Associate Professor, Canada Research Chair, and Executive Director, IC3

EV1-231 ext. 41932

Canada Research Chair (Tier 2) in Sustainability Governance and Innovation

Senior Fellow, Centre for International Governance Innovation; Fellow, Balsillie School of International Affairs

Dr. Sarah Burch holds a Canada Research Chair in Sustainability Governance and Innovation, and is an Associate Professor in the Department of Geography and Environmental Management, University of Waterloo, Canada. She is an expert in transformative responses to climate change at the community scale, innovative strategies for making progress on sustainability, and the unique contributions that small businesses can make to this solving this complex challenge. She leads the international partnership-based research project TRANSFORM: Accelerating sustainability entrepreneurship experiments in local spaces, and is the Director of the Sustainability Policy Research on Urban Transformations (SPROUT) Lab.

Dr. Burch holds a PhD from the University of British Columbia, and held a postdoctoral fellowship at the University of Oxford. She is currently a Lead Author of the Sixth Assessment Report of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (winner of the Nobel Peace Prize in 2007). She was elected to the Royal Society of Canada’s College of New Scholars in 2017 and was named one of Canada’s Top 40 Under 40TM in 2018. Her most recent book is entitled ‘Understanding Climate Change: Science, Policy and Practice,’ and she has taught the first Massive Open Online Course on climate change, which reached thousands over students in over 130 countries.

Key Areas of Graduate Supervision
Sustainability transitions, climate change governance, mitigation and adaptation in cities, sustainability entrepreneurship within small businesses, participatory scenario development.

Upcoming Courses

GEOG 308: Global Climate Change

GEOG 675 Climate Change Governance

Research Interests
My research addresses the question of transformative change in response to climate change and sustainability challenges. I explore the roots of vulnerability and carbon-intensive development by examining the inertia built into our modes of governance, urban planning, and participatory processes.

Current projects that are under way employ comparative policy analysis and institutional theory, paired with the concepts of path dependency and sustainability transitions, to investigate how communities use stocks of capacity to respond to climate change. I also examine unique partnerships between the public and private sector that may serve to transform regional development paths and mitigate climate change, the use of ‘green infrastructure’ to achieve both adaptation and mitigation, and the triggers of climate change leadership in Canadian communities.

Recent Publications

  • Burch, S., A. Gupta, C. Inoue, A. Kalfagianni, Å. Persson, A. Gerlak, A. Ishii, J. Patterson, J. Pickering, M. Scobie, J. Van der Heijden, J. Vervoort, C. Adler, M. Bloomfield, R. Djalante, J. Dryzek, V. Galaz, C. Gordon, R. Zondervan.  2019.  New directions in Earth System Governance research. Earth System Governance 1: 100006.

  • Biermann, F., M. Betstill, S. Burch, C. Gordon, A. Gupta, C. Inoue, A. Kalfagianni, N. Kanie, Å. Persson, H. Schroeder, M. Scobie, R. Zondervan.  2019. The Governance of Earth System Governance Research: A Critical Assessment of Global Research Networking.  Current Opinion in Environmental Sustainability 39:17-23.

  • Dale, A., J. Robinson, L. King, R. Newell, S. Burch, F. Jost, A. Shaw, and A. Moore.  2019.  Meeting the climate change challenge: local government climate change action in British Columbia, Canada. Climate Policy 1-15.

  • Westman, L., C. Luederitz, A. Kundurpi, A. Mercado, O. Weber, and S. Burch.  2019.  Sustainability transitions through bottom-up dynamics: reconceptualizing SMEs from the perspective of social practices.  Business Strategy and the Environment 28:388-402.

  • Rosenbloom, D., J. Meadowcroft, S. Sheppard, S. Burch, S. Williams. (2018) Transition experiments: Opening up low-carbon transition pathways for Canada through innovation and learning. Canadian Public Policy 44(4). 

  • Romero-Lankao, P. Harriett Bulkeley, Mark Pelling, Sarah Burch, David Gordon, Craig Johnson, Priya Kurian, Emma Lecavalier, Debashish Munshi, David Simon, Laura Tozel, and Gina Ziervogel. Urban Transformative Responses in a Changing Climate: Towards A Critical Social Science Agenda. 2018. Nature Climate Change 8(9): 754.

  • Patterson, J., T. Thaler, M. Hoffman, S. Hughes, A. Oels, E. Chu, A. Mert, D. Huitema, S. Burch, A. Jordan. 2018.  Political feasibility of 1.5°C societal transformations: the role of social justice.  Current Opinion in Environmental Sustainability 31:1-9.

  • Burch, S. Global treaty or sub-national innovation? Canada’s path forward on climate policy. 2015. Waterloo: Centre for International Governance Innovation. Policy Brief No. 66
  • Burch, S. and S. Harris. 2014. Understanding Climate Change: Science, Policy and Practice. Toronto: University of Toronto Press.
  • Burch, S. and S. Harris. 2014. A Massive Open Online Course on climate change: the social construction of a global problem using new tools for connectedness. Invited article for Wiley Interdisciplinary Reviews Climate Change (Editor Mike Hulme) 5(5):577-585.
  • Burch, S., Y. Herbert, J. Robinson. 2014. Meeting the climate change challenge: A scan of greenhouse gas emissions in BC communities. Local Environment DOI 10.1080/13549839.2014.902370.
  • Shaw, A., S. Burch, F. Kristensen, J. Robinson, A. Dale. 2014. Accelerating the sustainability transition: Exploring synergies between adaptation and mitigation in British Columbian communities. Global Environmental Change 25:41-51.
  • Burch, S., A. Shaw, A. Dale and J. Robinson. 2014. Triggering transformative change: A development path approach to climate change in communities. Climate Policy 14(4): 467-487.
  • Burch, S., P. Berry, and M. Sanders. 2014. Embedding climate change adaptation in biodiversity conservation: A case study of England. Environmental Science and Policy 37: 79-90.
  • Schroeder, H., S. Burch, and S. Rayner. 2013. Novel multi-sector networks and entrepreneurship in urban climate change governance. Environment and Planning C 31(5): 761-768.
  • Krupa, J., S. Burch, and L. Gilbraith. 2013. Exploring and contrasting renewable energy development models in disparate Canadian Aboriginal communities. Local Environment. Available online. DOI 10.1080/13549839.2013.818956
  • Cohen, S., S.R.J. Sheppard, S. Burch, A. Shaw, and D. Flanders. 2011. Downscaling and visioning of mountain snow packs and other climate change implications in North Vancouver, British Columbia. Mitigation and Adaptation Strategies for Global Change. DOI: 10.1007/s11027-011-9307-9
  • Krupa, J. and S. Burch. 2011. A new energy future for South Africa: the political ecology of South African renewable energy. Energy Policy DOI:10.1016/j.enpol.2011.07.024.

Current projects include:

TRANSFORM: Accelerating Sustainability Entrepreneurship Experiments in Local Spaces.  SSHRC Partnership Grant (2018-2025). TRANSFORM is a partnership with Monash University (Australia), Leuphana University (Germany), Lund University (Sweden), Arizona State University (USA), the Dutch Research Institution for Transitions (Netherlands) and Swinburne University of Technology (Australia), along with dozens of civil society organizations, governments, and private firms. TRANSFORM is working closely with SMEs to: 1) implement an interactive capacity-building process that enables SMEs to explore transformative approaches to sustainability; 2) cultivate, observe, and evaluate sustainability experiments in the small business community; 3) develop and disseminate a tailored transformation toolkit targeting business, government and civil society actors; and 4) draw on national and international examples to inform the design and implementation of Canadian sustainability and innovation policies at the federal, provincial, and municipal levels. More information: @Transform_SME

“Governing and Accelerating Transformative Entrepreneurship” University of Waterloo, University of East Anglia, Erasmus University Rotterdam.  SSHRC Insight Grant (2015-2020). This collaborative research endeavor integrates theories of environmental governance and sustainability innovation to create a clearer picture of the path that sustainability transitions follow in communities.  In partnership with the University of East Anglia and Erasmus University, Rotterdam, the team weaves together and build upon hubs of expertise on sustainability transitions, entrepreneurship, and the multi-level governance of sustainability problems in communities.

University of Waterloo

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