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Social scientific methods for understanding climate change policy

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How has climate change modified the way governments are making decisions? As new greenhouse gas emission reduction targets, energy efficiency policies, decision-making tools, and planning approaches are introduced how has governing changed? Is this new era contributing to a renewed tension between the tenets of sustainability and democracy? Do these new policies actually work? These questions and related debates are explored in this seminar. Using social scientific methods, each presenter will consider climate change related policy and the built environment using policy discourse analysis, policy networks, and impact assessment.


  • Ray Galvin PhD student, PhD student, School of Environmental Science, University of East Anglia
  • Lindsay Galbraith PhD Student, Department of Geography, University of Cambridge
  • Jeonghwa Yi PhD Student, Centre for Sustainable Development, Department of Engineering, University of Cambridge

Speakers’ Abstracts

Ray Galvin: Interplays between policy discourse and materiality: a case study of German Federal policy on home insulation”

Environmental issues deal with specific physical, material entities, while environmental policy develops on a discursive, argumentative level through debate, power-plays and competing interests. But to be effective, policy has to match the materiality it is aimed at. Researchers therefore need to develop a theoretical approach that can analyse reality on both these levels in a logically consistent way, to see where and why there are matches and mismatches between policy and the materiality it is aimed at. My research develops one such approach and tests it by analysing German Federal policy on thermal renovation of existing homes.

Lindsay Galbraith: “A policy network approach to understanding planning reform for renewable energy in British Columbia, Canada”

Policy networks are a set of methods that analyze networks tied together by knowledge, practice, language, expertise, and material. One type of policy network, discourse coalitions, considers how storylines shared by groups of actors shape politics and policy and develop prevailing views or institutions that aim to respond (or not respond) to these problems. This paper explores the utility of discourse coalitions as a method for understanding the rise and fall of participation in planning. Governments are introducing policy to ëstreamlineí planning, yet they maintain a discursive commitment to public engagement. This paper analyzes policy texts published in British Columbia (BC), Canada, between 1980, when the Provincial Government first introduced coherent legislation that involves the public in energy planning, and 2010, when they introduced new legislation that speeds up the energy planning process in an effort to meet economic development and climate change goals. Our findings challenge the dominant view that constructs the ëpublicí as NIMBY and sheds light on the importance of public participation as governments reinterpret environmental policy in an era of climate change.

Jeonghwa Yi: “Comparisons for ex-ante Impact Assessment of Eco-settlement Projects in the Context of Climate Change”

Despite the widespread recognition of the importance of ex-ante Impact Assessment (IA) as a decision-aiding technique for the overall sustainability of a proposed project, little understanding remains about which criteria need to be selected or how the IA should be conducted to incorporate climate change considerations, which should be identified through IA process. The outcomes will then contribute to sound decision making for sustainable development in projects. This research proposal aims to investigate these aspects for eco-settlement projects.

This talk is part of the Sustainability in the Built Environment (GreenBRIDGE) series.

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