Responsibility Competence and Problem Ownership The Local Dilemma of Climate Strategy Implementation

The common-pool resource character of climate, and the existing distribution of authority and responsibility, create intricate problems of assigning - as well as of accepting and being able to carry out - the responsibility for climate change abatement. Greenhouse gas emissions are both international and local in origin, and they have internationally dispersed, as well as locally concentrated, effects. Finding a rational and, at the same time, politically feasible distribution of responsibility for abatement action is thus an extremely delicate affair. A purely geographical approach, whether it is based on local or national jurisdictions, may lead both those governmental levels to argue that not all of the abatement is 'their table'. Sectoral approaches involving private producers may lead to protests against 'unfair or uncertified loads' of responsibility. Discussions of consumer- and producer-based approaches to ascribing responsibility for climate change problems point to further intricacies (see Bastianoni et al, 2004).

In our interviews with local councillors and administrators in four strategically selected local governments in the Gothenburg region,9 we approached this issue in a twofold way (see von Borgstede and Lundqvist, 2007). First, we asked about their recognition of climate as a collective resource, and about their recognition of possible conflicts between local governmental action and climate change abatement. Do they see a social dilemma in that their measures, however well intended from a local point of view, may, indeed, counteract national or global conceptions of, and strategies for, climate as a sustainable collective resource? Second, we asked about their views of municipal responsibility and competence (vested in legal authority) in order to capture the local actors' views on 'problem ownership'. What can local governments actually do about climate change, given current distributions of political and administrative authority and responsibility for sectors generating, or being affected by, climate change?

A key factor in assessing, acknowledging and accepting responsibility is whether local governments have recognized climate change as a relevant part of their political agenda. The general impression from our interviews is that virtually none of the respondents acknowledged that their local government had officially recognized climate change as a central item on the political agenda. Administrative discussions on problems related to climate change tend to treat such problems as 'sectoral' issues, such as waste management, energy consumption and water supply. Our respondents attributed this lack of specific attention to climate problems to perceived ignorance and lack of understanding. As for the small island municipality, interviewed actors said that the municipality does not contribute to climate change; it is simply not 'their table'. In Gothenburg's city government, the pattern is somewhat mixed. Asked whether they had paid any attention to the climate issue, three out of four answered that climate issues come in as one theme in the 'catch-all' view of environmental issues on the local agenda.

What is evident here is the importance of municipal size. The only one among selected municipalities that fully identified itself as a problem owner with respect to climate change was Gothenburg City. Both councillors and administrators recognized that the city is the source of a large amount of greenhouse gas emissions. The city harbours several heavy industrial facilities, such as the oil refineries that emit greenhouse gases. The size of the city and its function as the largest seaport in Scandinavia generates substantial traffic. Thus, the activities within the municipality constitute a source of problem ownership. The councillors and administrators furthermore recognized that municipal size and administrative capacity are 'symbiotic'; the city administration simply has so much expertise in the different sectors that it can take a lead in tackling many of the climate problems originating in the region.

Gothenburg councillors and administrators thus defined their municipality as a major originator of GHG emissions and the local government as having the capacity to influence and shape climate-related activities in line with the ambitions of the national climate strategy. In the other three municipalities, our interviewees invariably came up with road traffic as a very serious threat to climate. At the same time, they recognized that local government has little or no authority to regulate traffic streams on major traffic arteries, not to mention regulating the environmental performance of road vehicles.

How are these views on problem ownership related to local decisionmakers' recognition of climate change as a social dilemma? Our interviews reveal that a majority of the respondents spontaneously think about climate problems and their own municipality's activities as a social dilemma situation:

... obviously there is a huge conflict... in the way decision-makers in the municipality always try to distinguish the environmental questions [between] local, regional and global questions, and the further from the local level (which climate change actually is) the harder it is to get people to accept changing their current behaviour.

... of course, there is a conflict between own interests and the best for the collective as such; that's why we need to create motivation and knowledge.

In terms of which instruments to use in trying to solve this conflict, respondents first and foremost pointed to stricter laws and regulations as the major alternatives. Some also emphasized the need for more information to bring the climate change issue onto the local agenda, to increase knowledge about the origins, character and effects of climate change, as well as to create motivation for behavioural change. In order to provide the full picture, one should note that some respondents, particularly in the smaller municipalities, admitted that they had never thought about climate change in these terms. These actors, in addition, strongly argued against further national regulations to change people's lifestyles and behaviour.

Continue reading here: Conclusions Norms Dilemmas and Possibilities of Effective and Legitimate Multilevel Governance of Climate Change

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