current debate


Do international agencies, consultants, and other “orchestrators” truly help cities reduce climate-related risks?

11th OD debate

The moderator’s opening remarks

Cities play an increasingly active role in governing climate change action. Even in countries where national governments have done little to tackle global warming, municipalities are seen as key to reducing both carbon emissions and vulnerabilities. But cities do not always have the resources and capacity to implement ambitious measures to reduce atmospheric pollution (mitigation) or disaster risk. In response, non-governmental institutions, such as 100 Resilient Cities, ICLEI, C40, UN Habitat, and multiple city networks and international consultancy firms are working with cities—rich and poor—to better tackle climate-related challenges.
Defenders of this approach argue that hybrid governance, which merges private consultants with public institutions, is an opportunity for building local capacity by combining funding and expertise from the public and private sectors. They contend that climate change and other risks must be addressed at a global scale by constructing international coalitions guided by consensus towards common objectives. For them, international consultants and agencies are not only needed to fill gaps in municipal expertise, but also to broaden participation and contribute to a more inclusive co-governance approach to global issues. Hybrid governance facilitates public awareness, reinforces relationships between cities, contributes to city-to-city and government-to-industry knowledge transfer, and provides a platform for promoting successful policy experiments. Besides, defenders argue, transnational actors help in building a common language and identifying comparative indicators.
Not everyone is convinced, though. Many experts raise ethical questions about the legitimacy and transparency of a form of global governance that depends on private, non-elected, international organizations that are not directly accountable to voters or taxpayers. For them, the delegation of policy design to consultants and non-government agencies reinforces neoliberal practices. Critics argue that agencies and consultants may pursue their own agendas, without sufficiently adapting initiatives to the specific conditions of each context. They claim that philanthropists, think-tanks, and agencies are increasingly orchestrating* climate action in a way that protects private interests and fails to respond to the real needs and expectations of the most vulnerable. This orchestration often leads to “green-washing” and adaptation initiatives that may comply with international sustainability or investment standards, but which often result in overlooked secondary effects. Others question the effective impact of orchestration and the ethical consequences of implementing foreign concepts. They argue that consulting services are often limited in time (with their contracts typically ending with the delivery of reports, guidelines, pathways, roadmaps, and checklists) and rarely include disciplined, long-term implementation, monitoring, and follow-up, which fosters cities’ ongoing dependence on external expertise. Finally, others contend that even when changes are made within municipalities—often in the form of new climate or disaster-risk departments or units—these structures quickly become empty shells, deprived of expertise, resources, and administrative mechanisms to implement change in the long run.
For this debate, we have invited two internationally recognized experts on urban sustainability and development to defend each viewpoint. Our panelists will present their most persuasive arguments over the next seven days, but the outcome of the debate rests in your hands. Don’t hesitate to vote immediately—you can always change your mind. Better yet, once you have cast your vote, add your voice to the debate and explain your decision.
* Orchestration here refers to a mode of indirect governance whereby an institution attempts to influence a target population through intermediaries using non-coercive means (Abbott & al., 2015,2020; Gordon & Johnson, 2017).
James Meadowcroft argues that international agencies, consultants, and other “orchestrators” truly help cities reduce climate-related risks.
Dr. James Meadowcroft is a Professor in both the Department of Political Science and the School of Public Policy and Administration at Carleton University. He is currently Research Director, alongside David Layzell and Normand Mousseau, of the Transition Accelerator, which supports Canada’s transition to a net-zero future while solving societal challenges. James also leads Efficiency Canada—an independent, pan-Canadian think tank aimed at maximizing the benefits of energy efficiency. James has written widely on environmental politics and policy, democratic participation and deliberative democracy, national sustainable development strategies, and socio-technical transitions. Recent work focuses on energy and the transition to a low carbon society and includes publications on carbon capture and storage (CCS), smart grids, the development of Ontario’s electricity system, the politics of socio-technical transitions, and negative carbon emissions.
Craig Johnson argues that international agencies, consultants, and other “orchestrators” are not truly helping cities reduce climate-related risks.
Dr. Craig Johnson is Professor of Political Science at the University of Guelph where he teaches undergraduate and graduate courses in environmental politics, sustainable development, humanitarian policy, and global environmental regimes. His research lies in the field of global environmental governance, focusing primarily on the role of cities and transnational city-networks in reducing the worlds global carbon footprint. Craig is author of The Power of Cities in Global Climate Politics (Palgrave/MacMillan, 2018) and Arresting Development: The Power of Knowledge for Social Change (Routledge, 2009). He is also a Senior Fellow with the Global Cities Institute at the University of Toronto, and has taught at the London School of Economics, the School of Oriental and African Studies, University College London and the University of Oxford.


5 thoughts on “current debate

  1. Do international agencies, consultants, and other “orchestrators” truly help cities reduce climate-related risks?

    My answer to this political question is simple.

    Yes, absolutely!

    I would like to think they really do.

    International agencies, consultants, and other Orchestrator truly help my cities reducing our risks to be affected by climate change and/or disasters caused by natural hazards. At least, better than the alternative of nothing.

    And that’s why we sided and patronage’s Dr. Katharine Rietig for three reasons:

    1) Because we are sitting in the most vulnerable and at-risk region of the world to be affected by climate change and/or disasters caused by natural hazards, we have experienced the devastating effects of climate change throughout the year since our childhood;

    2) We already contributed to the building of a Resilient Tonga policy to be achieved by 2035 since this is 2021, as a result, we also contributed to the building of a Resilient Pacific Islanders, and thus globally, to the building of Resilience (CCA & DRR) Planet by 2030 and beyond;

    3) Since we are dealing with these issues in our everyday life, our experiences may differ significantly from others who are not in the most at-risk region of the world.

    So for me personally, I completely agreed that we as Orchestrators are orchestrated climate change in the right direction, at least for now.

    For example, as a resident of the country second to the most at-risk nation in the world affected by climate change and hazards in the world, not only that some of our people have to deal with living in the middle of the sea and/or coastal areas, but also we learn ourselves on how to be dealing with the impacts of:

    1) sea-level rise;
    2) temperature changes;
    3) drought;
    4) heavy rainfall;
    5) flooding;
    6) cyclones;
    7) tsunamis;
    8) earthquakes;
    9) Ocean Acidification; and
    10) others;


    Even People Living With Disability (PLWD) in our country knows too how to adapt to climate change.

    In my country, we do a lot of adaption work to reduce our risks, they may include but are not limited to:

    1) reforestation initiatives programs (e.g., mangroves);
    2) planned to be 100% Renewable Energy by 2050 and beyond;
    3) building a sustainable and resilient coastal management infrastructure and others;
    4) currently working on our Resilient Tonga climate change policy to be achieved by 2035 and beyond;
    5) we have a portfolio for climate change at the Ministerial level;
    6) we, also, have ocean adaptation programs (e.g., SMA);
    7) Tonga already implemented its 72 Hours program interalia in responding to disasters;
    7) but most importantly, we also, addressed the religious aspect of climate change in the sense that we are a Christian State.

    So, from the perspective of a person living in the least developed nation very vulnerable to be affected by poverty because of climate change, yes it does. As you can see, the Orchestrator in my country are not only doing good for the livelihoods, health and well-being of our people but they are helping to build a Resilient Tonga, Resilient Pacific Islanders and Resilient Planet Earth post-SDGs or by 2030.

    We want to live a sustainable and resilient life because if not, we will be destroyed by climate change.

    Also, as Christian, we believed that only our Christian God (e.g., Jesus) can reverse the impacts of climate change on Tonga and the world. We believed in Him because He already did it before and that’s why everyone is praying and fasting for Him to have mercy again and save us from this killing machine.

    Unfortunately, these very perceptions may differ significantly from those who lived luxuriously, coming from a non-Christian State or Secularism, and intriguingly no experience of climate change or any effects from any hazards.

    In Tonga, we called these conceptualities: “Takanga ‘Etau Fohe” meaning “Working Together in Unison”. As Orchestrator, that’s what we need is to work together as one. In order to reduce climate-related risks locally, regionally, internationally, we need to increase our Resilience capacity and always be ready all the time in order to reduce our risks. This Tongan concept originated from our Churches in Tonga especially in our tithe offering and others but this relationship is under research in Tonga and more widely.

    And because of this deficiency in research in this area on climate change and religion, this prompts me to explore further the linkages between climate change and religion. To me as a training Pastor, we cannot separate the care for a person to exclude spiritual well-being care. That’s why we need to think like a Pastor in Tonga or at least spiritually in some sense.

    Anyways, my research on climate change and religion have shown that this part is missing from the equation of Resilience and adaptation. Because climate change perceived to be sent by God for punishment and buffering, we need to look at it too, from a spirituality perspective. And I know, technically, most people may disparate, but this is true in the sense that if we treated it as a “spirit” being and in spiritual well-being, then we must look at it physically, mentally and spiritually in the image of a person. This dimension is missing in our adaptation approach!

    If this hypothesis is accepted, then we have spent most of our work globally at the physical and mental state of our adaptation. We missed the most important part of adaptation: the God factor. Because we are ignoring this part of the equation to the problems, it is very challenging to heal a person without a spiritual adaptation. The world needs spiritual adaptation too in order to reverse these impacts of climate change.

    So, as an Orchestrator who fixed our cities and helps to reduce climate-related risks, we need to call our global partners to factor in religion too. Spiritual adaptation is vital and therefore it should be considered in Resilience and all our global agenda and adaptation work.

    Please, help me! I would love to hear what you thought of my contributions to this debate. I can be reached at any time at

    Orchestrators truly help my cities reduce climate-related risks

  2. According to a report1 by the International Energy Agency , more than 70% of the world’s population shall be living in cities by 2050 which will test the capacity of countries to adopt sustainable measures in their urban expansion.

    In such efforts, the hybrid governance which calls for collaboration of state and non state actors with the assistance of later in the form of financial help and the technical expertise. Also, much is expected from the global non state actors to guide developing world with the coherent policy in their efforts towards sustainable future.

    The concept of governance is about how individuals and institutions act in the ways in which they manage their common affairs. While global environmental governance is the intersection of global governance with the environmental affairs. Surprisingly, this field is fragmented and it explains the apparent incongruence between a growing environmental crisis in the face of unprecedented degrees of international coordination, regulation and technical advance. For example the sustainable development goals and the nationally determined contributions are the targets expected to be met by countries. To meet these target, there is a lack of localized policy and planning emanating from the global level policy arenas which could guides the developing countries. Also, challenges faced by these countries are unique and different linked with their economy, geographic location, demographics, socio cultural status and political economy

    There are numerous examples of agencies and consultants not achieving true essence of build back better or constructing sustainable neighborhoods either due to meeting exigencies of time, excessive political involvement and their inability to engage local communities in the process. However, the role of agencies/ orchestrators cannot be ignored as they occupy positions of power and influence over strategic decisions of many governments through campaign promotion as well as research, advisory, and consulting services. Here, assuming a near perfect role of these orchestrators. their capability to “TRULY” helps cities reduce climate related risks depends on which state they are engaged with? This is primarily because urban’ governance of climate protection lies with the government, which has systems to make rules and coercive power to back them up. The manner in which policies are created and coordinated at different levels of governance varies with the type of Government in different countries. In addition, there are inherent institutional barriers which come in the path of cities to reduce climate risks.

    Another key factor which assists orchestrators to truly support their efforts in making cities sustainable is the will/ commitment of the Government. The Indian Government initiated the UJALA & Street Lighting National Programme2 under which 10 million smart LED streetlights were installed resulting in energy savings of 6.97 billion kWh per year and an estimated greenhouse gas (GHG) emission reduction of 4.80 million tCO2 annually. Although it was the government administered initiative, it could have brought better results if international agencies contributed through more advanced technologies in this endeavour.

    The orchestrators are there to help through financial, policy and technical support but these efforts are likely to go in vain in the presence of discussed barriers inherent in many countries specifically the developing world. Due to these facts and the limitations of orchestrators, the position of word “TRULY” in the debate is not rightly placed.


  3. Dr. Kelman, I have read most of your work and the shared article is helpful in understanding how various aspects shape the vulnerability of communities such as demographic characteristics and cultural entanglements, also crucial to design and plan sustainable and resilient cities.

    To better comprehend that how cities become resilient, and the responses expected from them, the CITY RESILIENCE INDEX is already in place(1). This index covers topics such as housing, infrastructure and energy, water supply, drainage, health, business of communities, disaster management, transport, and urban planning. The larger issues are related to the barriers which hinder the cities to reduce their climate related risks. So, in my view, the word TRULY in the statement of debate depends on capability of a city to overcome the barriers upon which the role of international agencies, consultants and other orchestrators also depends. This debate would be more meaningful and bring more tangible policy outcomes if we discuss why barriers exist and manifest in different forms and how they should be categorized.

    The barriers to adaptation to the climate related risks in cities are related to institutional inefficiencies, political preferences, governance barriers, financial constraints (2). The systematic structural issues restrict the majority of world’s population and deprive them of their right to make decisions of their own. While there is categorization of barriers but these barriers do not have defined boundaries which collectively impact the role of international agencies/ consultants to make their efforts forward. Also, there is no one-size-fits-all solution, probably because of the multiple and context-specific origins of barriers present in different forms of governance procedures defined by different countries.

    2 DOI: 10.1038/NCLIMATE2350

  4. The role of International organizations, agencies and consultants cannot be ignored in the rehabilitation after disasters and sustainable development of cities. They have ambitious goals but they have moderate governance capacity. Similarly, orchestrators seek to mobilize other non state actors and trans governmental networks.

    Within the domain of global Climate Governance, the biggest dilemma is the absence of GOVERNANCE architecture which is more inclined towards the notion of a “regime complex for climate change. For Example, the Nationally determined Contributions (NDC)agreed by nations of the world to commit to reduce national emissions and adapt to the impacts of climate change. But there is no mechanism which ensures the applicability of committed actions by the nations, rather the applicability of NDC’s is left at the behest of individual nations. In addition the non state actors are assumed to take up the role of global watch dog in the aftermath of Paris Agreement. Similarly energy production , the usage, and consumption of energy is a huge sector which has to decide the efforts of countries towards climate resilient cities. Unfortunately, the Global Energy governance at the global level is also fragmented. If one sees literature, he would find that global energy governance organizations were setup to secure the interests of those nations which established them. Their interest mainly revolved around energy supply, energy production at home and also defined investments trends in less developed countries who banked on technology and finance from the developed countries. Similar dichotomy is present in the agenda of many multinational and intergovernmental stakeholders which is best explained by the zero sum game when only one entity benefits from the vulnerability of the other. Furthermore, while the orchestrators such as UNFCC seek to identify and engage the intermediaries whose goals align with that of orchestrators such as environmental NGOs, business, indigenous people, women, trade unions, local governments, science and technology communities, there is possible conflict as some non-state actors seek to roll back regulations for their own benefits. Also, some non-state actors prefer to seek insider status while others demand radical, systemic change in the host governments.

    I would like to conclude here that amid numerous issues at the national level and the global level vis a vis implementation of climate change agenda in cities , there is horizontal fragmentation in the institutional interplay of institutions at the global level. But the cities are more vulnerable because of the lack of interplay between the climate governance at the global level and the national level specifically in the context of developing countries. This area demands more action to uplift the developing countries through their capacity building in policy formulation and implementation of projects aligned with UN’s sustainable development goals.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s