urban sustainability & resilience

A blog about governance for urban sustainability and resilience

C40 Membership in Amsterdam: Who benefits?

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City-networks such as ICLEI, the Covenant of Mayors, and the C40 Cities Climate Leadership Group have rapidly gained traction in the international climate governance regime. Scholars, practitioners and policymakers often discuss these networks in highly positive terms. To somewhat exaggerate two decades of city-network research: City-networks are said to hold the potential to accelerate climate action at the urban level and make progress where nation states have failed in responding to climate change. In sum, these networks—and in their slipstream the cities they represent—have rapidly gained a savior-like status.

 

Recently, more critical insights have been presented on city-networks. Slowly, questions are rising as to how well they are capable to connect with cities, spur them to respond to climate change, and how well they deliver what cities need to effectively take climate action. I am currently supervising several post-grad students (MSc and PhD) who have set themselves the daunting task to look behind the screens of city-networks, aiming to better understand what these organizations exactly contribute to the global climate governance regime.

 

One of my students, Emmelien Venselaar, has just delivered an excellent MSc graduation thesis on the C40 Cities Climate Leadership Group (C40), which I will briefly discuss here. I will particularly touch on the unique empirical insights she has uncovered.

 

C40: An exclusive club with member-only benefits?

The analytical starting point of the thesis is that the international climate governance regime can be understood as a polycentric system. That is, seeking to address climate change, over the last two decades new and dynamic forms of governing have emerged that are characterized by self-organized centres of decision making, horizontal forms of steering, bottom-up up initiatives, and the involvement of a wide range of non-state actors—including businesses, NGOs and citizens. The C40 can, at first glance, be understood as a novel ‘actor’ in the international climate governance regime: it is a self-organized group of members that seek to take climate action across the globe.

Yet, whilst self-organized, the C40 is not fully a horizontal or ‘flat’ organization. It has a clear organizational structure, with a board, steering committee, chair, and different levels of membership for its cities. It also has strict entry and participation criteria member cities are expected to meet and provides them with member-only benefits in return—at the very least, it has these things when looked at as an outsider. C40 appears a voluntary but exclusive club that takes up a specific position within the polycentric international climate governance regime. It is for this reason that Emmelien used club theory to study the position of Amsterdam without C40.

 

Q: Why did Amsterdam join the C40 in the first place?

A: They were asked

Being an exclusive club, C40 has to make sure to (1) be attractive enough for cities to become a member, (2) scrutinize its prospective members before it allows them to the club, and (3) monitor its members’ behaviour to ensure they are acting to the club’s goals. After all, if the member cities would not do so, the C40 will lose its good reputation.

In her study, building on existing documentation and a range of interviews, Emmelien uncovered five frames the C40 uses to market its relevance to prospective members. These frames can be considered the rewards that member cities get from joining C40—note, some of these are explicitly stated in the official C40 documentation, others more implicitly:

  • Cities (and the C40) are the new climate leaders: It promises its member cities political influence in the international climate governance regime.
  • Climate change is a fundamental urban issue: It promises its member cities a green reputation and public recognition.
  • Cities are delivering practical action: It promises its member cities support in taking action, ranging from technical assistance to finding financial assistance.
  • Cities collaborate, they don’t compete: It promises its member cities support in exchanging knowledge.
  • Greening the city and urban economic progress can go hand in hand: It promises its member cities business opportunities.

 

From her interviews, Emmelien learnt that these ‘rewards’ were indeed among the reasons why Amsterdam joined the C40. Yet, she also learnt that until 2005, C40 worked with invitation-only membership. Amsterdam was among the first cities to be invited. Currently, interested cities can apply for membership. However, the C40s has set an upper limit of about 110 cities as the absolute maximum number of members. Beyond this, so explained interviewees, loses its intimacy and the advantages that come with that—relatively easy to manage, relatively easy for cities to connect with each other, and so on. This implies, however, that with now 92 affiliated cities, the C40s is almost a maximum capacity, and, as interviewees explained further, has a waiting list of prospective members.

 

Q: What is asked of Amsterdam to maintain their membership?

A: Give me a minute…

Where many of the other global city-networks are fully transparent about the costs of joining them and maintaining membership, C40 is not. By the time of writing the thesis, this information was not available from the C40 website—which has considerably complicated academic research on the network (sometimes resulting in wrong assumptions being made). Through interviews, Emmelien unearthed the following participation costs, requirements, and penalties for non-compliance with these:

  • There are no membership fees for cities.
  • The C40 has set 13 participation standards, nine mandatory and four recommended ones. All cities have to comply with the mandatory standards, and ‘innovator cities’ also have to meet at least one of the recommended standards. Amsterdam is an innovator city and thus has to comply with the nine mandatory standards, and one of the recommended ones.
  • Mandatory standards are:
    • Participate in all C40 data collection efforts
    • Build and complete a city-wide GHG inventory using the GPC standards
    • Set a target to reduce GHG emissions
    • Establish city strategic action plans to reduce GHG emissions and adapt to climate change
    • Report annually on progress through a C40 recognized platform (currently CDP)
    • Sign a partnership agreement/MOU
    • Demonstrate active participation in networks
    • Complete and update city pages on the C40 website
  • The recommended standards are:
    • Offer to be the lead city or co-lead city in a C40 network
    • Offer to host a C40 network workshop
    • Offer to second staff to C40 or another C40 city
    • Host study tours, mentorship programs, or both, with other cities
  • C40 has installed non-monetary sanctions for non-compliance:
    • An official warning: If a city is lagging on its commitment to the mandatory standards. It will get six months to get in compliance.
    • Being set to an inactive status: If a city does not comply with the mandatory standards, six months after the official warning. (A
    • Being expelled from the network: If a city is still not in compliance with the mandatory standards, six months after being set to an inactive status. (This has never happened thus far.)

 

It wouldn’t surprise me if the time spent, annually and globally, by academics researching the C40 well-exceeds the time spent by city staff engaging with the C40. Something seems wrong here…

 

Q: In Amsterdam, who actually works on/for/with C40?

A: One person (and not full-time)

One of the core insights from the thesis, I feel, is the discrepancy in how the C40s presents itself as a global network of engaged and active cities, and the resonance of C40 in Amsterdam. Compare the following:

  • On the C40 website it is argued: “No other organisation facilitates such deep connections amongst city staff across 50+ countries, 20 time zones and 26 languages to accelerate local action with major global impact”. The C40s represents “1 in 12 people worldwide”, its 92 cities account for “25% of global GDP” and have taken “10,000 actions to combat climate change”.
  • For Amsterdam, interviewees told Emmelien that “the number of people engaged with C40 … can be counted on [the fingers of] one hand”. In Amsterdam, one person is “responsible for staying in touch with C40” as part of her work-portfolio that also includes working with ICLEI and other tasks, a few people are involved in subnetworks in C40, but aside from these “not many people [within the Amsterdam city council or administration can] be found who [engage with] C40 or [have] even heard of it.”

This is shocking, to say the least. It is also an eye-opener for me as I had never really thought of the number of people actively engaging with C40, or C40 related activities, in a member city. Let’s assume that Amsterdam is representative of the “deep engagement” city staff experiences as regards C40, then the roughly 1 day per week full-time equivalent (or 0.2 FTE) the Amsterdam city staff spends on C40 tasks, accumulates to less than 20 FTE. That is, the accumulated time of 20 full-time jobs spend on C40 tasks. Globally. Even if Amsterdam would be a five-fold off, which I doubt when considering my own research in a range of C40 cities, then we would not have more than the accumulated time of 100 full-time jobs spend on C40 tasks annually and globally.

It wouldn’t surprise me if the time spent, annually and globally, by academics researching the C40 well-exceeds the time spent by city staff engaging with the C40. Something seems wrong here…

 

Q: Did Amsterdam get what it expected from joining C40?

A: Not really, but…

When Emmelien asked her respondents if Amsterdam got what it expected from joining C40, the answer was, overall, negative. None of the frames or rewards discussed above was recognized as such by the interviewees. In short, Amsterdam did no experience having more political influence at the national or international level resulting from its C40 membership. The city did not experience an increased green reputation. It appreciated being connected to other C40 cities in Europe, but, again, did not experience tangible benefits flowing from these connections. Finally, Amsterdam did not experience benefits of knowledge exchange and lessons from other cities (in Europe and beyond, nor had it experiences increased business opportunities because of being a member of C40.

Still, interviewees appreciated Amsterdam’s membership in C40. Between the lines, but this is my interpretation, I read that C40 gives the sometimes ‘lonely’ urban climate champion in a city (here, Amsterdam) a platform to exchange ideas, and to discuss these with like-minded. C40 may very well create a shared identity for city staff; a feeling of belonging to a group. Whether this holds for other member cities also is, ultimately, a task for future research to explore.

…we really need to go out there and engage with city staff, city-network staff, and preferably people who are in one way or the other influenced by these networks—citizens, representatives of firms, of NGOs, of international organizations, and so on—rather than blindly trusting what these networks publish on their websites, or recycling what others have said about them.

Conclusion: Who benefits from city-networks?

It goes without saying that I cannot make sweeping generalizations from Emmelien’s outstanding thesis. Whilst her thesis seeks to contribute to understanding whether city-networks are effective in accelerating urban climate action, it by no means can answer that question. It has, nevertheless, uncovered a few important pieces of the puzzle.

 

A first key insight of Emmelien’s work is that the role of individual people—may they be city staff or city-network staff—is essential in how a city-network performs. This is particularly relevant if we keep in mind how little staff is, annually and globally, working with and for these global networks. I made a rough estimation of a total of 20 to 100 full-time job equivalent (20 to 100 FTE) globally and annually for C40—which is likely less than the total time spent globally and annually by scholars seeking to understand this particular network.

 

A second key insight of Emmelien’s work is that we really need to go out there and engage with city staff, city-network staff, and preferably people who are in one way or the other influenced by these networks—citizens, representatives of firms, of NGOs, of international organizations, and so on—rather than blindly trusting what these networks publish on their websites, or recycling what others have said about them.

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This entry was posted on April 23, 2018 by in Urban sustainability and resilience and tagged , , .

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