Lawhon, M and Patel, Z. 2013. Scalar politics and local sustainability: rethinking governance and justice in an era of political and environmental change. Environment and Planning C: Government and Policy 31(6) pp. 1048-1062.


The local was institutionalised as a key scale for environmental action at the Earth Summit, and remains salient in discourse, policy, and action. However, given both real changes and geographical insights into the politics of scale in the past twenty years, we suggest it is time to (re)consider this focus. We assess local sustainability through the lens of scalar politics, arguing for the need to consider what challenges particular scale frames foreground and which they silence. We focus on three changes which have occurred in the last twenty years—the growing salience of the global South, shifts from environmentalism to sustainability, and new governance patterns—and reflect on the significance of these changes for local sustainability. We suggest the local frame occludes questions of international responsibility and justice, and that the changes since Rio require that we reconsider the scalar frame of local sustainability. We conclude by questioning who benefits from the local frame, and when, where, and for whom a focus on local sustainability may be relevant and ethical.