Most research on global environmental change focuses on the national level, but the increasingly significant role of cities worldwide in climate change governance necessitates a global-scale understanding of urban environmental change. This study explains how greenhouse gas emissions reduction in 330 cities across 48 countries is affected by diffusion of normative expertise and political-economic forces. Specifically, polycentric systems comprised of environmental management consultancies and environmental transnational municipal networks facilitate expertise transmission to cities, facilitating urban emissions reduction. This expertise is diffused globally in a normative process explicable by world society theory, but these polycentric systems bypass national governments in a direct global-to-local transmission of expertise. These findings advance world society theory beyond its traditional nation-state-centric purview by showing that new polycentric systems can also affect subnational environmental policy outcomes, linking micro-level and macro-level processes in global environmental change.

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