Environmental Development vol:4 issue:2012 pages:2-17
In the aftermath of the Rio+20 Summit, this article takes a closer look at the sustainable development policies of subnational governments. In the past decades, subnational governments have taken many concrete initiatives to institutionalize sustainable development. However, most subnational policies are characterized by symbolic politics, which means that they have a high politico-strategic effectiveness, but a low impact effectiveness. The article offers a double explanation of those symbolic politics, tailored to the specific situation of subnational governments. First, subnational governments lack an overall political will to pursue fundamental changes for sustainable development, although they perceive the need to do ‘something’ with it. Second, symbolic politics are favoured by some subnational governments’ ambition to pertain to the international community. The article also presents some examples of policies that exceed symbolic politics, in order to draw lessons from them in light of the post-2012 period, where initiatives inspired by new concepts such as ‘green economy’ might replace current sustainable development policies.