Local governments on the path to climate action

Achieving societal goals in sustainability and climate change mitigation and adaptation largely depends on local action and implementation. The famous slogan ‘think globally, act locally’, embedded in Agenda 21, emphasizes the importance of thinking about global issues while acting locally to generate tangible impacts. Sustainable development goals, including good health and well-being; affordable and clean energy; industry, innovation and infrastructure; sustainable cities and communities; and climate action emerge from the efforts of many different actors and institutions, depending on their own capacities and potential. While much existing scholarly work has focused on the sustainability efforts of higher levels of government, including international negotiations, nation states, and large cities, this special issue focuses on local authorities, and especially smaller municipalities such as cities and towns, as well as provinces and districts in the world. rural areas in their quest for sustainability. A significant portion of the world’s population lives in such environments and they therefore represent an important, but often overlooked, sphere of sustainability and climate action. The special issue aims to bridge this gap by bringing together new perspectives from different disciplinary perspectives, geographical regions and arenas of action to shed light on specific challenges, but also on important opportunities for moving forward.

In doing so, the special issue will cover similarities, as well as differences, in the struggle for sustainability in various local political, socio-economic and environmental contexts. Compared to other levels of government or large cities, smaller local authorities face familiar challenges in different ways, including the impact of climate change, building and housing issues, mobility, health or digitalisation. For example, compared to metropolitan areas, lower population density and a different demographic structure translate into specific needs and challenges, which limit the transferability of lessons and approaches that may have been developed in large cities or at higher levels of government. We aim to unpack and systematize such aspects that emerge with a view to local micropolitics and actors, demographic developments, financial and resource issues, as well as capabilities, to name just a few examples. Building on these new insights, the special issue will also explore the local solution space emerging from specific opportunities in small local governments. While strict generalization is typically difficult in highly localized environments where context matters enormously, the special issue will identify common challenges and opportunities that enable learning about the realities of working towards sustainability and climate action in small local governments. The special issue will address the following questions, but is also open to submissions that go further:

  • Who is involved in governing sustainability and climate change at the local level? What are the relationships between different actors?
  • What are the mechanisms that facilitate climate and sustainability processes and/or policy innovation in smaller and medium-sized municipalities?
  • What strategies and policies do local actors use and how successful are they?
  • What (institutional/socio-economic/spatial) challenges are local authorities and non-governmental actors confronted with today?
  • How do local governments overcome the challenges, and what is the solution space in which they operate?

The special issue presents the work of both novice and experienced scientists and will generate insights not only for scientists, but also for practitioners and their support networks working in or for small local authorities. It will build on a committed and accepted panel at the National Convention of the German Political Science Association (GPSA) at the University of Göttingen in September 2024. We aim to put together a special author workshop after the convention to include additional contributions for a final selection of at least 10 articles.

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