Spotlight on a Student: PhD Candidate Stephen Pollard

Imagining the carbon neutral city: Conceiving, designing and enacting low carbon urban transitions


What is your research about?

My research explores the concept of the carbon neutral city and the different ways it is being imagined and enacted at local levels. The goal of carbon neutrality, or net zero emissions, has become a key touchstone in policy discourses about climate and energy. But there are various ways to frame boundaries around this objective, and different perspectives on the ecological, technological and social changes needed to achieve and sustain this goal. My PhD explores how these issues are emerging at local levels by comparingthree quite different local governments with aims to become net zero emissions across their municipal areas – the City of Copenhagen, the City of Melbourne, and Byron Shire. In each case, there are differences between historic circumstances, institutional and political contexts, coalitions of actors involved, and configurations of sociotechnical infrastructures and resource flows. The case studies draw out a range of possibilities and practices to reduce emissions towards carbon neutrality, but also limits to what local actors can achieve within their particular circumstances. They also reveal social and political processes involved in asserting and maintaining conceptions of the carbon neutral city, and how alternatives are opened up or closed down.

Who are your supervisors?

I have two excellent supervisors at the University of Melbourne. Professor John Wiseman is a political scientist and former Deputy Director of the Melbourne Sustainable Society Institute and now Professorial Research Fellow of that Institute and the Climate and Energy College. Associate Professor Monica Minnegal is an anthropologist in the School of Social and Political Science. My supervisor at the University of Copenhagen is Professor Jens Hoff, who is also a political scientist. All three are interested in how processes of global environmental change, globalization and urbanization are experienced in local settings, and the agency of local actors to shape experiences and outcomes of these processes. Aside from their outstanding guidance through the PhD process itself, they each bring complimentary perspectives to understanding how these processes play out in relation to low carbon cities and local climate governance.

What do you want to do next?

The next year is all about writing up, and I’m looking forward to continued conversations with all those people who have contributed to my fieldwork in various ways. My previous role was with the Victorian Government as a policy adviser on planning, environment and climate policy, and my PhD research approaches these issues from new perspectives. I would like to continue working on policy and governance of climate and environmental change, and I am open to the many opportunities emerging in this area.

Funding and Awards

My research is supported by an Australian Postgraduate Award, and I have been fortunate to receive several other scholarships and awards. In 2017 I received a scholarship from the Wentworth Group of Concerned Scientists to attend their annual Science and Policy Master Classin Sydney. In 2018 I was awarded an Australian Endeavour Research Fellowship to support a four month exchange to the University of Copenhagen’s Department of Political Science to research the Copenhagen Climate Plan 2025.

Stephen was awarded best presentation in the Environment, Community & the Region theme at the MEI Symposium on 12 December 2018. Access the slides for his winning presentation here.

To find out more about Stephen's work email him at, or his supervisors Professor John Wiseman at, and Associate Professor Monica Minnegal at

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Ruby Brown

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