Confronting wicked problems: Climate, energy and environmental governance

Event details


Date & time

Tuesday 22 August 2017


Seminar Room 1.04, Coombs Extension Building (8), Fellows Road, ANU
ANU Canberra


Neil Gunningham, Darren Sinclair, Christian Downie and Chacko Thomas



“ ‘Wicked’ problems are large-scale, long-term policy dilemmas in which multiple and compounding risks and uncertainties combine with sharply divergent public values to generate contentious political stalemates; wicked problems in the environmental arena typically emerge from entrenched conflicts over natural resource management and over the prioritization of economic and conservation goals more generally.”

Balint et al 2011 Wicked Environmental Problems: Managing Uncertainty and Conflict, Island Press

This seminar will consider the challenges of addressing wicked climate, energy and environmental problems through four contemporary examples drawn from within RegNet’s research program:

• Global climate governance and the divestment movement (Neil Gunningham)

• Global energy governance (Christian Downie)

• Non-urban water regulation in the Murray Darling Basin (Darren Sinclair)

• Environmental regulation in a rapidly evolving technological landscape (Chacko Thomas)

About the speakers

Neil Gunningham

Neil has been involved in four research areas: empirical study of climate activism through the lens of social movement and non-state governance theory; preliminary work on the role of green finance in the Asia Pacific; contributions to the final report of the Australian Panel of Experts on Environmental law; and ongoing work on compliance and enforcement in environmental law.

Darren Sinclair

Darren is a DECRA Research Fellow. His project, Regulation and governance for the sustainable management of groundwater, aims to manage groundwater through analysing six national and international case studies. Darren represented Australia at the United Nations International Framework Convention on Climate Change (Geneva 1993 and 1994) and co-designed the self-regulatory and trading scheme to phase out the use of ozone-depleting gases under Australia’s commitment to the Montreal Protocol. He has published widely on environmental governance, regulation and policy, and mining occupational health and safety regulation and policy. He has also worked as a consultant to government and industry.

Christian Downie

Christian’s research focuses on global energy and climate policy and the role different actors (governments, business and civil society) play at different levels to shape global outcomes. He works at the intersection of global governance, negotiation studies and environmental politics.

Chacko Thomas

Chacko is an electrical engineer, with master’s degrees in energy studies, and environmental law. He has over 13 years’ experience, having provided consulting services across a wide range of sectors, including mining, oil and gas, commercial buildings, government departments and city councils. His experience includes energy and energy systems, energy efficiency, lighting, air, liquid and waste emissions and GHG inventory development, development and implementation of environmental management and regulatory compliance reporting systems, and disaster and risk management. At ANU, Chacko’s interdisciplinary research aims to understand the challenges in implementing a shared framework for making environmental data available, accessible and (re)usable to help inform air and water regulation across jurisdictions.


Historically, environmental regulation in developed countries has addressed a number of ‘first wave’ environmental issues. These display a common set of characteristics, namely readily identifiable, geographically confined point sources of pollution, for example from large industrial sites in, near or impacting on high population areas, with relatively short term impacts, and involving a limited number of industries. Such first wave issues are amenable to conventional hierarchical (state centred) governance through command and control regulation administered by stand-alone dedicated environmental protection agencies (EPAs).

Policymakers, however, are now confronting far more complex and wicked ‘second wave’ environmental issues which have proved to be resistant to amelioration by first wave regulatory practice and theory (UNEP 2012; Climate Council 2015). Second wave characteristics differ sharply from that of first wave environmental issues. For example, they may encompass diffuse sources of pollution and/or resource extraction points that are difficult to identify and cross jurisdictional and international borders, cumulative impacts with indirect and/or more long-term impacts on human wellbeing and the environment, national resource degradation that is remote from population centres and the human gaze, contributions from numerous different individuals, companies and industries, and contested political agendas and policy prescriptions.

Further, the institutions that may be recruited to address these issues extend beyond conventional EPAs to encompass resource agencies, treasuries and finance departments, planning and transport agencies, as well as various national and international non-state actors, including international organisations, environmental non-government organisations and business itself. This has coincided with a broader shift from state-centered to non-state centered governance, as well as the emergence of new technologies for regulation and governance.

Updated:  10 August 2017/Responsible Officer:  Director, RegNet/Page Contact:  Director, RegNet