Date of Award


Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy


Political Science

First Advisor

Dr. Denise Keele

Second Advisor

Dr. Kevin Corder

Third Advisor

Dr. Susan Hofmann

Fourth Advisor

Dr. Barry Rabe


Municipal climate policy


Understanding cities is a key feature for understanding responses (or lack thereof) to a collective action problem like climate change. In the absence of federal climate change policies in the United States, many city and state governments have adopted and implemented policies to mitigate and adapt to climate change. As mayors, city managers, and city councils increasingly become central actors, scholars have shifted their studies to focus on city climate change policy (Yi et al. 2017a, Hughes 2017). Descriptive case studies have identified a broad range of factors; however, the causal mechanisms of whether cities adopt and implement climate change policies remain largely unaddressed (Ryan 2015).

The first research prong took a broad quantitative approach to better understand the potential drivers of state and local climate policy adoption. This study integrated existing data sources to situate cities and states into a single hierarchical model within the competing theoretical frameworks of Institutional Analysis and Development (IAD) and Policy Diffusion theories. Findings indicate that local institutions and actors better explain climate adoption than state institutions, actors, or other state-level characteristics, confirming the importance of IAD over Vertical Diffusion Theory.

The second research prong took a mixed-method approach with an online survey that was followed by elite interviews with city staff to better understand how these cities perceive sustainability and climate, how they respond to climate change, and how institutions may help determine city action. This research situated the salient characteristics of municipalities, such as framing and capacity, within institutional analysis and development framework to explore how and why Great Lakes cities choose to act on climate change. Findings support the important role of institutional capacity as Great Lakes municipalities reported the centrality of factors such as budget, staff, networks, cooperation, and community engagement to climate change policy action.

City governments utilize the terms sustainability and climate change frequently and often interchangeably to refer to aspects of environmental plans, yet prior research provided little understanding of whether this is purposeful to better appeal to constituents and city stakeholders, or whether the usage has developed organically (Foss 2018). Findings support the importance of framing climate change in terms of sustainability for municipal actors, namely that sustainability framing has made climate policies more palatable to elected officials, whose motivations remain continuously focused on economic development. Finally, this research developed and recommends a new classification system of municipal climate action based on sustainability and provides suggestions for it to grow and expand.

Access Setting

Dissertation-Open Access