Investigating patterns of local climate governance: How low ‐ carbon municipalities and intentional communities intervene in social practices

Daniel Hausknost, Willi Haas, Sabine Hielscher, Martina Schäfer, Michaela Leitner, Iris Kunze, Sylvia Mandl

Publication: Scientific journalJournal articlepeer-review

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The local level has gained prominence in climate policy and governance in recent years as it is increasingly perceived as a privileged arena for policy experimentation and social and institutional innovation. However, the success of local climate governance in industrialized countries has been limited. One reason may be that local communities focus too much on strategies of technology‐oriented ecological modernization and individual behavior change and too little on strategies that target unsustainable social practices and their embeddedness in complex socioeconomic patterns. In this paper we assess and compare the strategies of “low‐carbon municipalities” (top‐down initiatives) and those of “intentional communities” (bottom‐up initiatives). We were interested to determine to what extent and in which ways each community type intervenes in social practices to curb carbon emissions and to explore the scope for further and deeper interventions on the local level. Using an analytical framework based on social practice theory we identify characteristic patterns of intervention for each community type. We find that low‐carbon municipalities face difficulties in transforming carbon‐intensive social practices. While offering some additional low‐carbon choices, their ability to reduce carbon‐intensive practices is very limited. Their focus on efficiency and individual choice shows little transformative potential. Intentional communities, by contrast, have more institutional and organizational options to intervene in the web of social practices. Finally, we explore to what extent low‐carbon municipalities can learn from intentional communities and propose strategies of hybridization for policy innovation to combine the strengths of both models.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)371 - 382
JournalEnvironmental Policy and Governance
Issue number6
Publication statusPublished - 2018

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