political arrangements with respect to climate change, including shifting political discourse to understand climate change as both a local and global issue, the use of multi-level governance to challenge inaction at national and international levels, and the integration of climate change into urban planning and design. Three key challenges also arise when examining whether or not cities can address the problem of climate change. First, the spatial and temporal complexity of greenhouse gas inventories and carbon-centered policies are a particular challenge for assessing and monitoring progress towards a city’s climate related goals. Second, the urban political economy of cities often means that local governments target their climate policies towards public infrastructure and private choices, rather than carbon intensive development. Third, political debate on climate change often centers on scientific and technical aspects of policy implementation, to the exclusion of more complex social and ethical debate about who is responsible and what knowledge is needed to address the problem of climate change. All of these successes and challenges of urban climate governance are considered with respect to the possibility for a future with more effective, equitable, and resilient political institutions for addressing climate change.