Strengthening science-policy-practice interfaces for climate change policy reforms and transitions in Australia

    Student thesis: Doctoral Thesis

    Abstract

    With changing climates across Australia causing damaging impacts to societies, environments and industries, there is growing urgency for evidence-based policy reforms and transitions that can enable climate change adaptation and de-carbonisation. Despite this urgency and the availability of an accessible body of science on climate change, many policies and practices in Australia, including in vulnerable sectors, fail to robustly consider or integrate knowledge of future climates. The overall aim of this thesis is to better understand how to rectify this deficiency through critical examination of the interfaces between scientific knowledge and decision-making systems. This thesis addresses the overall research question, How can science-policy-practice interfaces (SPPIs) facilitate climate change policy reforms and transitions in Australia? In addressing this question, the research utilises in-depth case studies to explore the operation and effectiveness of SPPIs for climate change adaptation and mitigation in predominantly national policy regimes. The cases span national housing regulation, environment protection legislation, forest sinks policy, urban climate transitions, and the management of ozone depleting substances and synthetic greenhouse gases (ODS and SGG).
    Some 56 experts and leaders from science, policy and practice organisations contributed to the research through interviews and helped reveal the multi-institutional complexity and divergent orientations of SPPIs within policy regimes. An important finding and contribution of this research is a new definition and conceptualisation of climate change-relevant SPPIs that recognise the purposeful nature of climate change science, that multiple interlinkages need to be considered to understand operation, and that exogenously produced climate change science can clash with the experience-based knowledge that drives much decision-making. This contrasts with a common framing of science-policy interfaces as a single institution with a predominant purpose of knowledge provision suited to end-user needs.
    Of concern, the research found significant weaknesses and deficiencies in the SPPIs for the national policy regimes regarding housing regulation, forest sinks, and environment protection, with divergent causes. Highly prescriptive regulatory regimes, such as for housing and forest sinks, constrained consideration of climate change science, but also motivated niche industry leaders to innovate, trial, and adopt climate-smart practice. The political nature of decisions on environmental approvals, however, despite strong science advice, results in environmental outcomes being fragmented and subordinated to development interests, which was particularly evident in the period of this research where a very conservative national government was in power.
    Effective SPPIs in contrast, identified in the niche industry leaders noted, in the urban governance transition of the Australian Capital Territory and in Australia’s approach to managing ODS and SGG, were found in this research to be supported by strong two-way interactions across all key institutions, and a valuing and recognition of climate change science. In addition, and importantly, all effective cases involve interfaces that supported experimentation, and allowed for flexibility in problem-solving. Insights from both weak and robust SPPIs underpinned the formulation in this thesis of characteristics of effective SPPIs for climate change outcomes, suitable for evaluative purposes, as well as tailored recommendations for reforms to facilitate climate change outcomes.
    More broadly, the research explains how SPPIs can improve the reform capacities of policies and support progress of transitions, including through their capacities to reveal the detailed nature of barriers to knowledge uptake, and to help shift the policy debate and support innovation through attention to the spaces between climate change goals and current policy and practice. These insights also have relevance for theories and/or practices of change governance, public policy and climate change adaptation, particularly regarding approaches to close the policy implementation gap.
    This thesis includes a series of articles which collectively illustrate the operation of SPPIs for climate change adaptation and mitigation within key policy regimes designed to deliver to objectives such as safety, ecologically sustainable development, or minimum cost emissions reductions. Embedded predominantly in the practices of national policy implementation, this thesis generates new insights on the strengths and weaknesses of current SPPIs, and provides feasible recommendations on the reforms needed for improved practice that will facilitate a more resilient, climate-adapted and low-carbon future.
    Date of Award2023
    Original languageEnglish
    SupervisorJonathan Pickering (Supervisor), Darren Sinclair (Supervisor) & John Dryzek (Supervisor)

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