Governance for urban climate mitigation and adaptation

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In the context of just and sustainable cities, governance for urban climate mitigation and adaptation refers to the effort of public institutions to engage the civil society in policy making processes.

This page is part of an ongoing, open-ended online collaborative database, which collects relevant approaches that can be used by city-makers to tackle unsustainability and injustice in cities. It is based mainly on knowledge generated in EU-funded projects and touches on fast changing fields. As such, this page makes no claims of authoritative completeness and welcomes your suggestions.

General introduction to approach

Governance for urban climate mitigation and adaptation differs from any other climate policies for its methodology. They all develop governance tools and processes to involve a diverse group of stakeholders in climate mitigation and adaptation strategies. This ranges from involving citizens in decision-making processes to empower citizens to deal with adaptation techniques on the ground. The key message here is that citizens’ involvement and bottom-up approaches are an essential prerequisite to successfully face the challenge of climate change.

Shapes, sizes and applications

Collaborative scenario creation processes - for energy transitions (ENCI-LOWCARB 2009-2012): This approach focuses more on the process on how to achieve a transition to sustainable energy, rather than on the final energy scenarios. The process is divided into several steps which aim at transparently achieving the full inclusion of the civil society in taking climate change measures. This approach is based on the belief that citizens will become more supportive of an energy transition if they can concretely see their contribution in the final energy scenario.

Governance scheme for energy transition process (MILESECURE 2012-2015): This approach is based on the assumptions that civil society needs to be deeply involved in democratic decision making processes for climate actions to be successfully implemented and for energy transition to occur (read more at point 6).

Smart tool for governance towards floor-resilient cities (FLOODLABEL 2017-2020): This approach consists in informing homeowners on the flood risks they run. It empowers citizens with the knowledge to deal with individual adaptation in their houses.

Early warning service for urban pluvial floods for and by citizens and city authorities (FloodCitiSense 2017 - 2020): The approach offers an early warning service on urban pluvial flood for citizens and cities authorities to deal with the risks in the most optimal way. Citizens would have direct access to low-cost sensors and web-based technology to be aware of any pluvial flood danger. In this way, citizens are better prepared to respond to risks.

Relation to UrbanA themes: Cities, sustainability, and justice

Urban climate adaptation and mitigation policies have been developed to tackle urban issues, in particular the ones focused on risks adaptation. However, they are not exclusive to cities as they also tackle rural challenges. Justice is strongly addressed even though it is not the goal but rather a principle used to reach environmental sustainability. The approaches listed above set to achieve sustainability goals through just and inclusive procedures. In this sense, the link between sustainability and social justice lies in pursuing sustainability in the most inclusive, fair and just way.

Narrative of change

The set of policies above explicitly address climate change through adaptation (e.g. risk management) and mitigation (e.g. energy transition) strategies. Yet, the peculiarity of these governance policies is how they address the climate crisis and set to achieve change. To different degrees, they aim at a democratization of climate governance and the development of more inclusive processes. The underlying premise is that higher level of citizens’ participation in the development and implementation of mitigation and adaptation policies will result in more sustainable scenarios. At the same time, citizens would be more sympathetic of an energy transition in which they were directly involved as agents.

Transformative potential

Governance for urban climate mitigation and adaptation focused on citizens’ inclusion in the decision making process, represents an alternative to the dominant approach of top-down policy making. As such, it challenges governmental institutions which do not include citizens in politics. Similarly, the approaches above challenge the idea that private and profit oriented businesses should play a bigger role than the civil society in the development of climate adaptation and mitigation policies.

Processes of participation, deliberation and inclusion in policy and decision making, come with downsides. The research field of urban political ecology[1] has shown how participation can oftentimes be another tool for private and public institutions to legitimize their projects. Citizens’ have often found themselves to leave those “participation table” because they saw their participation as a way for investors to justify projects citizens’ were opposed to (Kaika 2017)[2]. Participation, in fact, should not be about asking citizens for an opinion over the details on how to structure a policy. On the opposite, participation should take place from the beginning – it should not only be about how to carry out an urban renewal project.

Illustration of approach

Governance scheme for energy transition process (MILESECURE): The project MILESECURE developed a governance scheme for energy transition processes that is based on three assumptions (1) social, political movements and grassroots are the central actors to push an energy transition process; (2) external governance can and should provide them with support; (3) Behaviour change and transformation in the personal dimension are necessary for the success of the transition. These three assumptions advocate for transdisciplinary approaches based on a variety of perspectives (i.e. environmental, geopolitical, lifestyle and cultural, political, technological, economic and combined) which interact at the institutional and behavioral level. The approach strongly addresses both justice and sustainability, as an energy transition would be based on deep forms of democratic politics. It does not only focus on the urban context, as rural households need to be involved in the energy transition. The approach challenges top-down decision-making as well as the dominant idea that technological development will lead us out of the ecological crisis. The approach advocates for a behavioral, interior and personal changes which would affect all individuals, and not just structures and/or technologies. Additionally, it addresses social and grassroots movements as the main protagonists needed for change. While the governmental institutions can support them, they should not be the main actors driving the energy transition.