The Challenges of Delivering Climate Change Policy at the Sub-National Level

By Pearce, Graham; Cooper, Stuart | The Town Planning Review, July 1, 2013 | Go to article overview

The Challenges of Delivering Climate Change Policy at the Sub-National Level


Pearce, Graham, Cooper, Stuart, The Town Planning Review


It is asserted that sub-national government has a key role in responding to climate change. Drawing on a case study of metropolitan authorities in the English Midlands, this article examines the contribution of local authorities and their partners in delivering climate change targets agreed upon with central government. Rather than achieving fundamental change, actions were hampered by competing priorities, fragmented responsibilities, limited resources and difficulties in measuring outcomes. Nevertheless, in light of public expenditure cuts and the current coalition government's commitment to free councils from central targets, gaining support for local climate change actions will become even more challenging.

Keywords: climate change, sub-national government, downscaled targets, barriers to action, localism

Responses to the climate change challenge have become increasingly embedded in international agreements and state policies. At the same time, there has been growing recognition that since climate change is a collective action problem, it is best addressed through multiple government scales (Hoffman, 2011; Ostrom, 2009). This reflects the burgeoning literature, which suggests that nation states can no longer manage policy in isolation, and responsibilities and resources should be directed downwards to the sub-national level, where activities can be implemented through collaboration across a spectrum of actors (see, for example, Bevir and Richards, 2009; Jessop, 2004; Koppenjan and Klijn, 2004; Brenner, 2003). In short, it is contended that sub-national government can make a distinct contribution in assisting central government to meet its international climate change obligations in mitigating greenhouse emissions and adapting to climate impacts (Eadson, 2011; Corfee-Morlot et al., 2009; Gupta et al., 2007; Betsill and Bulkeley, 2006). Significantly, the United Kingdom Climate Change Programme (HM Government, 2006), which, for the first time, set out policies to deliver the United Kingdom's (UK) international and national commitments to reducing greenhouse gases, expressly focused on the 'unique and critical role' of local authorities in reducing CO2. Similarly, the current UK conservative-liberal democrat government has acknowledged: 'the pivotal role councils have in tackling climate change' (DECC, 2011, 3). Not only can they reduce their own CO2 emissions, but, working with other public and private stakeholders, sub-national authorities can foster partnerships to address climate change (see Alber and Kern, 2008; Ansell and Gash, 2008).

Notwithstanding the substantial roles that local authorities and other stakeholders might be expected to play in efforts to tackle climate change, there has been relatively little systematic research into the individual and collective impacts of sub-national climate change policies or how national policy goals are converted into local activities (Schreurs, 2008). A recent analysis of carbon emission strategies throughout the UK cities concluded that: 'Despite the importance of city-level action in the UK, we still know very little about the bigger picture of how cities across the UK are responding to the low carbon and climate change agendas' (Royal Institution of Chartered Surveyors, 2011, 27). This paper seeks to help address this gap by reporting on a case study undertaken during 2010 covering four metropolitan authorities, which together comprise the 'Black Country' in the English Midlands. It gathered views on delivering climate change policies locally from individuals engaged in tackling climate change through four Local Strategic Partnerships (LSPs), which were tasked with delivering three-year Local Area Agreements (LAAs) negotiated in 2008 between central government and local authorities. For the first time, these agreements included mandatory indicators and agreed targets relating to local progress in the reduction of CO2 emissions and adaptation to climate change. …

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