A polycentric, multi-scale, climate governance framework is developing in absence of a credible global agreement. In this context regional and local authorities worldwide are increasingly engaged to contribute to climate mitigation. Local climate action is particularly evident in Europe, where regional and local authorities are designing, implementing and monitoring sustainable energy policies, projects and actions often in a cooperative way. Data from the EU-funded project COOPENERGY show that cooperation initiatives in Europe involving regional and local authorities on sustainable energy are characterized by strengths and weaknesses. Political commitment emerges as a major driver for successful cooperation, while lack of funding is recognized as a major barrier.


Human activities are recognized to have a clear influence on climate change (IPCC, 2013). Deep cuts of GHG emissions are necessary in order to avoid exceeding the threshold of 2°C and to mitigate the negative impacts of climate change. Two different approaches to tackle the issue are taken in considerations at the political and scientific level. The first one focuses on pursuing a global agreement with compulsory national emission reduction targets: averting climate change is a global “public good” and needs a global solution. The second one requires a decentralized approach: climate change can be tackled at multiple scales, delivering nested externalities, and such efforts at all levels - national, regional, and local - are needed to make global solutions work effectively (Ostrom, 2012)[1]. A “transnational regime complex for climate change”, involving private actors and sub-national governments in addition to or in alternative to states or inter-states organizations, could work as a complementary approach to international negotiations, filling the governance gaps and partially substitute in case international negotiations should fail or should not be able to achieve sufficient results (Abbott, 2013).

The next UNFCCC Conference of Parties (COP21, planned for December 2015 in Paris) is supposed to deliver a new global framework agreement on climate change. While international negotiations proceed at a slow pace, several actions to reduce GHG are indeed taking place at multiple scales, through the initiative of public and private actors. Regional and Local Authorities are increasingly committed to energy and climate targets, as they are considered well-positioned to promote GHG reduction policies in several sectors, especially in urban areas where much of energy use is concentrated because of density of urban activities. Even if estimates differ, according to the approach used, urban areas are considered responsible for 67 – 76% of energy use at global level and 71 – 76% of energy related CO2 emissions, and between 37 – 49% of global GHGs (Seto et al., 2014). Though with differences according to each country administrative and regulatory framework, Regional and Local Authorities have several competences and powers in fields that are relevant for energy use and related emissions in cities, including transportation, public services management and territorial planning. They are also the closest level to citizens and communities; thus they can act on several levers to implement sustainable energy and GHG reduction policies as consumers and managers of their properties and assets (self-governing); as planners and regulators (governing by authority); as providers and suppliers (governing by provision); as enablers and advisors (governing by enabling) (Alber & Kern, 2008).

Several Regional and Local Authorities are defining strategies and plans for sustainable energy, and their networks have launched initiatives to support climate protection planning and implementation at sub-national level (Croci et al., 2011)[2]. The European Commission launched in 2008 an EU-wide initiative to mobilize local authorities on the 20-20-20 targets, the Covenant of Mayors, which now involves more than 6.000 municipalities in the development of local sustainable energy plans. Also regions and provinces participate in the initiative with roles of technical assistance to municipalities, financial support and policy coordination[3].

Promoting cooperation between different government levels on energy and climate can increase the effectiveness and efficiency of such policies and enhancing their implementation. This can be achieved combining their complementary skills, competences and resources (Jollands et al., 2009).

It has been highlighted that an effective integration of national, regional and local authorities’ policies to address complex challenges such as climate change, should be enabled by strong interconnectedness, dialogue and mutual learning between diverse actors and organisations, both public and private, including the civil society (Tasan-Kok & Vranken, 2011).

However the elaboration and implementation of integrated energy policies between sub-national governments is hampered by several barriers: financial, political and institutional, information and knowledge, capacity and skills barriers (LEDS, 2014). Financial barriers refer to constraints and tightness of public budgets; lack of finance; difficulties in mobilizing private funding. Political and institutional ones include the lack of coordination mechanisms for sustainability policies of different sub-national levels. Knowledge and information ones refer to knowledge gaps between sub-national levels and lack of data sharing, including the unavailability of comparable and consistent data on local emissions. Capacity barriers regard the lack of financial and institutional capacity to implement policies, as well as the lack of qualified staff and technical expertise to integrate climate in regional and local planning (ibid.).

Identifying cooperation mechanisms, as well as the success factors for effective cooperation, could contribute to overcome the abovementioned barriers and enable such integration and policy coordination. To understand how cooperation could be better unrolled there is need to investigate: i) in which ways levels of government are currently cooperating, through which models and approaches; ii) which approaches are proving to be successful and which factors are causing success/weaknesses to the collaboration; iii) which are the key enabling conditions of successful collaborations. This paper aims to investigate this issue making use of data collected within the European funded project COOPENERGY[4].
  1. “Given the failure to reach agreement at the international level on efficient, fair, and enforceable reductions of greenhouse gas emissions, continuing to wait without investing in efforts at multiple scales may defeat the possibilities of significant abatements and mitigations in enough time to prevent tragic disasters” (Ostrom, 2012).
  2. Several national and international initiatives involving local governments on climate protection exist over the world. They can be grouped in several categories, such as: i) individual or collective self commitments, like the U.S. Conference of Mayors Climate Protection Agreement launched in 2005 ( or the Global Cities Covenant on Climate (Mexico City Pact) launched in 2010 (, through which city mayors voluntarily commit to climate action; ii) formal agreements with international institutions such as the Covenant of Mayors, through which European municipalities sign a voluntary sustainable energy and climate commitment directly with the European Commission (; iii) transnational networks of cities sharing knowledge and best practices, such as “C40 Cities Climate Leadership Group” (C40), launched in 2005 and involving megacities addressing GHG reduction and climate risks management (, or ICLEI’s “Cities for Climate Protection Campaign” ( ICLEI is a network of local authorities in itself, which has launched the CCP campaign in 1993 to support municipalities in planning a climate protection strategy, providing participants also with methodological tools and approaches to plan more effectively; iv) reporting initiatives, such as “carbonn Cities Climate Registry” (cCCR) (, which is a global reporting platform of local climate action (mitigation and adaptation) set up by ICLEI, to which 422 local and sub-national governments from 44 countries are currently reporting about their climate commitments and actions. cCCR is also the official reporting mechanisms for the abovementioned Global Cities Covenant on Climate.
  3. According to data from the Covenant of Mayors website, as of 5 December 2014, 162 entities are involved in the initiative as “Covenant Coordinators” supporting municipalities in their participation in the initiative. Coordinators are decentralised authorities such as regions, provinces or grouping of local authorities, and national public bodies such as national energy agencies (
  4. COOPENERGY is a three-year project started in 2013 and co-financed by the Intelligent Energy Europe programme, involving eleven partners from eight European countries, including IEFE Bocconi University. It aims to implement and promote effective cooperation models in sustainable energy planning between regional and local public authorities ( Within COOPENERGY, IEFE Bocconi carried out a European survey in collaboration with the other partners, aimed at collecting examples of multi-level governance models on sustainable energy across Europe.