Research Projects

My research focuses on the governance of low carbon and urban sustainability transitions. I examine the policies and political dynamics governing these complex transformations. My research has particularly focused on cities that are striving toward carbon neutrality to discover the political levers that are successfully transforming buildings and energy systems. Overall, my research agenda addresses the following themes: 1) transformative change to address climate change (particularly the implementation of renewable energy and building energy efficiency), 2) knowledge production about energy futures, and 3) social justice and climate change action. This research program is necessarily interdisciplinary and I draw on geography, environmental studies, political science, and science and technology studies in my research. Publications are available in Energy Research & Social Science, Local Environment, the Journal of Environmental Planning and Management and Polar Record.

NATURVATION

2018 - Present

Led by Durham University, NATURVATION involves 14 institutions across Europe working in fields as diverse as urban development, innovation studies, geography, ecology, environmental assessment and economics. Our partnership includes city governments, non-governmental organisations and business. We will assess what nature-based solutions can achieve in cities, examine how innovation is taking place, and work with communities and stakeholders to develop the knowledge and tools required to realise the potential of nature-based solutions for meeting urban sustainability goals.

Urban Decarbonization: Practices and Politics of Urban Carbon Neutrality

2013 - 2018

This research examines the practices and everyday politics of energy and building decarbonization in cities striving for carbon neutrality. People are increasingly trying to govern carbon through cities. They're using a wide range of approaches, including things like local government's financial incentives for solar energy as well as community group's efforts to develop alternative, low-carbon economies using sharing. However, research has shown that these attempts are experimental and uncertain in their long-term impact. We don't know if these efforts are getting at systemic decarbonization of social, economic and technical systems, as opposed to approaches that slightly decrease emissions without tackling the drivers of carbon pollution. To find out, my research focuses on cities trying to tackle deep greenhouse gas emission cuts to discover whether they are successfully making the transition to low-carbon cities. I am examining how transitions to lower carbon cities are being accomplished and analyzing whether urban carbon governance is leading to urban decarbonization. This will help us to understand what cities that do not cause climate change actually look like and how we might get there.

Sustainability and Climate Change Discourses in Urban Planning

2013 - 2014

This research clarified the competing discourses of sustainability and climate change and examined the manifestation of these discourses in local government planning. I used a governmentality approach to analyze the contents of 15 Canadian local governments’ sustainability plans. The research found that there are synergies and tensions between discourses of sustainability and climate change. Both share discursive space and shape local governance rationalities, though climate change response logics are not necessarily highlighted even where the action could result in greenhouse gas (GHG) emission reductions. In some cases, existing GHG intensive practices are being rebranded as ‘sustainable’. I argued that this suggests a tension between discourses of sustainability and climate change that may complicate attempts to address climate change through local sustainability planning. This research was published in the Journal of Environmental Planning and Management.

Community Energy Plans in Canadian Cities: Success and Barriers in Implementation

2009 - 2010

Climate change and sustainable development concerns have motivated some municipalities in Canada to develop community energy plans, which focus on energy needs at the local level for the development of efficient, economical and environmental energy systems. Five Canadian cities that were early adopters of community energy planning principles were studied to assess whether implementation has occurred and what barriers have been experienced. The cities achieved success in the implementation of energy management in municipal operations despite barriers in jurisdiction, perception of cost, communication and capacity, but energy management in the community had not been fully implemented and long-term changes were not prevalent. While reductions were made in the greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions produced by municipal operations, the community’s overall GHG emissions were not significantly reduced. Long-term impacts on a city’s function and growth will be key if community energy planning is to significantly impact community-wide GHG emissions and energy use. Read the published research in Local Environment or read the summary for practitioners.