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).
Laura M. Hammett argues that international agencies, consultants, and other “orchestrators” truly help cities reduce climate-related risks.
Laura M. Hammett is an urban resilience and climate change adaptation specialist whose research and professional experience span the intersection of sustainable land use planning, international development, climate policy and finance, and disaster risk management. Laura has a background in urban planning and has worked to support local governance and sustainable land use planning in the Balkans and East Asia. She completed a Masters of Environmental Management at Yale University and currently works with the United Nations Development Programm (UNDP) to develop urban resilience and climate adaptation projects worldwide, with a particular focus on National Adaptation Planning processes and vertical integration of climate adaptation finance and policy.
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.

 

 

One thought 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;

    respectively.

    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 ilaisiaimoana@yahoo.com

    Malo,
    Orchestrators truly help my cities reduce climate-related risks

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