The Urban Dimension of Climate Policies: Shaping the Policy Content of Adaptation and Mitigation Strategies in Cities

Mrs. Corinna Altenburg

Climate action in cities has received a lot of attention against the background of often stalled international climate negotiations in the past. Concerning climate mitigation, cities are referred to as being part of the problem because of higher emissions as well as part of the solution due to their potential to drive low-carbon innovations. Moreover, many urban agglomerations are highly vulnerable to climate-induced weather events, such as the heat island effect, storms or floodings, leading to increased relevance of climate adaptation.

Despite recent focus on urban climate policies, it remains insufficiently clear how the two cross-sectoral domains of climate change are locally framed, mainstreamed and subsequently governed. To what extent are climate issues integrated in urban policy fields, such as energy and transport and why is this typically less so the case in others, such as urban planning, health or consumer issues – even though measures in the latter might lead to more cost-efficient results for resilience and/or higher emission cuts? To better understand the shaping of policy content this paper explores how climate mitigation and adaptation strategies have evolved in two cities in the USA and in Germany – using Boston and Berlin as case studies. Both cities set themselves ambitious goals and have been active in climate actions for more than a decade, while the extent of mainstreaming in various urban policy fields has changed over time. Adopting a qualitative, comparative case-study design, differences as well as similarities between the US and German cities are made explicit. The study draws on local expert interviews (N=44), document analysis and on participatory observation.
Results of the case-studies indicate that the content of urban climate policies is a product of path-dependent discourses and deliberations between local policy-makers, various urban departments, interest groups, academics and consultants. Especially in Germany, urban strategies are also strongly influenced by European and national regulations, whereas the city and the state level play a much stronger role in the US due to volatile climate efforts on the federal level. In both cases, further mainstreaming of climate issues on multiple levels is strongly needed to achieve the urban climate goals.