Many commentators on the current US presidential election campaigns have noted – or bemoaned – a seeming conspiracy of silence when it comes to climate change. Neither Barack Obama nor Mitt Romney seem keen to make the issue a centrepiece of their respective campaigns, regardless of where they seem to stand on the question of how to deal climate change, or indeed whether it’s a problem at all.
In the UK, critics of the Conservative-led coalition government have been keen to point out that David Cameron’s pledge to lead the “greenest government ever” is starting to sound rather hollow. Like in the US, climate change barely figures on the national political agenda. Perhaps this could be attributed to the current primacy of economic and fiscal issues in political debate. However, it may also be indicative of a broader trend which has seen climate change governance re-scaled away from the nation-state and international negotiations, towards new networks of cities, municipalities and regional governments.
As illustrated by Harriet Bulkeley and Vanesa Castán Broto in a recent article in Transactions of the Institute of British Geographers, a variety of governmental practices have emerged at the urban scale which seek to address climate change mitigation and adaptation. Through diverse social and technical practices, “climate change experiments” have been enacted which have positioned mitigation and adaptation nearer to the centre of rationales for urban transition and renewal. However, far from being simply the spill-over effects of a governance system which lacks the capacity to address climate change in a formal and coherent manner, these new political spaces highlight the complex processes by which new norms and goals circulate in practice through social and technical interventions in the urban fabric.
The kind of interventions which Bulkeley and Broto discuss include formal policy measures such as the establishment of carbon markets, grassroots movements such as ‘Transition Towns’, and the development of new architectural forms which respond to the needs of energy efficiency. While such initiatives are often dismissed as being insufficient responses to the scale of the climate change challenge, Bulkeley and Broto suggest in their exciting new research agenda that analysts need to engage more seriously with the growing number of processes by which climate change is being responded to in urban settings. While climate change may have disappeared from our national political debates, it is increasingly a potent motivator of political action in our cities.
Harriet Bulkeley and Vanesa Castán Broto, 2012, Government by experiment? Global cities and the governing of climate change, Transactions of the Institute of British Geographers, DOI: 10.1111/j.1475-5661.2012.00535.x