What makes climate policy successful? A new study highlights both obstacles and opportunities to policy adoption

March 09, 2015


Duran Fiack, a graduate student at UC Santa Cruz and Sheldon Kamieniecki, professor in the Environmental Studies Department and Dean of the Division of Social Sciences, studied 15 large American cities to better understand the conditions that result in climate policy.

Did you know that cities with no plans to address climate change tend to have higher unemployment rates than those that do? And did you also know the same urban areas with zero action tend to carry the burden of higher unhealthy air days, lower income and limited education?

These are just some of the findings to come out of a new study from UC Santa Cruz’s Environmental Studies Department. While correlation is not causation, the study points to the complex conditions that hinder or help the action needed to create climate policy.

The study’s authors, Duran Fiack, a graduate student at UC Santa Cruz and Sheldon Kamieniecki, professor in the Environmental Studies Department and Dean of the Division of Social Sciences, examine fifteen American cities and show that successful climate policy adoption relies on communication across diverse sets of stakeholders. Specifically, there needs to be collaboration and partnerships between community and municipality.

Pathways to success

For Fiack and Kamieniecki, the development of civic community among important stakeholders can produce a critical channel towards policy success. Because the federal government has done little to tackle climate change, action has primarily occurred at the local and state level with some cities and states implementing change themselves.

Other factors that are likely to lead to successful action include: socioeconomic status and education. The authors report, “Socioeconomic and civic community conditions are likely to be significant contributors to a city’s decision to pursue such policies.”  

Awareness and understanding of issues are also key. Fiack and Kamieniecki add, “the education level of local communities is likely to affect the ability of community members to understand and engage in complex scientific discussions related to GHG emissions, creating challenges for establishing climate change plans.”

Road to failure  

But as Fiack and Kamieniecki’s study shows, some American cities are moving faster than others to carry out programs and policy. What makes some cities lag behind? The authors argue that the answer is a lack of stakeholder engagement via collaborative processes. Without cooperative partnerships, such as advisory committees, special task forces, or specific agencies to help with community planning, policy output is limited.

“Cities that have not participated in the collaborative panel process have made little or no effort to implement GHG [greenhouse gas] policies,” the two researchers observe.
Collaboration, trust and social reciprocity

But the authors argue successful action requires more than cooperation. The authors propose, “that a collaborative effort that increases trust and social reciprocity is more likely to result in GHG emissions reductions than one that does not.”
Trust contributes to the survivability and consistency of climate action efforts. Thus, effective climate action needs to build retention efforts into the planning process. Fiack and Kamieniecki indicate that there should be a continual conversation in the civic community to keep them engaged with climate issues. Dialogue needs to be ongoing, research must be up to date.

Read the full paper on eScholarhip, an open access, scholarly publishing service that allows scholars associated with the University of California to have control over the creation and dissemination of their scholarship.

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