In This Article Expand or collapse the "in this article" section Climate Change and Cities

  • Introduction
  • General Overviews of Climate Change and Cities
  • The Evolving Role of Cities in Global Climate Change Policy
  • Transnational City Networks
  • Local Climate Change Policy Adoption
  • Urban Climate Change Governance, Politics, and Institutions
  • Justice and Equity in Urban Climate Change Governance
  • Nongovernmental, Intergovernmental, and Foundation-Produced Research

Urban Studies Climate Change and Cities
Sara Hughes
  • LAST REVIEWED: 15 October 2020
  • LAST MODIFIED: 15 October 2020
  • DOI: 10.1093/obo/9780190922481-0023


Cities are playing an increasingly important role in addressing climate change, adopting increasingly ambitious policies and plans for addressing its causes and consequences. A substantial body of work has emerged over the last twenty-five years focused on the relationship between cities, urban governance, and climate change response. This review provides a starting point for those interested in climate change and cities, and presents the broad contours of the literature: general overviews, cities in relation to global policy and transnational networks, the forces that shape local policy adoption, the political and institutional dimensions of urban climate governance, and the role of social justice and equity in urban responses to climate change.

General Overviews of Climate Change and Cities

Cities are a focus of climate change research both as contributors of greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions and as leaders on climate change mitigation and adaptation response. Bulkeley 2013 and Romero-Lankao and Dodman 2011 provide overviews of the relationship between cities and climate change, while Climate Action in Megacities, Hughes 2015, Reams, et al. 2012, and Bulkeley, et al. 2011 present summaries of the steps cities have taken (or can be expected to take) to address climate change. The Urban Climate Change Research Network (see Rosenzweig et al. 2018) has produced a global synthesis of knowledge related to cities and climate change. Aylett 2014 provides the results of a global survey of cities engaged in climate change policy, providing insight into the status and trends of their planning efforts. Lastly, Boswell, et al. 2012 provides useful insights for practitioners new to this field.

  • Aylett, Alex. Progress and Challenges in the Urban Governance of Climate Change: Results of a Global Survey. Cambridge, MA: Massachusetts Institute of Technology, Department of Urban Studies and Planning, 2014.

    This report presents the findings from a survey of 350 cities around the world asked to report on the status of their climate change adaptation and mitigation and the challenges they are facing in continuing this work. It provides good insight into the major patterns and trends in policy adoption around the world, but also the kinds of institutional, financial, and political challenges the cities perceive as hindering their progress.

  • Boswell, Michael R., Adrienne I. Greve, and Tammy L. Seale. Local Climate Action Planning. Washington, DC: Island Press, 2012.

    DOI: 10.5822/978-1-61091-201-3

    This book provides an overview of the administrative and planning processes engaged by the production of a local climate action plan, from public engagement to policy implementation. It is a useful guide for practitioners, and has insights for scholars interested in understanding the process and actors involved in developing a local climate action plan.

  • Bulkeley, Harriet. Cities and Climate Change. New York: Routledge, 2013.

    DOI: 10.4324/9780203077207

    This book provides an accessible overview of the relationship between cities and climate change. It includes chapters on urban vulnerability, urban contributions to climate change, mitigation and adaptation strategies, and urban governance and experimentation. Students and scholars will find this to be a useful introduction.

  • Bulkeley, Harriet, Vanesa Castán Broto, Michael Hodson, and Simon Marvin, eds. Cities and Low Carbon Transitions. Oxford: Routledge, 2011.

    The book analyzes the role of cities in low-carbon sociotechnical transitions, drawing from theories of sociotechnical transitions and assessing their strengths and limits for understanding urban responses to climate change. The book includes examples from cities in Europe, North America, South Africa, and China to provide evidence that efforts to undertake major urban transitions are taking place. The book is unique in the attention it gives to power, inequality, and lock-in in sociotechnical transitions.

  • C40 Cities Climate Leadership Group and Arup. Climate Action in Megacities 3.0. London: C40 Cities Climate Leadership Group, 2015.

    This report is a useful and highly visual account of the climate change policies and programs pursued by members of the C40 Cities Climate Leadership Network. It includes chapters on policy adoption, collaboration, financing, implementation, and mayoral leadership.

  • Hughes, Sara. “A Meta-Analysis of Urban Climate Change Adaptation Planning in the U.S.” Urban Climate 14.1 (2015): 17–29.

    DOI: 10.1016/j.uclim.2015.06.003

    This paper analyzes fifty-four studies of adaptation planning in US cities, and finds that new collaborations and interagency coordination are fundamental to adaptation work in cities. Hughes argues that issues of equity and social vulnerability are largely absent from urban adaptation planning and adaptation scholarship in the United States, and identifies promising areas for future research on urban adaptation.

  • Reams, Margaret A., Kelsey W. Clinton, and Nina S. N. Lam. “Achievement of Climate Planning Objectives among U.S. Member Cities of the International Council for Local Environmental Initiatives (ICLEI).” Low Carbon Economy 3.4 (2012): 137–143.

    DOI: 10.4236/lce.2012.34018

    This study provides a useful overview of the progress US cities have made on their commitments to reduce GHG emissions, focusing on meeting ICLEI milestones. The authors find that length of membership in the ICLEI program is the strongest predictor of implementation success, and that cities with heavier air pollution loads make slower progress.

  • Romero-Lankao, Patricia, and David Dodman. “Cities in Transition: Transforming Urban Centers from Hotbeds of GHG Emissions and Vulnerability to Seedbeds of Sustainability and Resilience: Introduction and Editorial Overview.” Current Opinion in Environmental Sustainability 3.3 (2011): 113–120.

    DOI: 10.1016/j.cosust.2011.02.002

    This review article examines the relationship between urbanization and environmental change and identifies key themes in this literature: the usefulness and centrality of the concepts of vulnerability and resilience, the central role of multiscalar governance systems in shaping responses, and the value of comparing experiences of cities from different parts of the world. The authors argue for greater attention to opportunities for effective urban responses to climate change and strategies for building more resilient cities.

  • Rosenzweig, Cynthia, William Solecki, Patricia Romero-Lankao, Shagun Mehrotra, Shobhakar Dhakal, and Somayya Ali Ibrahim, eds. Climate Change and Cities: Second Assessment Report of the Urban Climate Change Research Network. 2d ed. Cambridge, UK: Cambridge University Press, 2018.

    This assessment report draws on a global set of scholars and experts to provide a comprehensive overview of the relationship between cities and climate change. Its primary audience is decision makers, as it seeks to support better policy responses at the local level. The report highlights the expected impacts of climate change for cities, the role of disaster and risk management, environmental justice, and governance, as well as a more in-depth assessment in a number of policy areas, including energy, transportation, water, and health.

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