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Durham University

Research & business

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Publication details for Dr Laura Tozer

Tozer, L. & Klenk, N. (2019). Urban configurations of carbon neutrality: Insights from the Carbon Neutral Cities Alliance. Environment and Planning C: Politics and Space 37(3): 539-557.

Author(s) from Durham


This paper examines configurations of carbon neutrality in the building and energy sector as expressed in the urban governance documents of the members of the Carbon Neutral Cities Alliance (CNCA). ‘Carbon neutrality’ is a mutable idea, which makes it unclear what kinds of future urban systems are imagined. As self-identified pioneers of deep decarbonization, the CNCA members are constructing ideas about what carbon neutral means and how urban systems should be changed to reduce greenhouse gas emissions. In this paper, climate governance policy documents provide a window to understand how these carbon neutral imaginaries are being constructed. The analysis draws on discourse analysis and textual network analysis to unpack the sociotechnical configurations that are planned to be mobilized to constitute carbon neutral built environments. Concept map visualizations are used to scrutinize planned configurations of objects (e.g. solar photovoltaics, district energy and energy efficiency technology) and policy instruments (e.g. energy use benchmarking and urban planning tools). The analysis shows three key building and energy configurations: (1) The District Energy City, (2) The Zero Net Energy City and (3) The Natural Gas Transition City. Furthermore, the findings demonstrate that urban imaginaries of carbon neutrality are incorporating complex configurations of socio-technical objects while, at the same time, distinct socio-technical configurations are being favoured in individual places. These configurations inform socio-technical imaginaries that will continue to drive policy outcomes over time.