Carbon emissions and climate policy support by local governments in California: a qualitative comparative analysis at the county level

Abstract

Drawing from the existing social science literature, we examine the relationship between fossil fuel use and the adoption of policy to address climate change at the local level. In our analysis, we incorporate direct measures of fossil fuel use in a manner that allows us to distinguish carbon emissions from consumption-based and production-based activities. Focusing on the 36 most populous and urbanized counties within the state of California, we merge these emissions, along with other political and economic measures, with an indicator of extensive policy support derived from climate agreement signatories. We then use fuzzy-set qualitative comparative analysis (QCA) to examine conditions that are sufficient for broad adoption of climate policy within a given county. Based on the results, we frame consumption-based and production-based emissions as distinctive in the way that their relationship with climate policy adoption depends on other favorable political and economic conditions. In particular, we identify several routes to extensive adoption for counties that have a combination of low emissions and a favorable political environment. In the conclusion, we discuss the QCA findings and elaborate on the theoretical and practical implications for efforts to understand and to promote carbon reduction efforts at the local level.

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Notes

  1. 1.

    San Francisco is removed from the analysis because, unlike all other counties in the state, the city is coterminous with the county and is governed by a consolidated city-county government.

  2. 2.

    Both the raw dataset analyzed during the current study are available from the corresponding author on reasonable request.

  3. 3.

    While interesting work has been done measuring political support for mayors who sign analogous climate commitments in a European context (see, for example, Martelli et al. 2018), we focus our analysis on the local characteristics that are conducive to the adoption of climate policy in the context of a single US state.

  4. 4.

    While a QCA analysis cannot evaluate the presence of a Kuznets curve, in previous quantitative literature using inferential statistical methods (i.e., regression models), we found that there is no Kuznets curve for consumption-based emissions, but there is an upside-U shape relationship between affluence and production-based emissions (Pattison et al. 2014). We call this an "environmental inequality Kuznets curve", i.e., the wealthiest communities are able to displace certain types of emissions, specifically those related to energy and industrial production. In a follow-up study, Clement et al. (2017), we corroborate this finding when using a carbon footprint data set.

  5. 5.

    Still a relatively recent innovation, QCA has gained an increasing level of acceptance in various social and policy science disciplines, especially in political science, sociology, and management, and scholars have increasingly deployed the more flexible fuzzy-set variant while spurring continued refinement and interest in the QCA as a research strategy and set of techniques since the 2000s (see Rihoux et al. 2013, for a review).

  6. 6.

    The calibration and subsequent analysis was implemented with Dusa and Thiem (2014) QCA package for R.

  7. 7.

    According to Bulkely and Betsill’s meta-analysis on urban climate politics, factors such as the “intransigence” of national climate policy and a strategic turn by municipal leaders toward political approaches to making meaningful progress on sustainability-related issues, the decade beginning in 2000 represents a “second phase” of subnational government leadership on climate change and explosion of local climate policy and climate related-commitments (2013, p. 140). We have chosen to examine the decade of 2000–2010 and to help tease apart the local government characteristics that were associated with adoption, and in doing so add various forms of carbons emissions to the broader literature on this. We also note that by 2011, over 1000 mayors had already signed the U.S. Mayors Climate Protection Agreement, and the number of signatories has remained virtually unchanged since with 1060 mayoral signatories as of January 2019 (Bulkely and Betsill 2013; USMCPA 2019). Therefore, while the validity of the results beyond this period might be questioned, we are helping to better understand the potential causal relationships and adding to the understanding carbon emissions.

  8. 8.

    Slightly more permissive thresholds for CPA adoption did not substantially alter the results.

  9. 9.

    Ragin (2008) also recommends a "rule of thumb" of .85, which again is close to the consistency cutoff that we adopted. Lowering the consistency cutoff to below .80 yielded a fifth solution term covering Santa Clara and Orange Counties, both of which have high affluence, low emissions from both sources, and a low density of environmental organizations. We concentrate on the most parsimonious here to avoid over-interpreting single-cases.

  10. 10.

    It is possible to speculate that the high density of environmental organizations in Butte is related to the presence of Chico and Chico State University in an otherwise mostly rural county, whereas Sacramento is the state capital and a prominent site of advocacy.

  11. 11.

    To be clear, our calibration thresholds for assigning California counties the conditions of “Republican voting” and “affluence” are included only for comparison. These thresholds were defined on the basis of variation within California.

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Correspondence to Robert Habans.

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Habans, R., Clement, M.T. & Pattison, A. Carbon emissions and climate policy support by local governments in California: a qualitative comparative analysis at the county level. J Environ Stud Sci 9, 255–269 (2019). https://doi.org/10.1007/s13412-019-00544-1

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Keywords

  • Local climate change policy
  • Policy adoption
  • Carbon emissions and affluence
  • Qualitative comparative analysis
  • Fuzzy-set
  • Direct measures of carbon emissions
  • Production and consumption carbon emissions
  • Civic capacity and emissions