Project Elements


This research project investigates US and Canadian climate change mitigation and adaptation governance structure at the local and city level and seeks to propose an effective organizational structure for local and city governments. Specifically, the research project aims to complete the following three goals:

  • Understand the organizational structure of climate governance in governmental organizations at the city level. The scope of the project includes cities of different sizes, locations, and economic development levels within the United States and Canada. Initially, we will reach out to cities that are members of environmentally-related city networks such as the C40 Cities Climate Leadership Group, the International Council for Local Environmental Initiatives (ICLEI), etc.
  • Discuss the effective structure of climate governance and analyze the drivers of effective and efficient climate change policy formulation and implementation. In particular, we will compare different organizational structures to evaluate the organization’s effectiveness and efficiency for developing and implementing climate change related regulations. We aim to generate empirical evidence for the three major barriers suggested by literature:  jurisdictional cooperation, budgets, and regulatory authority as well identify additional barriers. Possible metrics for governance structure effectiveness include whether or not they achieved a greenhouse gas reduction goal, the presence of a climate action plan, or an effectiveness scale with a value selected by the survey participant.
  • Identify the roles/responsibilities of climate change officers at different city governance levels including their daily responsibilities, experience in developing climate change policies, academic background, etc. We hope to gain insights into the differing responsibilities across governance structures. By comparing the responsibility responses to stages of the policy making process, we would be able to analyze the effectiveness of the current organization structure and propose a theoretically optimum model.


This research will use a mixed methods, which focuses on “collecting, analyzing, and mixing both quantitative and qualitative data in a single study or series of studies” (Creswell, 2007). A combination of qualitative and quantitative can complement each other to help address the research questions.

Our research will look at climate change governance at the city level, for which the research unit will be cities of difference sizes, locations and economic development levels in both the United States and Canada. Participants will be recruited from the contact list provided by our client—ACCO, the Southeast Sustainability Directors Network connected by the Durham City/County Sustainability Office, climate change networks such as Large Cities Climate Leadership Group (C40), ICLEI’s Climate Preparedness programs, Western Climate Initiative, and EPA Climate Leaders Program. The main respondents will be mayors, city managers or the department heads of the Environmental/ Sustainability/ Climate Change Department in city governments.

An on-line survey will be developed using Qualtrics Survey Software supported by Duke University. It will have around 60 questions containing demographic questions, multiple choices asking either for one option or all that apply, dichotomous questions, ranking questions asking to rank several items and open-ended questions. The survey link will be distributed to city governors by ACCO through their contact list, as well as to member cities of the climate change networks that our group identifies. Thus, our sampling process is not entirely randomized. But we will try to enlarge the sampling scope to enhance the credibility of our research. To achieve a valid response number of 200, around 1000 surveys will be distributed. The data that is collected in the survey will be stored in the database of Qualtrics.  For respondents who indicated a willingness to be contacted, we will conduct phone conversations for clarification to survey questions when needed.

For the quantitative results obtained from the survey, we will build models to explain how different characteristics of a city government contribute to the effectiveness of their climate change governance. Stata will be used to run regression and conduct analysis. For the qualitative results, we will use NVivo software to understand the most concerned issues in cities of different sizes and economic levels.

Expected Results

We expect to produce a final report that devotes a section to discussing each of our three goals:

  • Regarding the organizational governance structure, we will discuss the size of climate governance, different tiers of governance, and the role of each tier, the resource each tier employs, and the final output from each tier.
  • Besides the three main barriers to effective climate change governance identified (jurisdictional cooperation, lack of funding, lack of regulatory authority), we expect to identify additional barriers such as lack of human resources, administrative complexity, lack of community support, etc. We will discuss possible approaches to overcome these barriers and develop an optimal structure.
  • We expect to find variation in the responsibilities and roles of climate change officers under different governance structures. For example, the climate change officers in a top down regime (i.e. at the city manager level) play a larger role in strategic planning. Officers in a bottom up regime (i.e. in the urban planning department) may deal with the implementation and monitoring of policies. However, it would be interesting to explore if there is overlap in climate change officer’s responsibility and discrepancy with the policymaking stages to gain insights into the effectiveness of the governance structure.

In addition to the final report, we will also produce a website that shares the major aspects of our project. Possible contents include: key findings, team bios, methods, references, and suggestions for future work.