Perspectives Papers | 2017

Reducing Urban Greenhouse Gas Emissions: Effective Steering Strategies for City Governments

City governments around the world are pledging to make significant reductions to their greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions, a goal that requires significant changes to urban institutions, infrastructure, and behaviour patterns. Such changes are not easily made, and often fall outside the formal jurisdiction of city governments. However, city governments are taking up this challenge because of the threat of climate change and the opportunity to reap local benefits from GHG emissions reductions.

This paper draws on the experiences of three large cities in North America: Toronto, New York City, and Los Angeles. Each city government has set ambitious GHG reduction targets, and developed programs and policies to reach these targets. While the responses are unique to each city, their experiences demonstrate that if city governments are to successfully meet their GHG emissions reductions targets, they must “steer” their cities: leveraging both their formal and informal authorities as well as a range of interventions and partnerships.

Three steering strategies have proven effective in all three cities:

  • Building and maintaining coalitions
  • Aligning incentives with capacity
  • Combining institutionalization and innovation

The experiences of these three cities demonstrate that formal powers and political economic context are not good predictors of cities’ success in reducing GHG emissions. Rather, as city governments confront the complex and longterm challenge of reducing GHG emissions, steering strategies that combine the multiple sources of authority and influence held by city governments will generate the outcomes needed to address climate change.

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