Governing low carbon and inclusive transitions in the city: A case study of Nottingham

Katherine Sugar*

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: ThesisDoctoral Thesis


This thesis critically examines the extent to which low carbon and equitable transitions are being achieved within urban areas in advanced economies. It draws on Nottingham as a single case study of a pioneering transition city in the UK context, with strong ambitions to become the UK’s first carbon neutral city by 2028. Nottingham is a compelling example for examining what can be achieved in practice by an English unitary authority, and what constraints are experienced by local actors that inhibit urban sustainable trajectories.

Using a qualitative research design, I examine the key governing actors involved and their agency, the barriers and tensions encountered in their pursuits, and the approaches and pathways undertaken for progressing low carbon and equitable urban transitions. This thesis critically engages with academic ideas and political debate on sustainable transitions. Specifically, I use a multi-scalar perspective to investigate the actors involved in low carbon transitions, and by doing so, I draw upon multiple theories and perspectives to examine the governance of sustainable transitions (e.g. Avelino & Wittmayer, 2016; Geels, 2005; Kern & Alber, 2009). Whilst analysing urban transition processes particularly in the context of neoliberal austerity (e.g. Hodson & Marvin, 2015; Peck, 2012), I constructively engage with literature surrounding just transitions, and the ways in which sustainable pathways are also inclusive and equitable, focusing on the concepts of energy and transport justice (e.g. Jenkins et al.2017; McCauley & Heffron, 2018; Mullen & Marsden, 2016). In this research I turn to the concepts of path-dependency, path creation and lock-in to analyse the approaches and pathways taken by urban actors for implementing low carbon and inclusive transitions, and to further explain past, present and future sustainable urban trajectories (e.g. MacKinnon et al.2019; Unruh, 2000).

Beginning with a multi-level policy analysis, I reflect that climate change targets are weak, inconsistent and have omitted attention to social equity issues. As a result, low carbon and just transitions are insufficiently addressed in international policy, which in turn has constrained implementing national and local level climate change policy. From a national level, there are inconsistent and disruptive policy environments which are hindering low carbon urban just transitions, and I draw upon the context of national austerity, ambivalence of inclusive climate change policy and ineffective regulation. Barriers are also emerging because of local level contestation and demonstrate the more context-specific and spatial nature of urban transitions. Finally, I attend to the Nottingham example to reveal how agency and political capacity are particularly influenced by the type and size of local authority and actors in power. Lastly, I argue that the municipal ownership of energy and transport systems in the city has been imperative for political capacity to enact low carbon and just urban transitions.
Original languageEnglish
Awarding Institution
  • University of Glasgow
Publication statusPublished - 29 Jun 2021


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