Associate Professor and Canada Research Chair

Room EV1-231, ext. 31932
F2019 office hours: Please Email Professor

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

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

Sarah’s research focuses on governing responses to climate change (both adaptation and mitigation) in urban spaces. She explores triggers of transitions toward more sustainable development pathways, and strategies for engaging a variety of actors in conversations about desirable futures. Sarah is the North American coordinator of the Earth System Governance Project, and is one of the core faculty members teaching in the Master’s of Climate Change program.

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. 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.
  • Burch, S. 2011. Development paths: Investigating the context of responses to global climate change. Sustainable Development 19(3): 176-188 DOI: 10.1002/sd.435.
  • Robinson, R., S. Burch, M. O’Shea, S. Talwar and M. Walsh. 2011. Envisioning sustainability pathways: Recent progress in the use of participatory backcasting approaches for sustainability research. Technological Forecasting and Social Change 78: 756-768. DOI:10.1016/j.techfore.2010.12.006
  • Sheppard, S.R.J., A. Shaw, D. Flanders, S. Burch, A. Wiek, J. Carmichael, J.B. Robinson, S. Cohen. 2011. Future visioning of local climate change: A framework for community engagement and planning with scenarios and visualization. Futures 43: 400-412. DOI:10.1016/j.futures.2011.01.009
  • Burch, S., S.R.J. Sheppard, A. Shaw, and D. Flanders. 2010. Planning for climate change in a flood-prone community: Municipal barriers to policy action and the use of visualizations as decision support tools. Journal of Flood Risk Management 3(2): 126-139. DOI: 10.1111/j.1753-318X.2010.01062.x Winner of Prof. Erik Pasche award for best paper in Urban Flood Risk, 2007-2012.
  • Burch, S. 2010. Transforming barriers into enablers of action on climate change: Insights from three municipal case studies in British Columbia, Canada. Global Environmental Change 20: 287-197. DOI: 10.1016/j.gloenvcha.2009.11.009
  • Burch, S. 2010. In pursuit of resilient, low carbon communities: An examination of barriers to action in three Canadian cities. Energy Policy 38 (12): 7575-7585. DOI 10.1016/j.enpol.2009.06.070.

Current projects include:

“Sustainability Governance: Triggering transformative innovation in communities” University of Waterloo, University of East Anglia, Erasmus University Rotterdam. SSHRC Insight Grant (2014-2019). Lead: Sarah Burch. Collaborators: Heike Schroeder (University of East Anglia), Derk Loorbach (Erasmus University), Niki Frantzeskaki (Erasmus University). This collaborative research endeavor will integrate 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 will weave together and build upon hubs of expertise on sustainability transitions, entrepreneurship, and the multi-level governance of sustainability problems in communities.

“Accelerating community-based climate change adaptation in developing countries” University of Waterloo and ICLEI Canada. IDRC grant (2014-2015). Leads: Sarah Burch, Carrie Mitchell (UW), Ewa Jackson (ICLEI). This project will achieve four complementary goals: 1. to develop a set of criteria by which to judge a successful adaptation option; 2. to draw together and categorize adaptation options designed and implemented under the auspices of the IDRC Climate Change and Water program; 3. to make these cases widely available through a flexible, web-based interface; and 4. to convene a wider conversation with scholarly and practitioner communities about strategies for assessing and accelerating adaptation.

“The climate change imperative: Changing current development paths” Royal Roads University, University of British Columbia, University of Waterloo, Simon Fraser University. SSHRC Insight Grant (2014-2017). Lead: Ann Dale (Royal Roads University); Co-applicant: Sarah Burch, John Robinson (UBC), Meg Holden (Simon Fraser University), Leslie King (Royal Roads University), Stephen Sheppard (UBC). This project explores the question: Are climate innovations at the local scale resulting in transformative shifts in underlying development pathways in BC that are transferable to other communities? Research will contribute to understanding transformative change dynamics by investigating what policy, technology, and network innovations are occurring in BC municipalities, what the common drivers and barriers to action are, and what role knowledge mobilization and social learning play in summoning action.

University of Waterloo

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