New paper on social justice and societal transformation under climate change

A new paper has just been published on the topic of social justice and societal transformations to meet the global 1.5C climate change target.

This paper was a collaboration between 10 researchers in the INOGOV network to explore the role of social justice in (potentially) enhancing the political feasibility of societal transformations for urgent global climate action.

There has long been much attention to issues of social justice in dealing with climate change in recent years. This is often focused on the justice implications linked to global cooperation (e.g. within international negotiations), or on justice-related impacts at a local level (e.g. vulnerable groups disproportionately affected by climate change). Our paper takes a slightly different perspective, exploring how attention to social justice can help to shape effective and ethical climate responses to support urgent climate action.

The abstract of the paper is below:

“Constraining global climate change to 1.5C is commonly understood to require urgent and deep societal transformations. Yet such transformations are not always viewed as politically feasible; finding ways to enhance the political feasibility of ambitious decarbonization trajectories is needed. This paper reviews the role of social justice as an organizing principle for politically feasible 1.5C transformations. A social justice lens usefully focuses attention on first, protecting vulnerable people from climate change impacts, second, protecting people from disruptions of transformation, and finally, enhancing the process of envisioning and implementing an equitable post-carbon society. However, justice-focused arguments could also have unintended consequences, such as being deployed against climate action. Hence proactively engaging with social justice is critical in navigating 1.5C societal transformations.”

The paper is fully open access and can be found here.


Patterson, J.J., Thaler, T., Hoffmann, M., Hughes, S., Oels, A., Chu, E., Mert, A., Huitema, D., Burch, S., Jordan, A. (2018) Political feasibility of 1.5°C societal transformations: the role of social justice. Current Opinion in Environmental Sustainability. 31:1–9 [Open Access].

Global survey of cities completed – 95 cities across the world!

A major global survey being conducted by the INNOVCITIES project has recently been closed after receiving responses from 95 cities across 6 continents. 

This survey aimed to assess the types of institutional innovation occurring in cities across the world, and explanatory factors for these changes. The survey targeted 120 cities across the world, distributed evenly across and within continents. Relevant experts from sectors such as government, academia, NGOs, and industry were invited to complete the survey. The survey was made available in 7 languages: English, Spanish, French, Portuguese, Chinese, Arabic, and Russian. The survey period was May-July 2017 (10 weeks). 

In total, experts from 95 cities responded, comprising a total of N=316 individual responses. For 68 cities, two or more responses were obtained, which helps to increase confidence in the final data. 

Currently this data is being analysed for both policy and academic outputs. As a first step, a Policy Report is being prepared to rapidly share descriptive findings with respondents and other interested stakeholders. The target launch date for the report is February 2018. Various academic publications are also being prepared and will be made available as soon as possible. 

A pdf flyer snapshot of the survey is available here.

INNOVCITIES joins network on Innovating Water Governance in Amsterdam

The INNOVCITIES project has recently joined a new network of researchers, policymakers, and practitioners on a new 3-year project on Innovating Water Governance in Amsterdam. This network is creating a Knowledge-Action hub focusing on how to advance a diverse range of cutting-edge approaches to sustainable water governance in cities, drawing on concepts such as “circular economy” and the “water-energy nexus”. The project has 4 core Work Packages:

  1. Governance strategies in a dynamic context (this is where INNOVCITIES contributes)
  2. System changes
  3. Distribution of responsibilities and risks
  4. A knowledge-based system for future-proof governance of the water cycle

As an early step, the consortium will soon be hosting a series of Knowledge-Action Studios, and public forums at the Pakhuis de Zwijger – a creative cultural and intellectual hub situated in the heart of Amsterdam.

This exciting new consortium will consolidate Amsterdam’s position as a global leader on the knowledge and practice of sustainable cities. INNOVCITIES is very excited to become part of this initiative!

New paper published on institutional work (introduction to Special Issue)

James Patterson and Raoul Beunen have recently had a paper published in the Journal of Environmental Planning and Management on the topic of “institutional work”. 

R. Beunen & J.J. Patterson (2016): Analysing institutional change in environmental governance: exploring the concept of ‘institutional work’, Journal of Environmental Planning and Management, DOI: 10.1080/09640568.2016.1257423

This paper reviews various theoretical ideas about institutional change, and argues that the novel concept of institutional work provides a useful way of analysing institutional change in environmental governance. Institutional change is a notoriously tricky topic, and is only recently becoming a theoretical focus in the institutional literature. In environmental governance, scholars often highlight the need for institutional change in response to all manner of sustainability problems, but understand how and why institutional change happens is challenging. 

The paper is an introduction to a new Special Issue edited by Raoul and James in the Journal of Environmental Planning and Management, which pulls together 15 contributions from scholars in multiple countries across the world (Netherlands, Canada, Australia, Chile) to explore the notion of institutional work in environmental governance. 

An authors meeting will be held on 23-24 March at the Symposium on learning and innovation in resilient systems at The Netherlands Open University, Heerlen to discuss draft papers, and it is anticipated that all papers will be submitted for review by the end of May 2017, and hopefully start to appear online in the second half of 2017. 


Collaboration with climate change researchers in Chile

James Patterson recently conducted a research visit to Santiago, Chile to collaborate with researchers from the Faculty of Social Sciences at Universidad de Chile and CR2: Centre for Climate Change and Resilience” (a national climate change research network).

The purpose of the visit was to jointly organise an agenda-setting workshop on “The Human Dimensions of Climate Change Research in Chile: emerging questions for an interdisciplinary research agenda”, working in particular with Dr. Rodolfo Sapiains, Lecturer at Universidad de Chile and Research Associate at CR2. The workshop involved a mix of presentations from researchers, policymakers, and NGOs, interspersed with breakout dialogue sessions, on topics of governance, psychological dimensions, and community experiences. It was attended by over 50 participants from research, government (local, regional, and national levels), and NGOs and community groups. Findings of the workshop are currently being written up into a social science research agenda for climate change in Chile.

James Patterson (in blue) giving a presentation (with the assistance of a translator!)

While visiting, James also met with several MSc students conducting thesis research projects, and discussed methods and shared ideas, and gave a guest lecture in a course on water governance and politics in the MSc course: “Climate change and the social sciences”, at the Universidad de Chile, Chile. He also conducted fieldwork interviews, and met with senior officials from the Department of Climate Change in the National Ministry of Environment.

James Patterson and Rodolfo Sapiains outside the national Ministry of Environment prior to a meeting with the Department of Climate Change.

Call for Abstracts: conference on learning and innovation in resilient systems

From the conference organisers:

The Netherlands’ Open University is organizing a 2-day symposium, which offers an unique opportunity to discuss these topics, in an interdisciplinary environment, whilst paying strong attention to the relevance of the concept of Resilience for environmental issues.

Resilience has become a fashionable buzzword in recent years. The term is frequently found in many different discourses ranging from nature conservation (WWF’s adaptation and resilience program), sports psychology (teaching athletes about resilience), to development work (resilience in rural areas). It appears that everything (cities, companies, software) and everybody (managers, children, teachers) can and should be resilient. With our current knowledge of future challenges like climate change, globalization and food security resilience can offer a way to develop strategies to cope with uncertainties.

We invite scientists from a range of disciplines to debate how and to what extent innovations and learning processes in various systems contribute to the transition towards (more) resilient systems, be it individuals, organizations, et cetera. We welcome theoretical papers, methodological papers, and empirical studies or combinations thereof; and invite abstracts that discuss and examine innovations and learning for resilience from various angles. Several journals have expressed an interest in the papers that will be presented at the conference, including the journal Current Opinion in Environmental Sustainability (COSUST) which has agreed to publish a special issue emanating from the conference. Other ideas for publications can be developed during the conference.

Confirmed speakers include Prof. Carl Folke (Stockholm Resilience Centre and the Royal Swedish Academy of Sciences), Prof. Jan Rotmans (Erasmus University Rotterdam/DRIFT), and Prof. Andrew Jordan (University of East Anglia and COST Network INOGOV), and a range of others from several academic fields.

Panel proposals accepted so far (additional papers and additional ideas for panels welcome) are on the following topics:

* Climate change: science, knowledge and power
* Towards resilient governance systems: understanding institutional innovation in environmental governance
* Towards resilient (energy) systems in society
* The resilience of urban systems
* The origin, diffusion and impact of the concept of resilience in environmental governance
* Innovation in EU environmental policy
* Current trends in learning and innovation for sustainability

More information can be found on our website.

Practicalities and submission deadlines:

Interested participants/authors are encouraged to submit 250 word abstracts by 15th October 2016 as a first step towards full paper development. Please send your abstract to  Authors will be notified of acceptance/rejection before the 15th of December 2016; contributing authors are expected to submit a full first draft of their paper by the 1st of February 2017.

New paper published on “sustainability transformations”

A new paper has just been published on the topic of “sustainability transformations”. This is a strong theme emerging in recent years within global sustainability research and policy debates, which focuses on understanding how societies can make major changes towards achieving a more sustainable and just world, particularly under climate change. This paper surveys a variety of different approaches to studying sustainability transformations, and particularly focuses on identifying what is known and what is missing when it comes to the governance and politics dimensions.

The paper is a collaboration within the Earth System Governance network.

The details of the paper are below including a link to the journal location:

Patterson, J., Schulz, K., Vervoort, J., van der Hel, S., Widerberg, O., Adler, C., Hurlbert, Anderton, K., Sethi, M., Barau, A. 2016. Exploring the governance and politics of transformations towards sustainability. Environmental Innovation and Societal Transitions.

If you would like to obtain a copy of the paper but do not have access to the journal, please email James Patterson (james.patterson [at]


Keynote given at water-energy-food nexus conference in Germany

James Patterson, coordinator of INNOVCITIES, recently gave a keynote presentation at the Water-Energy-Food Nexus Symposium in Osnabrück, Germany.

James was invited to speak on the topic of “sustainability transformations” based on work he has led with a team of collaborators within the Earth System Governance network, exploring the meanings and implications of the emerging research agenda of sustainability transformations. His address gave a synthesis of different schools of thought on sustainability transformations, particularly focusing on governance and politics dimensions, and implications for the water-energy-food nexus.

The water-energy-food nexus is an emerging research topic that focuses on interactions and interdependencies between water, energy, and food sectors. It highlights that solving problems in any individual sector is not possible without considering deep interactions with the other sectors, which poses tremendous challenges and opportunities for governance.

The forum was organised by the Sustainable Water Future Programme, which is a research project under Future Earth.

New PhD project being planned on equity and justice in flood risk governance

Maartje van der Knaap who recently spent 3 months developing a PhD proposal has won second prize for her work in the competitive Netherlands SENSE honours program. This program involved 3 months of intensive coaching at the Institute for Environmental Studies under the supervision of Dave Huitema and James Patterson to assist in writing a PhD research proposal. Maartje’s proposal received outstanding feedback from the independent scientific reviewers who praised the novel and ambitious ideas and design of the research.

Maartje is a Masters student in the final stages of her degree at Wageningen UR, and is preparing a proposal for PhD research to be supervised by Dave Huitema and James Patterson. Maartje’s proposed research will explore equity and justice dimensions of flood risk governance under climate change. This work will contribute to the INNOVCITIES project being led by James and Dave.

Maartje is currently working as a Research Assistant at IVM with Stefania Munaretto on the multi-partner European CAPFLO project investigating community flood resilience across multiple European case studies.

We are very excited to have Maartje hopefully join us in the near future to begin PhD research!


Masters students conduct fieldwork in South Africa and Chile

Three Masters students who are part of the INNOVCITIES team recently returned from fieldwork abroad in South Africa and Chile, where they were conducting interviews for their Masters thesis research. The students are investigating a diversity of key challenges involved in climate change adaptation in urban water governance.

Cape Town:

Annie Colarusso and Hila Rotbart spent 3 weeks in Cape Town, South Africa, kindly hosted by the African Centre for Cities at the University of Cape Town.

Landscape of Cape Town
The stunning landscape of Cape Town
Annie and Hila arriving to the University of Cape Town who very kindly hosted their stay
Annie and Hila arriving to the University of Cape Town who very kindly hosted them during their stay










Annie’s research is exploring equity and justice implications of climate change adaptation in urban water governance. This work is motivated by the need to understand how climate change adaptation can be conducted in ways that avoid reinforcing existing inequities, and enhance equity and justice outcomes in cities. Her thesis is titled: “A Framework for Understanding and Assessing the Justice Implications of Climate Change Adaptation in Developing Cities: The Case of Water Supply in Cape Town, South Africa”.

Hila’s research is exploring the effects of adaptation planning in cities, specifically focusing on policy learning effects catalyzed by adaptation planning. This work is motivated by the need to better understand how adaptation planning is contributing to enhancing the adaptability of water governance systems in cities. Her thesis is titled: “Urban Water Supply under Climate Change: Assessing the Learning Effects of the Cape Town Adaptation Plan”.


Douwe de Voogt spent 3 weeks in Santiago, Chile, in cooperation with the Universidad de Chile.

Looking over the Santiago skyline
Looking out over Santiago
Douwe on his way to conduct an interview
Douwe on his way to conduct an interview










Douwe’s research is exploring how the adaptation planning process in Santiago has unfolded, and how innovations in policy and governance arrangements have emerged within the broader urban water governance context of the city. This work is motivated by the need to better understand how innovative policy and governance arrangements for climate change adaptation are enacted. His thesis is titled: “Adaptation planning in the urban water governance of in Santiago de Chile”.


Annie, Hila, and Douwe are M.Sc students in the Masters program in Environment and Resource Management hosted by the Institute for Environmental Studies (IVM) at Vrije Universiteit Amsterdam. They complete their research projects at the end of June 2016.