Representing ‘Place’: City Climate Commissions and the Institutionalisation of Experimental Governance in Edinburgh

Open Access Journal | ISSN: 2183-2463

Article | Open Access

Representing ‘Place’: City Climate Commissions and the Institutionalisation of Experimental Governance in Edinburgh


  • Alice Creasy School of GeoSciences, University of Edinburgh, UK
  • Matthew Lane School of GeoSciences, University of Edinburgh, UK
  • Alice Owen School of Earth and Environment, University of Leeds, UK
  • Candice Howarth Grantham Research Institute on Climate Change, London School of Economics and Political Science, UK
  • Dan van der Horst School of GeoSciences, University of Edinburgh, UK


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Abstract:  Against the backdrop of increasingly fragmented and poly-centric urban climate governance, this article examines the establishment of city climate ‘commissions’ as an experimental means of addressing the challenge of climate change at the city-scale. In doing so it addresses the question: What constitutes diversity in voices and perspectives when trying to represent the city as a place for climate action? To answer this question, the article presents an analysis of the Edinburgh Climate Commission’s establishment, drawing on participatory ethnographic research carried out by a researcher embedded within the project team. The account of how this new mode of urban governance was both conceptualised and then put into practice offers a new institutional angle to the literature on urban ‘experimentation.’ Through our reflective analysis we argue that aspirations to ensure pre-defined ‘key’ industries (high carbon emitters) are accounted for in commissioner recruitment, and an over-emphasis on capturing discernible ‘impacts’ in the short term (by involving organisations already pro-active in sustainable development) hindered an opportunity to embrace new perspectives on urban futures and harness the innovative potential of cities to engage with the multifaceted nature of the climate challenge. Furthermore, new insight into the relationship between local authorities and other ‘place-based’ agents of change opens up important questions regarding how to balance the attainment of legitimacy within the political status quo, and the prospect of a new radical politics for urban transformation.

Keywords:  agency; cities; climate change; Edinburgh; local governance; net zero; polycentrism; Scotland

Published:   28 April 2021


DOI: https://doi.org/10.17645/pag.v9i2.3794


© Alice Creasy, Matthew Lane Lane, Alice Owen, Candice Howarth, Dan van der Horst. This is an open access article distributed under the terms of the Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 license (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/4.0), which permits any use, distribution, and reproduction of the work without further permission provided the original author(s) and source are credited.