The role of cities in low-carbon energy transitions: Understanding capacities, challenges and conflicts in Hong Kong and Hamburg

Ms Ting Ting Tracy Cheung1,2, Dr.  Sara Fuller1, Prof. Dr. Jürgen Oßenbrügge2

1Department of Geography and Planning, Macquarie University, Sydney, Australia

2Institute of Geography and Cluster of Excellence Climate, Climatic Change, and Society, Universität Hamburg, Hamburg, Germany


A range of policy and academic actors such as the UN and IPCC have highlighted the important role of urban fabric and city functioning in response to climate change imperatives. In this context, one important perspective is the Urban Energy Transitions (UETs) literature which considers the inherent relationship between transformations of energy systems on one hand and urban change towards sustainability on the other. Drawing on UET approaches, this paper identifies potential barriers to energy transitions and explores the capacity of cities to address embedded challenges such as political systems or infrastructure networks. Through empirical research exploring political discourses and material struggles in Hong Kong and Hamburg, it demonstrates how the goals, visions and pathways of UETs are constantly shaped, translated and contested by actors with a range of social, economic and political interests. By mapping the transition narratives of the two case study cities, the paper offers insights into cities’ respective capabilities and differentiated responses to energy transitions.


Tracy is a joint-PhD candidate between Macquarie University and the University of Hamburg. She received her MSc in Integrated Climate System Sciences from the University of Hamburg and BEng in Mechanical Engineering from Hong Kong (her home town). Her area of research interest includes energy-climate politics, urban materiality and options, and city-regional practices on climate change and environment.

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Lessons from the Transformation of Bangkok’s Treescapes

Mr Chieh-Ming Lai1

1University of Sydney


Clashes between nature and infrastructures are common in Asian Pacific cities, where rapid urban growth meets flourishing vegetation. The aesthetic breakage of tree branches tangled with telecommunication cables escalated to a serious safety risk when a row of power poles was dragged down by a sizeable tree in central Bangkok in May 2017. To tackle this urban safety issue, the Bangkok government has collaborated with Thai citizens to launch a series of “Tree Care Training Programs,” which brought together tree workers, officials, NGO workers, forestry scholars, and foreign arborists to learn the climbing and pruning technique. This paper investigated how the Tree Care Training Programs transform Bangkok’s treescapes by analyzing primary data from auto-ethnography, interviews, and field observations. It is suggested that these urban learning experiments overlooked the differences among green spaces, which have varied needs and limitations for tree maintenance. Moreover, the foreign expertise was prioritized and the tree workers’ experiences were marginalized, hindering the employment and localization of the arboricultural technique. Despite the advances in knowledge transfer, the above deficiencies detracted from the learning outcomes envisaged. A new approach to manage urban trees and infrastructures is emerging from Bangkok, with potential for application in other Asian Pacific cities.


Ming has background in geography and Southeast Asian studies. He is a current PhD student in the School of Geosciences, University of Sydney.

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Households in sustainability transitions and urban experiments

Dr Ruth Lane1, Professor Annica Kronsell2

1Monash University, Clayton,, Australia

2University of Gothenburg, Gothenburg,, Sweden


Households are under studied and under-theorised in sustainability transitions. They have mainly been understood as users of technology in research that has strongly focused on technological change involving collaborations between government and industry actors (Schot et al. 2016). This narrow framing is inadequate for understanding their broader potential to contribute to sustainability transitions. Households are significant, not just as sites where technologies and resources are used, but as sites of social learning, practical innovation and resourcefulness. Some forms of learning connected with deep structured social change only occur in households. We argue that rather than viewing households only in terms of being recipients of policy or users of green technology, it could be more useful to consider households as important sites for learning and experimentation with potential to identify new transitions pathways to be supported by government policy and business practices. To progress these ideas, we review key bodies of social science scholarship that engage with the agentic capacity of households to advance a conceptual framework that foregrounds the household as a key site for experimentation in sustainability transitions and innovation.


Ruth’s current research focuses on geographies of waste, recycling and reuse at the interlinked scales of household, city and nation. She teaches in Human Geography in the School of Social Sciences at Monash University.

Decoupling analysis of water-environment-economic growth in the city: A case study of Beijing

Miss Wenjing Zhang1, Professor  Mark  Wang1, Professor Michael Webber1

1University of melbourne, Parkville, Australia


With the increasing threat of water availability in megacities around the world, integrating different dimensions of water management has become significant in contemporary China. The realization of “water-saving society” calls on decoupled development between water resources and economic development. This study adopted the water resource developing model and added environmental factors into the method to quantify the relationship within water-environment-economic (WEE) nexus in Beijing. This study traces the development pattern of water policies within the city and seeks its interaction with the decoupling relationship. Contrary to existing researches, our analysis shows that the decoupled relationship in WEE nexus did not realize in Beijing’s overall development and regulations and policy shifting still needed as the city will soon have surplus water after moving out its non-capital function to a new city.  Further, the unconventional method to secure water supply-South-North water transfer project fails to urge the city towards decoupled development nexus.  We suggest that the policy focus shall move to quantity control and water saving in domestic water usage and finding alternative conventional water resources. Our study will bridge the information gaps regarding urban water management model, environmental impact and water resource consumption in the Chinese context.


Wenjing Zhang has joined School of geography in University of Melbourne as a PhD candidate under the supervision of Professor Michael Webber and Mark Wang. Wenjing graduated from Tianjin University. She received her Master degree of Public Administration from the College of Management and Economics at Tianjin University in 2017. Currently she is a PhD student working on South-North Water Transfer project and her major areas of research include the relationship between water availability and urban proposals in Chinese northern cities. So far, she has been published 6 papers in SCI/SSCI.

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