Polycentric pioneers? Explaining variations in governance models and their impacts on local climate change policy

Project Details


The science behind climate change has been established, and now the mitigation of climate change has become a political puzzle. We need to act quickly to mitigate the worst impacts of climate change, and so this project is designed to find and then share effective policy solutions that can be used across society.

Until very recently, attempted solutions for climate change were 'top down': for example, the United Nations organised annual conferences, and those countries responsible for producing the most greenhouse gases dominated these negotiations. However, this approach for dealing with climate change has failed to generate effective change quickly enough, and academics are looking for new governance solutions for this most pressing and significant of issues.

Increasingly, scholars argue that we need to be improving policy-making the local level, and empowering a wide range of people take a lead in responding to climate change. In particular, they argue we need 'polycentric governance'. Polycentric governance involves businesses, NGOs and government agencies working independently of each other, while also overlapping and coordinating with one another, as part of complex, multi-level networks. The outcome should be that no individual group or organisation is solely responsible for mitigating climate change, and so every 'node' in the network is encouraged to fulfil its part without fearing being exploited by others.

Yet, despite growing support amongst academics for polycentric governance, there is limited research into how these networks can be created, or whether they even have a positive impact in mitigating climate change. This research project seeks to address that lack of knowledge by pursuing two research objectives.

First, the project will explain how and why polycentric models are developed, by analysing three key factors: the role of the European Union; the impact of a country's national governance model, such as the presence of federalism; and a city's status as a country's capital or not. To do so, the project will map out the interconnecting networks of different groups and individuals within six city regions in Germany, Sweden and the UK. These three countries were similarly ambitious towards climate change in the early 2010s, and the six city regions have been carefully selected to be as similar as possible, while also showing differences in the three key factors under exploration.

Second, the project will then determine how and why these different city regions' polycentric practices affect the creation of ambitious climate change policies. This goal will be achieved by analysing the climate policy documents of a wide range of actors within each city region, as well as interviewing key individuals. Here, a useful extra outcome of the research will be the ability to explore how changes in the UK's political landscape during the Brexit negotiations have influenced local climate change policy too.

Having then analysed how and why different governance models shape the ambitiousness of local climate policy, guidance will be created for policy-makers across Western Europe. This advice will inform policy-makers about which types of governance initiatives are most effective for helping to create more ambitious climate policy. The advice will seek to improve climate policy at the local level, and it will be designed with multiple audiences in mind, depending on whether policy-makers and practitioners work at the local, national or European level. As a result, this project aims to help every level of governance to be more effective at mitigating climate change.

Finally, this project will also seek to inform and empower citizens about how they can effect change themselves, by sharing the results of the study via a wide range of media outlets, pitching a TV programme on the topic, and by giving several public lectures.

The project is funded through the ESRC New Investigator Scheme
Short titleR:HSG Tobin - New Investigator
Effective start/end date1/01/2031/12/22

UN Sustainable Development Goals

In 2015, UN member states agreed to 17 global Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) to end poverty, protect the planet and ensure prosperity for all. This project contributes towards the following SDG(s):

  • SDG 13 - Climate Action


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