Consequences and practical relevance of multi-level governance

There has been an intensification of research on the consequences as well as the character of multi-level governance. The concept was developed as a tool of pure research, but it now motivates policy makers. From the late 1990s the European Commission began to refer to its own mission as one of achieving multilevel governance, especially in cohesion policy. In 2001, the Commission set up a committee on multilevel governance to contribute to its White Paper on governance. José Manuel Barroso, President of the European Commission, claims that ‘the multilevel system of governance on which our European regional policy is based provides a key boost to the Union's competitive edge’ and that, in the current economic crisis, 'multilevel governance must be a priority'. In an October 2008 resolution, the European Parliament called on the member states ‘to develop as quickly as possible the practical measures set out in the First Action Programme . . . with a view to strengthening multilevel governance’. In 2009, 344 representatives of elected regional and local authorities across the EU approved a resolution on a 'European Union Charter for Multilevel Governance', which would bring localities and regions into European democratic decision making.

This theme has been taken up by several political parties including the European Peoples Party, representing Christian democratic parties in the European Parliament, which recently stated that ‘multilevel governance should be one of the guiding principles of the EU, an integral part of any European strategy or policy where local and regional authorities are widely implicated, and monitored closely to ensure that it is indeed being put into practice on the ground’.

International organizations have also taken positions on the issue. In 2009, the United Nations Development Programme released a report, ‘Delivering Human Security through Multilevel Governance’, which argued that ‘the two-level approach to international relations . . . is being replaced by a much more complex multilevel system of governance that also involves local, sub-national providers of public goods as well as regional governance actors acting at a supranational but not a global level’. The World Bank has commissioned a series of studies examining multilevel governance; the United Nations has a research and training institute on comparative regional integration that studies ‘multilevel regulatory processes and the relations between sub- and supra-national regional governance’, and the OECD has created a directorate on multilevel governance.

However, the consequences of multilevel governance are debated. In the eyes of its detractors, multilevel governance exacerbates corruption (Treisman 2000), leads to gridlock (Scharpf 2007), engenders moral hazard (Rodden 2006), constrains redistribution (Obinger, Castles, Leibfried 2005), obfuscates accountability (Peters & Pierre 2004), and wastes money (Berry 2009). Research on both causes and consequences of multi-level governance is ongoing and more and more information about the subnational as well as the international dimension of multi-level governance is available in the context of larger data sets.


Multi-level governance of climate change in cities

Global climate change is being contributed to by ever increasing levels of greenhouse gas emissions emanating from decisions and activities of individuals and organisations at local, regional, national and international levels.Cities are suggested to contribute up to 75% of global carbon dioxide emissions, reflecting the increasing proportions of global populations living and working in cities. As we know, tackling climate change is an extensive, time-consuming and costly task, a task that cannot be achieved solely through the policy implementation and regulation from central governments and bodies alone. It has become increasingly clear that nation-states will be unable to commit to and meet international targets and agreements for offsetting climate change without engaging with the activity of sub-national and local action. Hereby, warranting the extreme importance of multi-level governance of climate change within cities.

Forms of governance at multi-levels have taken off increasingly at the local scale, building upon the notion of ‘think global, act local’, in cities in particular. Greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions stem from certain activities that originate from specific places, bringing about thought that the local scale is the most appropriate political scale to produce necessary offsets in emissions. Cities are exemplary of such specific places in which local governance action can and will help reduce GHG emissions. The levels of governance authority handed down to local governments within cities has been perceived to out-do policy goals within the national and international arena, with some local governments taking on their own initiatives for tackling urban climate change. This sets an important stance to which the local scale of multi-level governance is important for tackling global climate change within the urban arena.

Four distinct modes of governance exist within the dynamics of climate change in cities. Each stems from the local level with the ability of being implemented on multi-scales to mitigate and adapt to urban climate change. Self-governing is the capacity of local governments to govern its own activities such as improving energy efficiency within a designated city, without the burdening pressure to meet targets of increased energy efficiencies set by national governments. A form of self-governing within multi-level systems is horizontal collaboration where cities may collaborate with regions demonstrating multi-levels of governance to tackle urban climate change, imperative to the success of city climate change policy. Governing through enabling is the co-ordination and facilitation of partnerships with private organisations by the local government. National governments also implement this mode of governance to implement policy and action within cities. Governing through provision, a form of vertical collaboration along with governing through enabling, applies itself to the multi-levels of governance. Climate change in cities is tackled here through the shaping of and delivery of services and resources, with additional support aided to local governments from regional and national authorities. Lastly, another form of vertical collaboration, is governing through regulation. Such regulation characterizes traditional forms of authoritative governance, exemplifying local to nation-state relations, almost nearly covering the entirety of the multi-level governance scale.

Subnational Integration of Climate Actions


Within the various initiatives of the Low Emission Development Strategies Global Partnership (LEDS GP), the thematic working group on Subnational Integration (SNI-WG) was created in 2013 to support learning and facilitate collaboration between national and subnational governments for accelerated effective climate actions. The SNI-WG realizes several activities at global and regional levels including organizing panels at multiple regional and global forums, hosting peer-learning discussions, publishing reports and case studies, along with facilitating technical workshops, webinars and providing advisory Remote Expert Assistance on LEDS (REAL) support upon request. This process has generated observations, feedback and insights on the potential of the vertical integration and coordination of subnational climate actions to accelerate and scale-up both local and global emission reductions. Improving coordination and integration between the different levels of authority in a country is critical in determining both national and global capacity to govern climate change. City and subnational governments require support from the national government, and vice versa, in order to design and implement intersectoral policies and actions for domestic decarbonization pathways.

Multilevel governance theory and empirical evidence demonstrate that the coordination and vertical integration of climate actions can:

  • Help alleviate domestic political constraints.

  • Raise national government ambitions for more aggressive Intended Nationally Determined Contributions (INDCs) and GHG mitigation commitments.

  • Scale up, as well as unlock, additional and new mitigation opportunities at the subnational level.

  • Accelerate the effective implementation of national targets, strategies and development priorities by “localizing” them. This can also provide opportunities for “bundled approaches” and increasing “co-benefits” by linking local priorities with diverse development objectives Improve the consistency of sub-national and national climate data sets; strengthening MRV.

  • Create a more bankable “low-risk” environment for infrastructure finance and private sector investments.

  • Enable safe learning and strengthen domestic institutions.

  • Address recognized challenges and limits to sub-national non-state actor (NSA) climate actions.

  • Expand and accelerate the flow of international public and private climate finance to cities, urban infrastructure and local priorities.

  • Help address some of the persistent collective action challenges to multilateral climate agreements.

Cities for Climate Protection program

The Cities for Climate Protection (CCP) program is one example of multi-level governance of climate change. Roles and responsibilities are shared within different levels of governance, from state actors to non-state actors (Betsill & Bulkeley, 2006). Membership consists of 40 large cities worldwide (Large Cities Climate Leadership Group), with local governments often working in close connection with national governments.


However, the CCP can overlook the activity of nation-states giving local governments the opportunity to amend positions of policy implementation and regulation for offsetting urban climate change, which may be of a controversial nature to national governments. Thus illustrating even though climate change in cities can be addressed and governed at local, regional, national and international levels, it does not always follow a hierarchical order.