PolycentriCities – different paths to ambitious climate cooperation among cities

09:00 Thursday 30 May


Room S1


Matteo Roggero (Germany) 1; Anastasiia Goggelf (Germany) 1; Klaus Eisenack (Germany) 1

1 - Humboldt-Universität zu Berlin


Subnational actors like cities and business networks are increasingly cooperating trans-nationally to address global challenges. The Global Covenant of Mayors for Climate and Energy (GCoM), for instance, encompasses more than 9000 member cities from all continents. Many of them have committed to targets or plans for climate action. Is this an example for successful polycentric climate governance, effectively achieving decarbonisation and climate resilience? Present research is still inconclusive in this respect. The question, in particular, is still open concerning the interplay between the actions of cities and those at the national level: can cities deliver on climate resilience and decarbonization irrespective of what states do?


We address this question through a crisp-set Qualitative Comparative Analysis (csQCA) of 69 cities, exploring the cities’ varying degree of ambition through both city-level and country-level conditions. Merging data from multiple sources (OECD, WHO, LLOYS, and some recent scientific publications), the analysis addresses the level of commitment of different C40 signatory cities through proxies that express (a.o.) their level of vulnerability and adaptive capacity, but also the commitment of their respective governments to environmental cooperation.


While showing multiple, different paths towards ambitious climate goals at city level, our preliminary findings also suggest that such paths differ in light of national governments’ commitment to international cooperation. Among C40 cities with high level of committment to climate action (setting targets, planning measures, and monitoring achievements), differences can be observed concerning the role of co-benefits and vulnerability in large cities from ‘dirty’ countries as opposed to small cities from ‘green’ ones. Furthermore, large cities from ‘dirty’ countries are also typical among signatories with an intermediate level of commitment (setting targets only), yet with a different profile in terms of vulnerability and adaptive capacity.


The interplay between country-level conditions and city-level ones confirms something scholars have increasingly pointed out: that a purely polycentric explanation of urban climate action is not sufficient. Instead, a multi-level (governance) approach to understanding climate action by cities is necessary, where ambitious local climate policies are the product of both local-level, and higher-level processes. More importantly, though, the analysis shows that cities with similar ambition can show very different characteristics, calling for more nuanced perspectives on urban climate action.