Locating net zero emissions: an ethnographic comparison of local approaches to community-scale carbon neutrality
AuthorPollard, Stephen Gregory
AffiliationArchitecture, Building and Planning
Document TypePhD thesis
Access StatusThis item is embargoed and will be available on 2022-11-26. This item is currently available to University of Melbourne staff and students only, login required.
© 2020 Stephen Gregory Pollard
The concept of global net zero emissions has emerged as a powerful unifying narrative to connect the science and policy of climate change. This thesis examines how policy actors translate the concept of global net zero emissions across different scales and contexts into local goals for, and actions towards, community-scale carbon neutrality. The study is based on an ethnographic comparison of three diverse local jurisdictions with such goals: the City of Copenhagen in Denmark, and the City of Melbourne and Byron Shire in Australia. In establishing these goals, policy actors in each place delineate the boundaries between sources and sinks of emissions using similar methods of municipal carbon accounting, but with distinctive preferences for how and where to balance those emissions. Comparison within and between these places reveals patterns of relations and situated contingencies that shape choices and actions in relation to net zero emissions goals. The analysis draws together concepts from anthropology and science and technology studies (STS) to examine local goals for community-scale carbon neutrality. Such goals may take hold as sociotechnical imaginaries that express collective visions for desirable futures. These goals are anchored to particular localities through spatial and conceptual boundaries that are co-produced in relation to objects and scales of climate governance. Enacting carbon neutrality involves reconfiguring open-ended assemblages of heterogeneous social and material elements within and across these boundaries. Friction enables and constrains these reconfigurations, pulling assemblages in new directions to inflect pathways of sociotechnical change. These concepts are tied together through the thesis to generate insights into how policy actors translate the concept of global net zero emissions into local goals for, and actions towards, community-scale carbon neutrality. The thesis demonstrates common processes and relationships involved in collective efforts to imagine and enact community-scale carbon neutrality, and at the same time shows these to be contingent, unstable and continually unfolding. Ethnographic comparison of local climate governance allows us to learn from and imagine other ways of pursuing low carbon futures in response to climate change. Approaching carbon neutrality as relational and contextually specific reveals multiple pathways and possibilities for ecological, social and technical change. Governing human activities and sociotechnical systems towards carbon neutrality is not only about steering processes of change towards a preconceived ideal but also involves ongoing performances of place and community. These practices require reflexivity towards past histories and current contexts, and flexibility to adjust to shifting circumstances.
KeywordsClimate change policy; Net zero emissions; Community-scale carbon neutrality; Multilevel climate governance; Municipal carbon accounting; Sociotechnical imaginaries; Co-production; Carbon assemblages; Friction
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