Transnational Municipal Networks in Climate Politics: From
Global Governance to Global Politics
NOAH J. TOLY
Wheaton College, Illinois, USA
In a multilevel and multicentric governance arena, pathways and mechanisms of influence are
several and non-state capacities for technical leadership and norm entrepreneurship prove more
significant than is the case within a strictly multilateral framework. Among actors with such
capacities are municipalities, which multiply their influence through horizontal and vertical
relationships. Transnational municipal networks present opportunities for both intermunicipal
dialogue and the pooling of global influence, highlighting the presence and influence of the city
in the world. This paper examines the collective response of some cities to climate change,
exploring the place of cities in global environmental politics through analysis of two
transnational municipal networks: the International Council of Local Environmental Initiatives’
Cities for Climate Protection and the International Solar Cities Initiative. The article addresses
the following questions: How might municipal efforts toward a climate-stable future be
significant to the larger issue of ecological justice in global environmental politics? Might cities
be able to redefine the rules of the game and take a stand on ‘inefficient’ norms? After briefly
accounting for the relationship between cities and the world, the article characterizes technical
leadership as a legitimizing force of and in global environmental governance and norm
entrepreneurship as a potential source of contestation and subversion in global environmental
politics. The paper describes what cities are globalizing, in terms of pollution, environmental
degradation, and risk, and in terms of management and politics. Finally, the article explores the
possibility that emerging horizontal and vertical relationships, intermunicipal relationships, and
relationships between cities or networks of cities and other scales of governance potentiate
legitimizing roles for cities in climate governance and subversive roles in climate politics.
En un a ´mbito de gobierno multinivel y multice ´ntrico, son varias las trayectorias y los mecanismos
de influencia y las capacidades no estatales para el liderazgo y la norma empresarial resultan ser
ma ´ssignificativasque enelcasodeunmarcoestrictamentemultilateral. Entrelosactoresdetales
Correspondence Address: Noah J. Toly, Assistant Professor of Politics and International Relations, Director of Urban
Studies, Wheaton College, Wheaton, IL 60187, USA. Email: firstname.lastname@example.org
A Chinese version of this article’s abstract is available online at: www.informaworld.com/rglo
ISSN 1474-7731 Print/ISSN 1474-774X Online/08/030341–16 # 2008 Taylor & Francis
September 2008, Vol. 5, No. 3, pp. 341–356
capacidades se encuentran los municipios, los cuales multiplican su influencia a trave ´s de
relaciones horizontales y verticales. Las redes municipales trasnacionales presentan
oportunidades al dia ´logo intermunicipal y al fondo comu ´n de influencia global, destacando la
presencia e influencia de la ciudad en el mundo. Este artı ´culo examina la respuesta colectiva de
algunas ciudades al cambio del clima, analizando el lugar que le corresponde a las ciudades
dentro de la polı ´tica global del medio ambiente, a trave ´s del ana ´lisis de dos redes municipales
trasnacionales: El Consejo Internacional de Ciudades con Iniciativas Locales para la
Proteccio ´n del Clima y la Iniciativa Solar de Ciudades Internacionales. El artı ´culo aborda las
siguientes cuestiones: ¿De que ´ manera los esfuerzos del poder municipal con miras hacia un
futuro de estabilidad del clima, pueden ser significativos con relacio ´n a la cuestio ´n ma ´s amplia
de justicia ecolo ´gica dentro de la polı ´tica global del medio ambiente? ¿Tendrı ´an las ciudades la
capacidad de redefinir las reglas del juego y adoptar una postura firme ante las normas
‘ineficaces’? Despue ´s de explicar brevemente la relacio ´n entre las ciudades y el mundo, el
artı ´culo caracteriza al liderazgo te ´cnico como una fuerza legitimizadora dentro de la autoridad
global del medio ambiente y la norma empresarial, y como fuente potencial de protesta y
subversio ´n en la polı ´tica global del medio ambiente. El documento describe que ´ ciudades se
esta ´n globalizando, en te ´rminos de contaminacio ´n, degradacio ´n del medio ambiente y el riesgo y
en te ´rminos de administracio ´n y polı ´tica. Finalmente, el artı ´culo analiza la posibilidad de que
las relaciones horizontales y verticales, intermunicipales y entre ciudades o redes de ciudades y
otras escalas de gobierno incipientes, aumentan el efecto de legitimar las funciones a las
ciudades dentro del clima gubernamental y las funciones subversivas dentro del clima polı ´tico.
Globalization involves a range of causes and consequences, processes and actors, spaces and
places. Among actors are municipalities, and among places are cities, loci of centripetal and cen-
trifugal forces. The centripetal aspect—the ways in which forces from outside the city come to
bear upon the city—is an oft-studied phenomenon. The centrifugal aspect—the ways in which
cities generate forces that bear upon the extra-urban world—is somewhat less carefully studied.
While a vast literature is focused on the question, ‘What is globalization doing to cities?’,
the flipside of that question—‘What are cities doing to globalization?’ or ‘What are cities
globalizing?’—is slightly less often engaged.
This paper engages with such matters by exploring the place of cities in global environmental
politics and, more specifically, the collective response of some cities to climate change. In the
article, I address the following questions: How might municipal efforts toward a climate-
stable future be significant to the larger issue of ecological justice in global environmental poli-
tics? Might cities be able to redefine the rules of the game and take a stand on ‘inefficient’
norms? Might cities, as Roger Keil asks, find ‘a strategy to solve ecological problems [that]
leads potentially to a democratization of society, economy, and the state’? (1995). Might
creative municipal redeployment of ‘the physics of globalization’ (Appadurai, 2002) potentiate
a subversive1redeployment of the politics of globalization? Examining the role of transnational
municipal networks in global climate stabilization strategies, this paper serves as a wedge with
which to approach the larger questions of the presence and influence of cities in the world.
I first briefly account for the relationship between cities and the world in an age of globaliza-
tion. Following a characterization of technical leadership as a legitimizing force of and in global
environmental governance and norm entrepreneurship as a potential source of contestation and
subversion in global environmental politics, I examine the urban contribution to climate change
342 N. J. Toly
and local measures to promote a climate-stable future, addressing the question of what cities are
globalizing—both in terms of pollution, environmental degradation, and risk, and in terms of
politics. I explore the possibility that emerging horizontal and vertical relationships intermuni-
cipal relationships, and relationships between cities or networks of cities and other scales of
governance, potentiate roles for cities in both climate governance and global environmental
Cities and the World in an Age of Globalization
Urban studies have historically examined the causes and consequences of the urban condition as
well as the origins and implications of urban issues. For these reasons, they have long been
regarded as reflecting relatively provincial concerns and for some time fell out of vogue in pol-
itical studies,2especially with the intensification of globalization and the increasing importance
of transnational non-state and non-governmental organizations. If these forces and organizations
were claimed by some to eclipse the nation state, how much more so could they be regarded as
eclipsing the city?
To an extent, extra-governmental forces can rightly be regarded as having diluted municipal
capacity for local governance, just as they have diluted federal capacity for national governance.
Both the city and the nation state contend with what Arjun Appadurai describes as ‘a crisis of
cated, more or less, by private and civil society sectors at various scales. This may seem the
ily, if not only, individuals—individual people, agencies, organizations, or departments—in the
city.Butforthoseconcerned withthe city,itself,asaprimaryobjectofinquiry, withthe presence
and influence of the city in the world, such changes have marked a new potential—indeed, a new
in a global era’ (2007). Globalization is characterized, as Saskia Sassen notes, by ‘the emergence
of conditions that weaken the exclusive authority of national states and thereby facilitate the
ascendance of sub- and transnational spaces and actors in politico-civic processes once confined
decentralization and increased intergovernmental relations; (2) conventionally municipal policy
interests moving to the national and global scales and conventionally national and global policy
territorialization of the policy-making process (2007). This dissolution, or, in some cases, nega-
tion, of scalar boundaries occasions urbanists’ re-engagement with the global, as well as interna-
tionalists’ re-engagement with the local.3,4
Urbanization has also been among the chief drivers of this recent interest in urban influence.
Migration to the city has ensured strong population growth in urban areas despite the typically
inverse relationship between urbanization and birth rates (McNeill, 2007). And those areas of the
world with the greatest urban populations are also experiencing the most significant total popu-
lation growth. The world’s urban population reached 3.2 billion in 2005, representing 50% of the
global population for the first time in history. This is projected to increase to almost 5 billion by
2030, and demographers anticipate that cities of the global South will absorb the net global
population growth of the next 23 years. While urban population and projected population
growth alone would merit increased attention to cities, there are other reasons for this interest.
Transnational Municipal Networks in Climate Politics343
Accompanying and facilitating this growth in urban population has been a revolution in
communication and transportation technology. Urban populations connect with each other
through the communication and transportation opportunities that have been the focus of much
globalization literature. These same technologies and other phenomena of globalization also
permit cities a kind of perverse ‘connection’ to the natural world, betraying the enlightenment
promise to liberate ‘society’ from the constraints of ‘nature’, human and otherwise. Advances
in transportation technology and in technologies associated with natural resource extraction
lead to farther ranging supply chains for urban metabolism and to increased consumption by
urban populations. As Timothy Luke writes, ‘Today’s “global cities,” then, are entirely new
built environments tied to several complex layers of technological systems whose logistical
grids are knit into other networks for the production, consumption, circulation, and accumulation
of commodities .... As a planetary system of material production and consumption, these built
environments constitute much of the world-wide webs of logistical flows which swamp over the
conventional boundaries between the human and the natural with a new biopolitics of urbanism’
(2003, p. 20). And this is reflected in increasing (and increasingly) urban ecological footprints.
The expansion of footprint, it seems, has outpaced population growth despite the potential in
some sectors for sustainable development associated with increasing densities of urban settle-
ment. In an expression of mutual influence, the generative capacities of cities extend to
global environmental degradation while the global environment constrains urban possibilities.
Recognizing their contribution to environmental problems and their vulnerability to environ-
mental risk, many municipalities have become more involved in solutions to environmental
crises, joining the ranks of other, and more often studied, non-state actors involved in governing
the global environment. Cities have exploited their flexibility to implement innovative policy
mechanisms to govern biodiversity, waste, and energy (Portney, 2003).
But, as with contributions to environmental degradation, contributions to environmental
politics do not necessarily end at municipal boundaries. Many cities aspire to a critical role in
solving global environmental problems. Drawing upon the same revolutionary technologies of
communication and transportation, cities have established a global network of urban nodes—
a horizontal network of place-based actors—through cooperative intermunicipal efforts such
as the International Council for Local Environmental Initiatives (ICLEI) and the International
Solar Cities Initiative (ISCI). Some of these campaigns have worked to achieve more sustainable
policies at the national and international levels, establishing significant vertical relationships
with individual and collective agents of formal and informal governance at other scales, as
well. These horizontal and vertical networks may permit cities a significant role in the diffusion
of both techniques and norms, important functions of governance and politics.
Technical Leadership and Norm Entrepreneurship in Global Environmental Politics
Summarizing Andre Drainville, Sassen writes that ‘“global governance” is found inlocalizations
of neoliberalism ... [and is] the political handmaiden of global corporate neoliberalism’ (2004).
If one accepts Lorraine Elliott’s definition of global environmental governance as ‘a political
practice which simultaneously reflects, constitutes, and masks global relations of power and
powerlessness’ (2002), we may understand global environmental governance as one part of
global environmental politics, one participating in (to borrow from Chantal Mouffe (1999))
the deployment of practices, discourses, and institutions that establish certain order and organize
human and environmental coexistence to ‘legitimise a neoliberal ecopolitics’ in the face of
antagonism (Elliott, 2002). On the other hand, a subversive politics might be one in which
344 N. J. Toly
neoliberal ecopolitics are contested. The differences between a legitimizing or an obscurantist
politics and a potentially (though not necessarily) subversive politics can be cast as the
difference between technical prepossession and normative preoccupation.5
Technical capacities are essential to the governance of the global environment. Leadership in
the development of skills may involve pioneering problem-solving activities in which actors are
among the first to engage a particular environmental challenge or to engage it with unique
methods. This technical leadership may involve formal feasibility studies and demonstration
projects, but may be less intentional. Intermunicipal/horizontal and interscale/vertical diffusion
of skills is possible within or without the context of intentionality.
Technical prepossession either masks or legitimizes current ecologically mediated social
relations. As Drainville suggests, ‘Global governance is also a radical political programme
intent on putting in place the social and political infrastructure of a sustainable global order
free of irritants and resistance. It is, to borrow from LeCorbusier, a “revolution by solutions”’6
(2004). To say that the subversive potential of ‘best practices’ is minimal is an understatement
when, in fact, the varied deployments of best practices may represent actually existing
While technical leadership is undoubtedly important to the management of both ecological
conditions and social relations, but dubiously politically subversive, normative leadership has
greater potential for contestation and subversion. The emergence, acceptance, and internaliz-
ation of norms—the norm life cycle—have become a focus of research in world politics
(Klotz, 1995; Finnemore & Sikkink, 1998). Norms are ‘established practices, codes of
conduct, and standards of acceptable behavior’ that reflect ‘oughtness and shared moral assess-
ment’, or ‘shared ideas, expectations, and beliefs about appropriate behavior’ (Finnemore &
Sikkink, 1998; Ingebritsen, 2002). While norms do not strictly determine behavior, they do
constrain behavior, setting parameters of acceptability. Though norms are broad and intersubjec-
tively determined, actors interpret and operationalize norms in specific and subjective manners
(Finnemore & Sikkink, 1998; Hoffmann, 2007). In so doing, and by virtue of variety in interpret-
ation and operationalization, actors participate in norm contestation and dynamics (Hoffmann,
2007). While the subversive potential of technical leadership is minimal, the subversive poten-
tial of norm entrepreneurship, on the other hand, is substantial. The deployment of new norms in
the global governance landscape has the potential to deligitimize neo-liberal eco-politics and to
advance a progressive environmental agenda.
Agents of norm emergence are considered norm entrepreneurs, the objective of which, per
Martha Finnemore and Kathryn Sikkink, is to ‘persuade a critical mass of states (norm
leaders) to embrace new norms by calling attention to or creating issues’ (1998). Norm entrepre-
neurs construct and mobilize support for ‘particular standards of appropriateness’ and convince
states, potential norm leaders, to adopt these standards (Finnemore & Sikkink, 1998). Impor-
tantly, as Matthew Hoffmann writes, ‘entrepreneurship can be explicit or implicit (i.e., taking
actions can be entrepreneurial even if they are not explicitly designed to persuade anyone)’
(2007). Significantly, norm entrepreneurship is not qualified by post hoc acceptance and intern-
alization by other actors.
Citing Finnemore and Sikkink, Hoffmann notes that entrepreneurs may be ‘actors within the
normative community ... or actors outside the normative community’ (2007). Norm entrepre-
neurs, therefore, may be state or non-state actors. They may also be supra-state collectives.
Christine Ingebritsen suggests Scandinavia as an example of the latter (2002, see also 2006);
a few states with relatively little conventional power and changing strategic importance led
the way in developing new norms regarding conflict prevention and mediation as well as
Transnational Municipal Networks in Climate Politics345
foreign aid, introducing the principle of ideologically, rather than strategically, motivated aid
The norm life cycle is of special interest in global environmental politics, in which competing
norms—even first principles—define the landscape of major controversies. As with conflict and
foreign aid, Scandinavia has significantly influenced the emergence and adoption of norms in
global environmental politics, advancing the norm of sustainable development (Ingebritsen,
2002, 2006). Significantly, Ingebritsen attributes much of Scandinavia’s success in this regard
to efforts at the local level, as municipalities have adopted policies aimed at the conservation
of biological diversity and the promotion of a broader environmental agenda as well as the
reduction of energy consumption and greenhouse gas emissions for the purposes of climate
stabilization (2002; see also Forsberg, 1997). Ingebritsen argues, in this instance, that municipal
policy can serve not only as a technical prototype, but also as a normative prototype.
Climate change, specifically, has been among the loci of inquiry into the emergence, accep-
tance, and internalization of norms in environmental politics (Andresen & Agrawala, 2002;
Traxler, 2002; Hoffmann, 2005, 2007). Among climate politics-oriented non-state norm entre-
preneurs is the Association of Small Island States (AOSIS), a network representing the interests
of more than 43 states and observers,7many of which share basic climate-related vulnerabilities,
even if not significant responsibilities. This shared interest has driven members of the
organization to emphasize both horizontal and vertical relationships, and to advance ‘flexible
alternatives’ to mainstream policy mechanisms and ‘cooperative approaches’ to their implemen-
tation (Heileman, 1993; Ashe et al., 1999; Larson, 2003), participating in the climate governance
norm life cycle in ways that can now be observed among other non-state actors, including cities.
Though potential for norm entrepreneurship is enhanced by the statal capacities, spatial jurisdic-
tions, and issue-based jurisdictions of actors, it is not dependent upon these.8
While technical leadership may occasion only participation that masks or legitimizes the neo-
liberal ecopolitics of climate change, norm entrepreneurship may occasion the articulation—dif-
fusion, adoption, interpretation, and operationalization—of new and subversive rules of the
climate game. But how might cities participate in either?
Cities, Climate, and Global Environmental Politics
Although anthropogenic climate change may have been a reality in pre-industrial times due to
deforestation (Williams, 2003), the scope, scale, and speed of its current manifestation is gener-
ally considered a problem of an industrialized, globalized, and urbanized world. Only modern
societies could produce such a phenomenon,9and cities are a chief feature of the modern land-
scape. However, engagement in international negotiations for the abatement of anthropogenic
greenhouse gas emissions has been fairly limited to nation states. At the same time, most
consider the likely solutions to climate change to require global—in the universal sense of
the word—cooperation, rather than unilateralism. While the multilateralism of the United
Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC) and its Kyoto Protocol is essen-
tial to robust collective action, non-state actors—whether coalitions of states, sub-national
governments, or non-governmental organizations—have contributed and will continue to con-
tribute solutions to climate change. Among these non-state actors are cities, whose 3.2 billion
people exceed the population of the European Union by 2.8 billion, the population of Scandina-
via by more than 3.1 billion, and the population of AOSIS by 2.9 billion, and whose greenhouse
gas emissions exponentially exceed those of non-governmental advocacy groups. This is not to
suggest that municipalities should be regarded as on equal footing with nation states, or that
346 N. J. Toly
globalization—James Rosenau’s ‘fragmegration’ of formal and informal governance (1997)—
has somehow made truly inter-national cooperation obsolete or unnecessary, but, rather, to
suggest only that municipalities may be significant non-state actors in global environmental poli-
tics, just as they are in other areas of governance, such as global financial affairs (Sassen, 1994;
Taylor, 2001, 2004).
The literature on cities and climate change is fragmented and, for the most part, narrowly
focused on the local aspects—whether technical or political—of municipal climate change
policy (Kousky & Schneider, 2003; Byrne et al., 2004; Slocum, 2004; Byrne et al., 2005;
Byrne et al., 2006). Literature transcending ‘domestic’ aspects of municipal climate change
policy is generally limited to an examination of intermunicipal relationships,10the effects of
these relationships upon municipal politics and policy-making (Lindseth, 2004; Byrne et al.,
2007; Rickerson & Hughes Under Review), and the effects of national and global climate
policy upon municipal policy (Bulkeley & Kern, 2006; Hjerpe & Linner, 2007). A somewhat
smaller, but important, portion of the literature examines the role of cities or these networks
in global environmental politics (Bulkeley & Betsill, 2003; Betsill & Bulkeley, 2004, 2006).11
Like members of AOSIS, cities share common interests due to increased vulnerability to
climate change, among other environmental hazards12,13(Pelling, 2003). Significantly,
however, cities also share common interests due to common responsibility. Vulnerability and
responsibility, coupled with an increasing urban population, make cities especially important
potential leaders in multicentric and multilevel global climate governance (Betsill & Bulkeley,
2006). Like other governmental, but non-state actors, cities have jurisdiction, govern with a
flexibility not enjoyed by nation states, and typically do not face conflicts with strategic interests.
Unlike non-governmental actors, cities have large populations and much more direct influence
on emissions. And, as with many non-governmental organizations, cities participate in transna-
tional advocacy organizations, establishing, in much the same way as has AOSIS, horizontal and
vertical relationships to multiply their effects. Such potential for influence implies that, while
cities globalize environmental ills, they may also globalize techniques and norms for their
In the first place, cities are globalizing resource depletion, pollution, and risk. In many ways,
cities live in parasitic relationship with their hinterlands, extracting resources. This has been a
recognized feature of urban settlement for centuries and is well chronicled (see, for example,
Mumford, 1961). Ancient cities received tribute from settlements in the hinterland. A contem-
porary measurement of such relationships is the ecological footprint (Wackernagel & Rees,
1996). Such indices recognize that the hinterland is now global, with global urban consumption
driving global hinterland resource extraction to unsustainable paces.14Cities of the global North
have an average footprint of almost four times an equitable level. While footprint and other such
measures emphasize the spatial dimension of the relationship between urban human settlement
and global resource extraction, in an era of sustainable development (or, as some have suggested
since 2002’s World Summit on Sustainable Development, an era after sustainable development),
some have explored the temporal dimensions of the urban relationship with the hinterlands.
Cities consuming resources at unsustainable rates essentially foreclose on future options.15
Thus, cities are globalizing resource depletion, rather than simply resource extraction; and
energy resources are among the most important that cities are depleting. Urban metabolism
requires significant amounts of energy delivered in the form of electricity—produced by the
combustion of fossil fuels, through nuclear technology, or by alternative or renewable
sources—heat, and fuel for transportation. The consumption of these particular resources high-
lights a second thing16that cities are globalizing: pollution. Global urban pollution is certainly
Transnational Municipal Networks in Climate Politics 347
not limited to the results of energy consumption; for example, cities are globalizing trash, which
now famously includes tremendous amounts of e-waste (Pellow, 2006, 2007). But in the con-
sumption of energy and in the pollution that accompanies it, cities are globalizing both ecologi-
cal decline and risk. As Luke writes, ‘“global cities” leave very destructive environmental
footprints as their inhabitants reach out into markets around the world for material inputs to
survive, but the transactions of this new political ecology also are the root causes of global
ecological decline’ (2003, p. 12).
Especially with the prospective hazards and consequences of anthropogenic climate change,
the immediate causes of which—greenhouse gas emissions and land use change—are attribu-
table to a great extent to urban consumption, cities globalize risk. Cities account for roughly
80% of global greenhouse gas emissions and urban demands for other raw materials have
significant impacts upon land use both in peri-urban areas and in the global hinterland. This
globalization of risk most clearly highlights the extra-urban ‘spatial fix’ associated with urban
development.17Considering the depletion of resources, it might be argued that cities are not
externalizing ills, but are simply trading for raw materials to which they do not have local
access.18In the case of pollution and risk, however, cities are certainly exercising forms of
spatial and temporal externalization.
In many cases, such as the export of e-waste or nuclear waste, the externalization of direct risk
is almost total.19Capacities for this externalization differ substantially across ‘transnational
urbanism’; as Luke writes, ‘Many mechanisms in the world’s political economy permit
Dallas more than Delhi to dump more toxic wastes outside specific locales, boost their concen-
trations beyond permissible thresholds, raise exposures so intensively as to threaten health, and
disperse effects indiscriminately across space and time.’ (2003, p. 30) In the case of anthropo-
genic climate change, however, cities are globalizing a risk that will come home to roost. For a
number of reasons, urban populations are particularly vulnerable to many of the projected ill
effects of climate change. Cities are, in effect, fouling their own nests, though this admission
should not obscure the inequities still present in the great discrepancies between responsibility
Recognizing both unusual vulnerability and significant responsibility, many cities have under-
taken climate change mitigation strategies. Some are engaged in GHG emissions abatement
measures, others in measures for GHG sequestration and climate change adaptation—some of
them related to land use, land use change, and forestry—and still others in measures designed
to reap the ‘triple benefits’ of emissions abatement, biodiversity conservation, and community
development. While most cities do not have the most powerful energy policy instruments at
their disposal, and while governance of urban metabolisms is diffused across urban agglomera-
tions according to municipal boundaries, many have significant control over energy use through
direct or indirect regulation of generation, distribution, and consumption. Land use policy, for
example, is the purview of many municipalities. Many cities have the latitude to effect policy
measures for efficiency and conservation in building and transportation. Such a variety of
policy instruments also lends cities the flexibility to highlight co-benefits in ways that are
more difficult at larger scales.
This is not to ‘black box’ the city, making it appear as if unequal development and associated
power relations are not internally relevant, or as if co-benefits accrue equitably at the municipal
level by virtue of a smaller scale. This scale romanticism has been refuted by a number of scho-
lars who caution us against the assumption that smaller scale ensures equitable social relations
(Smith, 2001; Imboela, 2004). Indeed, some have undertaken critical studies of the social project
sometimes associated with greening the city (Pellow, 2004; Keil & Boudreau, 2006). And, as
348 N. J. Toly
Kent Portney notes, ‘Even those cities that have elected to incorporate equity considerations into
their sustainability initiatives have done so in only a superficial way.’ (2003, p. 175) Such local
promotion of green agendas, including equity-laced climate-stabilization policies, can be
regarded, for their focus on co-benefits, among other reasons, as instantiations of actually exist-
ing eco-modernization. Some such initiatives may, in fact, represent local responses to the
demands of a global service economy, as much as, or more than, they are responses to
climate change. For this reason, it seems, technical leadership obscures social relations at the
heart of both neoliberalism and ecological devastation.
Yet the question of political potential of norm entrepreneurship remains an open one. While
technically preoccupied municipal initiatives contribute to global environmental governance,
normatively preoccupied municipal initiatives may advance a progressive global environmental
politics. In either case, municipal capacities are augmented by the formation of intermunicipal
Transcending municipal boundaries, a number of initiatives have emerged to take advantage
of urban connectivity, stimulating intermunicipal dialogue and leveraging global influence.
These include the United States Conference of Mayors’ (USCOM) Climate Protection Agree-
ment (CPA), ICLEI’s Cities for Climate Protection (CCP) program, and the International
Solar Cities Initiative (ISCI). All of these initiatives, while distinct, share a common focus
upon emissions abatement. Though international negotiations since the Eighth Meeting of the
Conference of the Parties to the UNFCCC have turned, in significant measure, toward climate
change adaptation, cities have, to a great extent, been able to maintain a focus on the mitigation
of climate change impacts through the abatement of greenhouse gas emissions. Many cities that
have joined these initiatives have implemented policy mechanisms meant to address GHG emis-
sions through energy policy, both in the utility and transport sectors, and through sequestration
efforts. The two most significant transnational projects in this regard are the ICLEI CCP and the
Cities for Climate Protection: Globalizing Technical Leadership in Climate Governance
The CCP program is the most studied municipal network dedicated to a climate-stable future.
Now in its 15th year, more than 650 municipal governments from over 30 countries participate
in the campaign, which is designed around a program of five milestones—emissions inventory
and forecasting, emissions reduction targeting, development of a local action plan, implemen-
tation of policies and measures, and monitoring and verification of outcomes—to which cities
must commit (International Council for Local Environmental Initiatives, 2007). With 549
cities in 2001, collective emissions of CCP member municipalities were 8% of the global
total (Bulkeley & Betsill, 2003). Current member cities account for approximately 15% of
global anthropogenic GHG emissions.
Harriet Bulkeley and Michele Betsill’s book-length treatment of cities and climate change
presents case studies of six CCP member cities framed by a discussion of local government
in climate politics and transnational networks in global environmental governance (2003).
The authors find that the programs undertaken by these CCP member municipalities differ
greatly in their success and that five key factors (representing both capacity and commit-
ment)—the ‘presence of committed individuals’; ‘the availability of funding’; municipal regu-
latory power in the areas of land use, transportation, and energy; definition of co-benefits and
synergies; and political will—determine the impact of the program on cities (Bulkeley &
Betsill, 2003). In a study of 23 CCP cities, Kousky and Schneider find that, for a number of
Transnational Municipal Networks in Climate Politics349
reasons associated with scale, cities can overcome what for other scales of governance might be
significant free-rider obstacles (2003). According to these studies, CCP is effective in inspiring
interest in new initiatives, in stimulating continued development of ongoing initiatives, and in
motivating cities to consider co-benefits and synergies related to climate policy (Bulkeley &
Betsill, 2003; Kousky & Schneider 2003). Cities for Climate Protection builds local capacity
through networking and the diffusion of best practices and by partnering with national govern-
ments in project sponsorship.
With such broad participation, CCP members have access to robust horizontal relationships.
Vertical relationships are built through partnerships with national governments and through
ICLEI CCP’s participation in and statements at the UNFCCC. Kousky and Schneider emphasize
the potential of such relationships with reference to municipal leadership in recycling,
suggesting that such local initiatives can serve as demonstration projects for regional, national,
and international governmental and non-governmental organizations (Kousky & Schneider,
2003). As important as such demonstration projects are—and, as has been suggested, municipa-
lities may be uniquely situated to advance innovative solutions—their horizontal and vertical
diffusion represents a technical, rather than normative, leadership. In fact, the CCP and its
member cities most often frame the call to action in terms of co-benefits that primarily satisfy
the demands of other competing first principles, thus legitimizing neoliberal ecopolitical
principles and diluting the capacity for norm contestation.
While the CCP began with the goal of reducing member cities’ emissions by 20%, any
requirement of such has been abandoned in favor of locally legitimated targets for the purposes
of attracting a broader membership. The CCP regards effectiveness, and possibly legitimacy, as
functions of breadth, favoring extensive association rather than intensive commitment.
This is not tosuggest that CCP and its member municipalities provide no normative leadership
in the international community. While some might suggest that the CCP and its member cities
lag behind the international community in their continued focus on mitigation, rather than adap-
tation, others might consider persistent support for abatement efforts inthe face of growing inter-
national attention to adaptation to be an exercise in leadership. But this leadership may be
considered the operationalization of norms within the context of hegemonic efficiency, rather
than the potentially subversive introduction of new norms.
International Solar Cities Initiative: Globalizing Norms in Climate Governance
The past 10 years have seen the development of a number of similarly focused programs to that
of the CCP. Other regional and global networks of urban nodes have formed with the goal of
contributing to a climate-stable future. National and regional networks, while important, lack
the scalar ambitions of ICLEI’s CCP. The International Solar Cities Initiative, on the other
hand, aspires to the kind of global membership enjoyed by ICLEI’s CCP. However, ISCI also
aspires to a type of global influence beyond the technical aspects of best practices.
At the first International Solar Cities Congress (ISCC) in Daegu, Korea, in 2004, 19 cities21
signed the Daegu Declaration, committing to energy efficiency and to conservation measures
leading to decreased GHG emissions. While the Daegu Declaration affirms the ‘common
understanding that each city will set its own target for renewable energy adoption with a specific
timetable most appropriate for its geographical, economic, and political circumstances’
(International Solar Cities Initiative, 2006, p. 77), the International Solar Cities Vision affirms
the goal of a sustainable and equitable per capita emissions target (International Solar Cities
Initiative, 2005). ISCI aims at the development of a cadre of entrepreneurial, pioneer, or
350 N. J. Toly
‘“benchmark” cities, which commit to ambitious emission reduction goals ... which meet 2050
IPCC-consistent targets’ (International Solar Cities Initiative, 2005). In these ways, ISCI cham-
pions and operationalizes two norms—intragenerational equity and intergenerational equity—
that set the network apart from others and potentiate a political role as norm entrepreneur in
global greenhouse gas emissions abatement strategies.
Of course, both intragenerational and intergenerational equity are concerns of the wider
discourse regarding climate change and its abatement. Equity of either sort, however, is a
norm largely absent, in an operational sense, from mechanisms of climate governance.
Kyoto’s nod to intragenerational equity through the principle of common but differentiated
responsibility is operationalized through participation, limiting the number of nation states
with targets during the first budget period. The principle, applied as it is to the question of
which parties should have targets, remains, however, disconnected from emissions targets,
which, under the Protocol, are more or less arbitrary reductions from national 1990 levels.
Most municipal climate policy also reflects little interest in intragenerational equity, seeming
rather to have its discursive foundations in self-interested rational choice. Intergenerational
equity is expressed by reference to sustainable development, but remains under-articulated in
most municipal climate policy and by the networks that multiply their efforts.
However, ISCI’s per capita approach to emissions target-setting for a climate-stable future
operationalizes these two normative dimensions of ecological justice—intragenerational and
intergenerational equity—in ways uncommon to global climate governance. Targeting a
global emissions level that would stabilize atmospheric GHG concentrations at approximately
450 ppm of CO2-e, such an approach divides total emissions by world population to determine
an appropriate per capita level, which can then be multiplied by the population of any unit (e.g.
city) to determine a sustainable and equitable collective target (Byrne et al., 1998).22This
process uniquely privileges and operationalizes both intergenerational and intragenerational
equity in ways perhaps incommensurable with the privileging of efficiency that has so far
dominated the discourse of climate governance, subverting and contesting neoliberal ecopolitics
in favor of a potentially progressive agenda.
These measures recognize the common resource characteristic of the earth’s atmosphere,
oceans, and soils, three primary loci of the carbon cycle responsible for the storage of green-
house gases. Even non-binding commitment23to such responses reflects a flexibility not exhib-
ited by the nation states that negotiated the Kyoto Protocol. While some few participants—
usually non-state actors—introduced the possibility of per capita emissions targets, such a
radical notion was not seriously considered by the negotiators. A per capita emissions target
would have offended the sensibilities of most nation states. But, just as with technical leadership,
cities are invested with the advantage of significantly greater flexibility in norm adoption,
contextualization, interpretation, and operationalization.24And some cities have exhibited this
nimbleness by at the very least entertaining and in some cases adopting per capita emissions
targets tied to global equity and global sustainability. In affirming and operationalizing such
norms, ISCI and its member cities may represent part of a subversive normative vanguard of
an emerging multilevel and multicentric global climate politics.
In such a multilevel and multicentric governance arena, the pathways and mechanisms for influ-
ence on global politics are multiple. For example, Henrik Selin and Stacy VenDeveer predict
that US climate policy in four years will be modeled after current municipal and state initiatives,
Transnational Municipal Networks in Climate Politics351
and that US climate policy will have greater influence upon global climate policy than global
climate policy will have on US domestic policy (2007). Such pathways to domestic change
and global influence draw attention to the importance of both horizontal and vertical influence
as breadth may positively capacitate depth (Appadurai, 2002). And this capacity for normative
innovation and diffusion may prove more significant to contemporary politics than could have
been the case within a strictly multilateral framework.
To some, municipal norm adoption and advocacy may seem insignificant: The real nego-
tiations, the real action, one might suggest, happens at the nation-state level. And in an age of
globalization, many have, some with good reason, reasserted the primacy of the nation state.
But without delving into the tired argument on primacy, we might still agree that non-state
actors have become more significant than they once were. Non-state actors, such as NGOs
and regional entities have enjoyed a higher profile and have become more connected to each
other and to the mechanisms of global politics. Cities are no exception. As Michael Peter
Smith writes, ‘translocal networks can be collective agents of transnational projects’ (2005,
p. 12). Municipalities have become more connected to each other, just as they have become
more connected to the non-urban world. These connections present opportunities for both inter-
municipal dialogue and the pooling of global influence. Together, cities have a great deal more
influence than they would separately and may be among the most underexamined potential norm
entrepreneurs in the climate discourse.
The author would like to thank Michele Betsill, Roy Joseph, Barry Rabe, Ashley Woodiwiss,
and two anonymous reviewers for their helpful comments on earlier drafts of this article.
Special thanks are due to Hillary Waters, whose hard work in literature review and editing
has made this a better article, and to Project Teacher, a program of Wheaton College, which pro-
vided a Mentor-Guided Scholarship Stipend to facilitate Hillary’s work.
1CardinalArns, of Sao Paulo,defined ‘subvert’ as ‘to turn a situationround andlook at it from the otherside, the side
of people who have to die so that the system can go on’ (Rahnema, 1997).
At the 2006 Meeting of the American Political Science Association, Joshua Sapotichne, Bryan Jones and Michelle
Wolfe presented a paper titled, ‘Is Urban Politics a Black Hole? Analyzing the Boundaries Between Political
Science and Urban Politics’ (Sapotichne et al., 2006, 2007), in which they argued that nothing crosses ‘the
event horizon’ of a now-stale urban politics sub-field. It almost goes without saying that this caused quite the
stir at the moment. It also generated a panel in response at the 2007 meeting. As discussant Judith Martin noted,
the panel was characterized by two papers that accepted the terms of the argument (that is, that accepted the
assumptions and external logic of the paper, but took issue with its internal logic) as described by Sapotichne
et al., and two papers that rejected the terms of the argument (while largely ceding its internal logic). These last
two papers explicitly or implicitly recognized a significant literature, within and without the urban politics
subfield, advancing a more vertically integrated, multiscale, and globally aware urban politics (Boudreau, 2007;
Sidney, 2007). It is this literature, as well as literature on norms in global environmental governance, within
which this paper hopes to be situated.
In recent years, however, both urbanization and cities have emerged as significant themes in the discourse of
globalization. Likewise, globalization has emerged as an important topic in the discourse of urban affairs. The
importance of mutual influence in the global–local relationship is evidenced in interdisciplinary developments.
‘Global cities’ is now widely recognized as a subfield of urban studies and has achieved at least the status of a
curiosity among scholars of globalization. And urban studies have ‘gone global’ as internationalists increasingly
turn toward the sub-national as a significant scale in global governance while urbanists explore the impact of
352 N. J. Toly
global developments on prospects for local governance. Academic departments now fill faculty positions with
scholars whose primary research interest is in the role of cities, usually metropolises and megalopolises, in an
increasingly global political economy. Michigan State University supports a new program in Global Urban
Studies. And the University of California at Berkeley has recently founded a Center for Global Metropolitan
Studies, complete with an undergraduate major and two interdisciplinary graduate groups. Evidently, the
relationship between cities and globalization is a maturing theme in both urban and international affairs.
The internationalists’ reengagement with the local is reflected, in part, by a growing literature on municipal foreign
policy in areas such as nuclear disarmament, fair trade, and immigration (Hobbs, 1994; Hewitt, 1999; Kline, 1999;
Here I have intentionally discriminated between normative preoccupation and technical prepossession. Per Jacques
Ellul, possession is the tendency of monistic technique (1964, 1973).
‘On ne revolutionne pas en revolutionnant. On revolutionne en solutionnant’ (Le Corbusier, 1994).
While AOSIS membership is strongest among small island developing states, it includes members that are not
states, not islands, not small, and not developing.
In this way, we might not be surprised to encounter suspicion of the municipal agenda in global politics, as
municipalities and other governmental actors may induce a crisis of redundancy, in some measure, in civil society.
Bruno Latour would suggest that anthropogenic global climate change is representative of a specifically modern
proliferation of ‘hybrids’ resulting from the ‘modern constitution’ and its separation of (1) subject from object,
(2) nature from society, and (3) a transcendent God from reality (1993).
Intermunicipal relationships have sometimes been described as the second nature or external relations of cities
(Harris & Ullman, 1945; Taylor, 2004). There is a rich literature on these relations (Camagni, 1993, 2001; Sassen,
2002). A premise of this paper is that cities have significant vertical external relations that are not intermunicipal
and that both vertical and horizontal/intermunicipal external relations potentiate new roles in global governance.
Bulkeley and Betsill are exceptional in this regard, situating the cities they examine—all of which are members of
ICLEI’s Cities for Climate Protection program—in the context of non-state action in global governance. Their
excellent analysis in this regard, however, is limited to the role of participant cities in one among many
municipal climate policy networks.
Climate change may rightly be considered a meta-hazard.
For a position that emphasizes the relative vulnerability of rural populations without minimizing urban
vulnerability, see Roberts and Parks (2007).
This is not to suggest that urban consumption was not previously global in character. Many regard colonialism as
among the earliest forms of globalization, and it is certain that expanding urban populations and changing urban
consumption drove European ships to continental hinterlands in search of goods and raw materials. Many
scholars have noted the continuity of this relationship with the present. As Joan Martinez-Alier writes, ‘In this
sense, Europe has never been so colonial as today. Gasoline stations on German motorways should have signs
reading “Kolonialwaren”.’ (2006, p. 46).
LeighGlover,ResearchFellowat theAustralasian CentrefortheGovernance andManagementofUrbanTransport,
has been especially helpful to me in understanding this, noting unsustainable urban consumption of the past (citing
Dukes, 2003) as well as the future (citing Flannery, 2002).
I use this word, despite its inelegance, in a nod to Latour (1993), who emphasizes its suitability to contemporary
hybrids, networks, and collectives that defy modern dualisms. Pollution is certainly among these.
For a thoroughgoing treatment of the spatial fix, see Harvey (1996, 2000, 2001).
Of course, this argument falls short if extraction itself negatively impacts distant ecologies and communities.
Indirect risk, in the form of ‘blowback,’ however, might be significant. Cities might consider the ways in which
their practices of externalizing risk marginalize parts of the global population through ecologically mediated
social relations and potentiate future indirect risks.
While USCOM’s CCP program is important, it is a translocal network with vertical significance, but without a
transnational horizontal aspect. We will focus on two translocal networks with transnational horizontal aspects.
Likewise, there are important transnational networks the membership of which is not municipal—the Western
Regional Climate Action Initiative and the Regional Greenhouse Gas Initiative, both of which are joined, or are
likely to be joined, by several Canadian provinces, are examples.
Sapporo, Japan; Goteborg, Sweden; Beijing, PR of China; the Hague, the Netherlands; Minneapolis, US; Cape
Town, South Africa; Adelaide, Australia; Oxford, UK; Santa Monica, US; Hangzhou, PR of China; Linz,
Austria; Barcelona, Spain; Portland, Oregon; Qingdao, PR of China; Gelsenkirchen, Germany; Kaohsiung,
Taiwan; Sol Plaatje, South Africa; Gwangju, South Korea; and Daegu, South Korea. Eight of these are also
ICEI CCP participant cities.
Transnational Municipal Networks in Climate Politics 353
22 While some ICLEI CCP member cities have set per capita targets, they have done so largely in order to permit
emissions growth consistent with population growth and have not set those targets according to a sustainable
level of global anthropogenic GHG emissions divided by global population.
It should be noted that even Kyoto’s commitments are non-binding. That is, there are no formal enforcement
mechanisms written into the Protocol.
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Noah J. Toly is Assistant Professor of Politics and International Relations and Director of Urban
Studies at Wheaton College (Illinois, USA), where he teaches urban and environmental politics.
He is co-editor of Transforming Power: Energy, Environment, and Society in Conflict (Trans-
action, 2006). His research interests are at the intersection of local and global politics, with
special attention to cities and the environment.
356 N. J. Toly
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