Institute for Sustainability


Governing for sustainability in Brexit and EU Turbulence

Key Words: SDG; governance; biodiversity; climate change; turbulence


Lead Supervisor: Prof Anthony R. Zito

Project Studentship Code: IFS015

Programme Code: 8200F

To apply you must follow the 'How to Apply' instructions.

Both the United Kingdom (UK) and European Union (EU) environmental governance are at a critical turning point in terms of their future trajectories. They are facing a range of issues that have generated political/policy turbulence (e.g. austerity, Brexit). This project will assess the capacity and outlook of UK and EU policy actors to produce viable environmental policy strategies that cope with the myriad political and economic challenges that both systems face while maintaining their UN SDGs. The SDG Dashboard summary, and Eurostat data, indicate that EU states face their greatest challenge in meeting their environmental targets. In this context, however, economic pressures and political turbulence have strained the capacity of the states to focus on protecting environment (e.g. cuts to science, cuts to environment agencies) and strengthened the political outlook that sees other values (e.g. economic prosperity, national sovereignty) as contradicting environmental goals. This exacerbates the inherent tension in the SDGs between economic and environmental goals. In this turbulence, what are the implications for UK and EU governance approaches, policy ambition, stakeholder engagement and concerns for social and intergenerational justice?

This interdisciplinary project will involve studying the UK and EU legal regime, policy institutions and networks of interested actors and the wider epistemic, ideological and philosophical values that guide policy production and implementation. The candidate will undertake a multi-level analysis, examining the policy dynamics found at the subnational level in the UK, the UK state level and the EU level (which will involve assessing the political interaction of the EU member states with the EU institutions) over the last 10 years. The theoretical approach will involve combining a sociological institutional analysis (e.g. Haydu, 1998; Streeck and Thelen, 2005) of how policies and law evolve over time with a focus on ideological paradigms and framings of the policy problems (Hall, 1993; Schoen and Rein, 1994). The project will examine the potential impact of Brexit for both the UK and EU.

In order to concretely assess this multi-level governance activity, the student will analyse two UN SDGs where both the UK and the rest of the EU are quite distant (almost all including the UK orange or red) from the SDG achievement: biodiversity (SDG 15) versus climate change-energy efficiency (SDG 13 but also 7, 11 & 12). A comparative study allows us to generalise beyond the special characteristics of a single environmental policy issue while also comparing the inter-relation and the sectoral differences between these goals. Using primary data gathered through document searches and the interviewing of the relevant stakeholders at the UK and at the EU levels, the candidate will assess each system’s organisational resources, the nature of leadership, the legal regime and constraints, strength of the network of the actors involve, the different ideological approaches and values to the policy problem and the wider political context. The student will engage with key stakeholders by offering assessments of the governance choices (e.g. levels of transparency, engagement with stakeholders, investment in resources) and policy instruments and how they cope with the turbulence.