This article considers the rapid evolution and increased prominence of the C40 Cities Climate Change Leadership Group and its commitment to the development of a new style of thinking, and possibly a new urban construct. This new construct is not yet understood, perhaps due to the fact that it is an inchoate ideal being forged through the work of the network for the future of our cities. Such an assessment is well situated within the political economy of urban sustainability, with its ability to set up an interrogative frame to identify the progressive and regressive possibilities that the C40 signals. This article argues that the C40 cities propose nothing new in their ideas, providing a reinforcement of neoliberal urbanism. We need to deviate from technocratic and “econocratic” approaches toward pathways that emphasize the democratic content of socio-environmental development.
The urban age has arrived: humans now mostly live in cities, especially in the rapidly growing metropolises of the Global South. Global urbanization continues apace: a projected three-quarters of the earth’s population of nearly 10 billion people will be living in cities by 2050.1 The scale of urbanization, and its human enclosure, continues to grow, but so also does the intensity of city processes and life. Brenner captures this dual dimensionality of “planetary urbanization” as a vastly scaled series of “implosions/explosions.” Although the scale and significance of contemporaneity have been emphasized, especially by recent heralds of an “urban age,”2 Brenner reminds us of the early (1970s) recognition by Lefebvre of a “planetarization of the urban.”3 Lefebvre was perhaps the first to recognize the ubiquity of the urban as a leading feature of late industrial capitalism—a realization prefigured in the classical sociology of Simmel, Marx, and Weber that established cities as the setting for modern social life and its contemplation.
Lefebvre argued that humanity was on course for “complete urbanization,” a critical future point that will catalyze many dangerous environmental and social contradictions at the global and species scales. Contemporary concern by the UN, OECD, and the World Bank marks growing institutional awareness of the dangers of this journey. These organizations collectively argue that a new framework for global governance for human survival must be forged immediately,4 and that city governance and planning are pivotal to the development of sustainable cities.5 At the same time, and perhaps contradicting advocacy for stronger progressive urban governance, narrower assertions of city power and governmentality are evident. Urban centrality is being exercised by cities deploying, individually and collectively, the power they have accrued over time to evade and dislodge state and other forms of territorial power. This has led Saskia Sassen to conjecture that “our geopolitical future … will be determined in good part through 20 or so strategic worldwide urban networks.”6 Ulrich Beck agrees, having recently cast “global cities as important actors in relation to climate change,” seeing them as cosmopolitan “players” that are mindful of the need for collective species action in the face of epochal threat.
World climate change politics were initiated in the early 1990s with a focus on the development of the international response regime.7 NGOs, scientists, and corporate actors began considering how to influence the emergence and development of new institutions and rules designed to create an international regime.8 By the 2000s the scope of governance had moved beyond the state. Multilevel climate change governance emerged, reflecting responses both from subnational authorities at the state and city levels and from private actors. This response led to new forms of transnational organization and networking, in the shape of a vertical lattice across multiple levels of governance and a horizontal “blending” of public and private spheres.9 Bulkeley et al. also note that the “governance of climate change now takes a seemingly bewildering array of forms: carbon markets, certification standards, voluntary workplace schemes, emissions registries, carbon labeling, urban planning codes, and so on.”10 This rise of transnational governance as a solution to climate change is therefore embodied within a broader shift of multilevel governance, supported by evolving alignments to the prevailing structural conditions. In this shift to multilevel governance, actors import practices/forms from other fields, such as Public-Private Partnerships, credit-rating agencies, and standards setting. The structural conditions, in this case the dominance of neoliberalism as a specific form of capitalism, contain a number of features—in particular, the shift to markets, through the creation of a carbon economy, as a means of governance—that have favored the emergence of transnational governance.11
Bulkeley et al. show that transnational climate change governance (TCCG) “is pervasive and has significant political, economic and environmental impacts. TCCG initiatives exercise authority over individuals, companies and even states and intergovernmental organizations (IGOs); collectively, they command a significant share of the resources that are dedicated to the climate issue.”12 Bulkeley et al. suggest that to understand the contemporary politics of climate change requires an understanding of TCCG: “What sets these initiatives apart from other forms of transnational relations is how they not only influence others, but also how they directly intervene in the governing of global affairs in ways that defy conventional understandings of international relations.”13 From an urban perspective, cities have realized that they can pursue governance in their own right. “In other words, transnational governance became—or, in some cases, was finally recognised as—a central component of world politics.”14
Transnational climate urban governance has been observed by Bulkeley et al. as moving into their second phase of development, strategic urbanism,15 from municipal voluntarism.16 The C40 Cities Climate Leadership Group (C40) is the most representative of this new, strategic urbanism phase of transnational urban governance. The C40 incorporates the most globally influential and economically powerful mayors of global megacities, including former and current mayors of London Ken Livingstone and Boris Johnson, and former and current mayors of New York Michael Bloomberg and Bill de Blasio; economically and politically powerful cities have emerged as a network to adopt a more visible political stance. Today the network encompasses 66 members, up from an original 18 members in 2005, who act in concert to ameliorate climate impacts on their cities, often without reference to state or national governments, and largely unremarked by their national governments.17 The C40 cities have “taken a leadership role on the world stage…. Our cities are informing and shifting the global conversation on climate change because they have shown themselves to be uniquely capable of devising and implementing climate change solutions—both reducing emissions and increasing urban resilience.”18 Urban centrality is therefore of considerable significance in the debate about governance and strategy when considering human responses to climate change, and is thus an emerging area of scholarly inquiry.19 As Beck and Sassen20 insist, world city leaders are critical, even central, to the formation and communication of climate transitions. They ask questions such as these: How significant is their role, and that of city administrations in general? And are there risks of counter-reaction and regression in the new urban centrality?
This prospective article offers a first-stage analytic framework to interrogate urban climate leadership, providing some early critical insights into the positions and attitudes of coalitions like the C40 through empirical analyses of the shared assumptions and intents expressed in network reports and policy statements. This is by nature, however, an exploratory study that uses the rather limited published materials of the C40 to begin the process of testing some political economic questions about its assumptions and potential. The empirical section of the article is constrained by the lack of availability of public documents that articulate the C40’s aims, positioning, and understanding of climate transition strategies. But even with these limited materials, an interrogation of C40’s climate change construct is urgently warranted, in consideration of the C40 claim that they have “taken a leadership role on the world stage.”21 This study will indicate how the politics of neoliberal urbanism can then be studied in further empirical detail.
We provide a three-part framework, starting with, an interrogative framework situated within the political economy of urban climate transitions. Political economy provides an approach to analyze the tensions and contradictions within the differing constructs and positions of climate transitions. I then articulate the varying approaches to climate transitions, including neoliberal urbanism and its numerous variants: entrepreneurial city, smart city, and compact city. In contrast, more marginalized new progressive thought is expressed through critical social science, in tropes such as the post-carbon city.22 We then apply the entry point and lens of urban political ecology (UPE) to the analysis and critique of the empirical materials. From a UPE perspective, this article seeks to understand how global environmental governance intersects with climate city networks and how social relations and environmental conditions in cities affect global politics. We draw on the UPE literature to investigate the emergence of exclusive global city climate networks and their implications for creating just socio-ecological conditions in cities.
Next, the article reviews two key recently released reports: Climate Action in Megacities: C40 Cities Baseline and Opportunities, Version 2.0, by the C40 in collaboration with ARUP,23 and Wealthier, Healthier Cities, prepared by the Carbon Disclosure Project (CDP).24 This review provides the underpinnings for the final section, a political economic interrogation of climate transition to reveal and interrogate the main concepts in the C40 reports, including their progressive and regressive possibilities. This analysis reveals the C40’s position on political economy and climate transitions, and critiques their ideals from a position within UPE.
Political Economy of Cities and Climate Change, Particularly in the C40
Recent analysis has depicted transnational urban climate change governance in two phases: municipal voluntarism25 and strategic urbanism.26 The shift between the phases occurred in the early 2000s. The first phase was based centrally on mitigation, mainly within municipal operations. New mechanisms were starting to evolve, such as carbon accounting and the deployment of novel technologies, within a context of growing political awareness on the issue of climate change.27 Some key transnational municipal networks in this first phase were ICLEI’s Cities for Climate Protection (CCP) program, the Climate Alliance, and Energy Cities. In the 2000s, municipal voluntarism evolved into a second phase of urban climate transnational governance—strategic urbanism—represented primarily by networks of economically and politically powerful global cities, which is evident from the networks’ more visible political stance. This new form of climate change politics is driven by networks of city governments, particularly mayoral leadership, motivated primarily by the lack of climate mitigation action nationally and internationally.
The prime example is the C40, driven by the most globally influential and economically powerful mayors leading the most globally influential cities. The influential A. T. Kearney Global Cities Index,28 which ranks global geopolitical influence, in 2012 listed cities in the following order: first New York, then London, Paris, Tokyo, Hong Kong, Los Angeles, Seoul, Brussels, Washington, DC, Singapore, Sydney, Vienna, and Beijing. Of these top-ranking world cities, only Brussels and Vienna do not belong to the C40. The C40 members claim a leadership role on the world stage; they are an important part of the solution for climate change and are uniquely capable of both mitigation and adaptation.29 The C40 represents a new construct in the geopolitical sphere. The report from the C40 Summit, Climate Action in Megacities: C40 Cities Baseline and Opportunities, states that “C40 cities deliver climate action. What happens in C40 cities matters to the whole world. In the continuing absence of tangible outcomes from inter-governmental efforts to reduce greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions, it is increasingly significant that mayors of the world’s greatest cities are taking concrete actions that demonstrate that preventing catastrophic climate change is possible.”30 For example, in 2007 Lord Mayor Clover Moore of Sydney urged her fellow elected members to participate in their first C40 Summit: “Participation in this Summit could significantly accelerate Sydney’s capacity to respond effectively and responsibly to climate change through developing partnerships and sharing information, leading by example, acting as a climate change champion and applying bipartisan political pressure on all levels of government to meet the climate change challenge.”31 Sydney attributes the following benefits their involvement to in C40: access to experts, international recognition of work, and the ability to accelerate action to respond effectively.
Other examples of mayoral leadership include the US Climate Protection Agreement, which currently has 1,060 city signatories, and the European Covenant of Mayors, created in 2009, with more than 6,143 signatories.32
Strategic urbanism is characterized by the linking of climate change response to an economic issue. Key to this characterization is the linking of multilevel government partnerships: blending of public and private authority,33 and a renewed interest in the ways in which both public and private actors might create new forms of low-carbon cities.34 This renewed interest has two aspects. First, key objectives of these strategic urbanism city networks include information sharing, accounting, certification, and reinforcing governance within audit culture and audit society.35 This culture involves constant measurement, monitoring, and publicizing within cities seeking to internalize new rules and norms. While these cities operate independently, they also participate within the dominant governance regime: neoliberalism.36
Second, carbon markets and finance have been described as critical in reshaping the urban governance landscape: “Greenhouse gas emission trading (ET) systems have become the centrepiece of climate change policy at multiple scales.”37 Some suggest that some cities view carbon markets as a means of securing resources and advancing their local agendas through local emission reduction projects.38 The mixed and increasingly interconnected carbon markets are forming what is commonly referred to as the “carbon economy,” which is “a historically unparalleled experiment in marketised environmental governance.”39
Within both the “world cities and urban governance literatures, the focus has been primarily economic, with relative neglect of ecological questions.”40 In urban and regional strategies, the ecological question has been responded to through concepts, such as sustainable development, smart growth, compact cities, and ecological modernization. These concepts are framed within neoliberal accumulation strategies,41 and collectively can be described as neoliberal urbanism.42 The capacity of this response to deliver on economic, ecological, and social equity goals is being challenged by a series of wider geopolitical pressures. Resource constraints, such as the peaking of oil and gas, water accessibility, and the environmental problems created by waste and pollution, are creating new pressures on cities to which they must effectively respond. This has provoked Hodson and Marvin on numerous occasions to express their concern about whether key world cities and associated exclusive networks will contribute to escalating what they term “urban eco-entrepreneurialism.” Urban economies within this framework must necessarily be “intertwined with the (constrained) resources and the securing of resources in a context of constraint and carbon emission reduction,” the consequence of which is that the “economy and ecology become increasingly strategically interrelated.”43 Moreover, key organizing principles, such as carbon neutrality, zero waste, and energy independence, will be understood and used in ways that will promote self-sufficiency and the subsequent rescaling of resource flows to “underpin new forms of growth in relation to particular places.”44
Hodson and Marvin note that the world’s most powerful cities are vigorously responding to the new and growing pressures of climate change and resource constraints with an insular accumulation strategy to safeguard the resources that underpin their economies, power, and lifestyles. These conditions require consideration of the political effects of the C40 and other world city networks’ further application of neoliberal vocabulary that might potentially further imperil a “world at risk.”45 We should reconsider “what it means for a particular class of world cities and associated coalitions of interests to become active in the (re-)organisation of planetary ecological resources and what it means to attempt to secure ‘their’ ecological reproduction both in respect of particular world cities and networks of world cities.” Who benefits, and who loses out? Hodson and Marvin explicitly state that the time has come to “act now and ask critical and informed questions about this emerging style of urbanism.”46
Given the evolution of the C40 network, there appears to be a commitment to the development of a new style of thinking, possibly a new urban construct. This new construct is not yet understood, perhaps due to the fact that it is an inchoate ideal for the future of cities that is being forged through the work of the network. The extent to which this is a conscious, explicit ideal whose wider relation to and meaning for the task of climate transition can be interrogated and assessed is yet unknown. Such an assessment is well situated within the political economy of urban sustainability, with its ability to set up an interrogative frame to identify the key themes in the C40’s latest reports, including whether they are positioned within progressive and regressive possibilities. An empirical documentation and analysis within this frame can begin to illuminate these nascent urban networks and their potential ramifications. UPE is the analytical lens for the present investigation of the C40 construct of climate transitions, focusing on its critical or uncritical application of climate transition constructions to determine how the construct is situated within conventional neoliberal urbanisms, such as urban eco-entrepreneurial urbanism, an “eco-economic race,”47 or more critical interpretations of a climate transition construct situated within UPE.
UPE is a strongly emerging international project encompassing ideas of justice, nature, and urban life. Its progressive thinking about the urban environment provides a focus on the conflicts and tensions of the unequal distribution of all forms of wealth that is particularly characteristic of neoliberal urbanism.48 The UPE approach, influenced by the political economy tradition, arose through the increasing interest in environmental issues in the social sciences from the 1980s.49
Political ecology’s provides a framework for understanding human-environmental relations by illuminating the interrelations of politics and power, structures, and discourses with the environment. Political ecology provides a link between political economy and global environmental politics.50 As Gleeson has articulated, “A new political ecology reconceives the globe as a mosaic of lifeworlds, especially city regions, which see natural balance as a premise, not ambition, of human economy. Sufficiency replaces profusion as a political economic impulse.”51 Ecological reproduction needs to be strategically incorporated within urban policy debates, particularly if the threats from climate change are to be adequately addressed. Hodson and Marvin framed the critical question, by asking the “extent to which these strategies are really preparatory and anticipatory of global ecological constraints or whether they actually defer environmental costs in time or displace them in space as cities attempt to build the divisible securitization of resources.”52
The three heuristic themes that guide the following assessment are the continuous pursuit of economic growth for the sake of human progress; the use of technology in addressing climate transitions; and using the built form to deliver climate transitions.53 What follows is a critical review of the sustainability and/or climate change response strategies detailed in two key recent reports. These reports have been chosen because they represent the latest, but also the most detailed, articulations of C40 climate transitions. First, a report developed in collaboration with ARUP, Climate Action in Megacities: C40 Cities Baseline and Opportunities, Version 2.0, released by the C40 at their C40 Summit in February 2014. This is the second installment of data collected by the C40 from its members, described by Michael Bloomberg, president of the C40 board of directors, as creating “a roadmap” that will facilitate knowledge transfer and collaboration on climate action among megacities.54 This roadmap is also “a first-of-its-kind catalogue of mayoral powers to better understand both future opportunities and current efforts.”55
The second empirical resource is a report developed in collaboration with the Carbon Disclosure Project (CDP), Wealthier, Healthier Cities, released in 2013. This report provides some initial insight into the urban governance framework of which the climate transitions are understood and positioned. The key topic considered within the report is stated on its front cover: How Climate Change Action Is Giving Us Wealthier, Healthier Cities.
Wealthier, Healthier Cities
First let us consider the report Wealthier, Healthier Cities, written by the CDP in collaboration with C40 and AECOM. The opening of the report positions climate transitions within the framework of how “climate change action by local governments around the world is creating wealthier, healthier cities.”56 Cities that engage in climate change “as a result, are saving money, creating more attractive investment environments, and enabling citizens to live healthier lives.”57
The three key findings, excerpted below from the CDP, further emphasize the focus on efficiency, economic investment, and healthier lives:
Climate change action is making cities leaner and richer. One out of every two actions that cities are taking to reduce emissions in their municipal operations is focused on efficiency. Cities report over $40 million in savings per year from tackling climate change.
Emissions reduction activities by cities are pro-business. 62% of actions that cities are taking to reduce GHG emissions at the city-wide level have the potential to attract new business investment and grow the economy. Furthermore, 91% of cities believe that working to combat climate change will lead to economic opportunities for their cities. Inaction could be costly—98% of cities say that climate change poses physical risks to their cities, including impacts to business.
Reducing emissions and adapting to climate change makes for healthier citizens. More than half of reporting cities (55%) are undertaking emissions reduction actions that promote walking and cycling, which directly and indirectly lead to improved public health. And over three-quarters of cities’ reported adaptation actions will protect human health from the negative effects of climate change.58
The CDP report presents a governance framework for climate transitions within existing parameters of economic development. The report indicates that economic growth is considered to be an unchallenged goal. The emphasis is on the economic efficiencies, investment opportunities, and benefits of healthier cities from reducing emissions and the associated promotion of walking and cycling. These points are again reflected in the key section titles of the report: Driving Efficiency and Cost Savings, Attracting New Business and Investment, and Building Healthier Cities. Equality and social justice are not mentioned, however.
To further reiterate the presence of the governance framework within economic development, the report describes suggested motivations to invest in climate transitions: “City governments also anticipate that these improvements will make their cities better places to invest. 91% of cities believe that working to combat climate change will result in economic opportunities for their cities. The most frequently cited opportunity is the development of new businesses in the city—63% of cities report that they anticipate investment from businesses in new industries.” Nearly every reporting city understood that climate change action created economic opportunities—a powerful rebuke to constituencies that associate climate action with economic harm. The motivations to act on climate change are situated within the context of creative economic opportunity through business development. Concurring with this argument, Dan Probst, chairman of Energy and Sustainability Services at Jones Lang LaSalle, suggests that improving the environment and driving business growth are now compatible goals, because “recent advances in technology that make buildings smarter and more efficient are both good for the environment and equally good for business.”59
The report concludes by raising the need for further research on the cumulative effect of this climate change action in cities, and then raising two further questions for investigation: “Does climate change action by a city lead to better health outcomes over the long term? Are cities with advanced climate change action efforts more likely to grow their economies faster?”60 The second question, in particular, has implications for whether key world city networks will contribute to escalating urban eco-entrepreneurialism.
Climate Action in Megacities: C40 Cities Baseline and Opportunities, Version 2.0
This report provides some insights into the strategies for climate transitions that have been implemented by the C40 cities. This is because the purpose of the report is to collate the number of “actions” undertaken to improve urban resilience to climate change within the C40 cities. The survey measured the “actions” that each city had taken with regard to seven different sectors (transport, energy efficiency, energy supply, adaptation and water, waste management, finance and economic development, and sustainable communities). The results from the survey show that in the two years since C40 had last surveyed its members, the number of actions they collectively undertook had nearly doubled, to over 8,000.61 The C40 claims that these results demonstrate definitively that C40 mayors are leading the effort of tackling climate action. It also claims that the statistics illustrate “the massive continuing opportunity to scale up emissions reductions and improve resilience.”62
The key urban policy innovations featured in the report include smart cites, compact cities, and green growth. Adaptation and mitigation are both focuses and features of the report. More than eight in ten of the member cities have allocated funds to create/implement climate change adaptation plans,63 as well as mitigation strategies involving energy efficiency, energy supply, and transport.
An urban governance framework situated within green economic development is clearly emerging. The Finance and Economic Development section describes green development as a leading arena for future climate action, represented by a significant number of actions, 62 percent, in early development, in either the “proposed” or the “pilot phase.”64 Green manufacturing and support for clean technology clusters are the most commonly reported actions. Actions that increase the size of urban green economies are encouraged through city support, research, and private-sector partnering due to the co-location of clean technology companies.65 The levers giving impetus to actions supporting clean technology include promoting green industry clusters. Policy settings for green manufacturing encourage loans, fiscal incentives, multilateral/bilateral climate funds, revolving funds, clean development mechanisms and joint implementation, bonds, city carbon trading scheme, and green mortgages.66
Smart cities and compact cities are strong themes incorporated into the concept of sustainable communities within the subcategory of sustainable community development. Sustainable community development could be implemented through actions to encourage “compact city” and eco-district development strategies, promote low-carbon industries, support brownfield redevelopment, and foster transit-oriented development. Progress in developing the compact city is measured against the following achievements: “new buildings developed within the compact city framework; minimum density requirements; strategic adaptation of current unused buildings for new purposes; density bonus for new developments; smaller, more efficient offices (office planning).”67 Information communications technology, another element in the concept of a sustainable community, is expected to be delivered through smart interventions and Internet connectivity, with a focus on actions that employ information technology to increase the efficiency and effectiveness of public transport, energy supply and use, and emergency response systems.68 Emerging urban agriculture, such as vertical farming and rooftop gardening, is “not yet scaled significantly in the majority of cities.”69 Performance of C40 cities is monitored by the following food-related targets: the reduction of food miles, or encouragement of local food production, resilience in terms of food sufficiency, or a self-sufficiency target for food.70
Actions are reported in terms of the themes of transport, energy efficiency, energy supply, waste, and water. The top five private transport actions include improving pedestrian crossings, constructing dedicated cycle lanes, organizing cycle hire/share programs, building pedestrian plazas, and putting up cycle signage. These results in the survey indicate that the cities are focusing on cycling and walking, with a total of 49 percent of reported actions being related to increasing walking and cycling. This is more than any other action area in private transport.71 The top five public transport actions include increasing routes, frequencies, and night services; upgrading buses to increase accessibility; providing more bus shelters; establishing priority lanes; and switching buses to hybrid engines. Two thirds of mass transit actions recorded in the survey are focused on bus services.72
The policy efficacy of energy efficiency, city energy supply, and transport is particularly hard to assess. The report does not communicate the impact of actions with regard to each theme—for example, the reduction of greenhouse gas emissions due to the implementation of energy efficiency actions. The list of actions appears to involve tweaking the current system involving such actions as audits, advice, benchmarking, and certification, rather than taking a great leap into a green future, such as through the wholesale refurbishment of city buildings to bring them to a near-zero carbon standard. A switch to natural gas represents a small reduction in emissions now, but a lock-in of old-world technology in the longer term. A more meaningful adjustment would be to switch to tri-generation systems (tri-gen), solar thermal air conditioning, and electric vehicles powered by renewable energy as an add-on to new metro and light rail systems. Anaerobic digestion systems could also be a useful way of dealing with sewage and other waste (e.g., through conversion to biofuels), but pushing beyond “pilot phase” trials is essential immediately.
This assessment is based on limited published materials and provides an indication of the C40’s current position on the political economy of climate transitions. The conclusions that can be drawn from the reports are tentative, but nevertheless very important, because they begin the process of exposing the possibilities of a dynamic, fast-evolving global framework. This research agenda warrants urgent consideration; climate change governance is no longer limited to international or national forums; it is now a critical urban issue. Therefore, we urgently need to understand the climate transitions possible from the C40.
At the start of this article we outlined two key political economic questions that can serve to focus this critique: How significant is the role of climate networks in world climate governance, and in turn that of city administrations in general? Also, are there risks of counter-reaction and regression in the new urban centrality? The C40’s key constructs will now be critiqued through the lens of UPE.
The C40 supports an urban governance framework for the delivery of climate transition that is positioned within a dominant narrative of economic development. This framework is articulated to some degree through the key attributes that emerged from the analysis: driving efficiency and cost savings, attracting new business and investment, and building healthier cities. Climate change transitions and business growth are considered compatible goals, “good for the environment and equally good for business.” A key motivation for climate change action is the pursuit of economic opportunity. The shift to markets, through the creation of a carbon economy, is strongly formed as a means of urban governance. Moreover, the financial and economic sectors within the C40 global cities are emerging as a leading driver of future climate action. Market-based solutions, such as city emission trading, clean development mechanisms, fiscal incentives, bonds, and green mortgages are all noted as key policy levers to build a green economy. Additionally, the blending of public and private is quite explicit, with both of the latest key reports released by the C40 being undertaken as collaborations with private consultancies, ARUP and CDP.
The climate transition strategies that are predominant in the Climate Action in Megacities report include contemporary technocratic forms (especially smart city and compact city concepts) and an evolving financial and economic sector focusing on such concepts as green growth and further marketization of governance, prevalent in such solutions to environmental problems as carbon city emission trading. Further primary investigation, for example through key informant interviews of leading actors, will be required to determine the extent of the impacts from these actions, particularly in the areas of energy efficiency, city energy supply, and transport. A first analysis shows little indication of transformative thinking that would lead to a greener future in the sectors of transport, energy efficiency, and city energy supply. This report is politically and therefore institutionally important; Bloomberg describes it as the “roadmap” to urban climate action. It is therefore a potentially very potent document that could frame the climate transitions of global megacities. Cities that are part of the C40 will internalize the rules and norms framed within this “roadmap,” and these rules and norms will be constantly reinforced through continuous measurement, monitoring, and publicizing by network members.
The C40 promotes technocratic, economically positioned programs as the conceptual framework to combat climate change, and the report provides little indication of the importance of equity and justice in these transitions. A further empirical investigation will be required to determine whether the C40 are escalating urban entrepreneurialism to strategically secure their ecological reproduction. The reviewed documents shine very little light on the motivation behind the behavior of the C40 global cities network, and whether individual cities are acting to increase competition and position themselves to their advantage as post-carbon urban enclaves.
Balanced against these “econocratic” tendencies is suggestive evidence that the C40 network may be legitimizing and sustaining a strategic focus on climate action generally among its member cities. The City of Sydney has stated: “The objectives of the C40 align closely with the Sustainable Sydney 2030 plan to become a sustainable global city, and one of the world’s leading green cities.”73 This indicates that the C40 is not simply a report-producing exercise, and member cities are using the network to sustain their climate action. To obtain a deeper underlying motivation, we urge further empirical examination of key actors’ attitudes and roles. Qualitative data should be collected, through a combination of further document analysis as new reports are released, and semistructured interviews with professional experts, world city leaders, researchers, policy makers, and activists.74
This preliminary study of the C40 climate leadership network confirms Swyngedouw’s assertion that political questions about the differing socio-environmental trajectories assumed in climate governance frameworks require serious consideration. 75 As Albrechts (2010) has stated, the transformation to sustainable urban futures, including low-carbon city forms, will require a massive progression of beliefs, behaviors, and institutional practices that as yet is far from evident at the global scale. Interrogations of “progressive” trajectories such as that of the C40 must therefore be a priority for critical urban science.
Critical urbanists have continuously argued against the assertion of technocratic fixes to problems sourced in political economic dysfunction, including the global sustainability crisis that is darkening the dawn of an urban age.76 Technocratic urbanism betrays an unquestioning belief in the role and importance of economics—that is, through green growth and the utilization of market mechanisms such as taxes.77 The dominance of market ideology has long been critiqued for its inherent tendency to produce and rationalize environmental and social inequalities.78 The strategies highlighted in the reviewed C40 reports show early indications of manifest inadequacy in terms of the changes in attitude and behavior that will be needed to address a climate-imperiled future. The strategies being adopted are familiar and nonthreatening when they need to be radical and inspiring; unimaginative when they need to be visionary; and exclusive when they need to revivify the failing cause of human solidarity.79
From the perspective of UPE, it could be contended that the C40 has made limited progress in developing strategies that will deliver inclusive environmental production and equitable distribution of social power. UPE asserts that this action must set a course of deep transformation of the political economy and institutional purpose—including of planning, which remains somewhat paralyzed in the face of epochal shifts that have undermined its original purpose and capacities.80 The C40 focus on reformative and not transformative urban action evinces what Stilwell (1980, 11) earlier critically termed “spatial ideology.” As the tradition of critical spatial science has long maintained and demonstrated, there are no simple spatial fixes for structural problems.81 The “growth fetish” of contemporary political economy further entrenches uneven social development and overproduction and increases environmental threat.82 Nothing yet in the advocacy and actions of the C40 shows awareness of the dire situation in which we find ourselves physically and socially in this century. The enthusiasm of Beck and Sassen for urban leagues as means to break the political economic deadlocks that characterize a “world at risk” seems as yet premature, if not misplaced.
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Gleeson 2014, 134.
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CDP 2013, 15.
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C40 2014, 120.
C40 2014, 8.
C40 2014, 175.
C40 2014, 177.
C40 2014, 203.
C40 2014, 197.
C40 2014, 200.
C40 2014, 215.
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