My research agenda addresses four fundamental questions: How can we evaluate the performance of policies to address pressing environmental issues, specifically climate change, air quality, and urbanization? What knowledge gaps exist in our understanding of environmental performance? How can geospatial data and technology aid in addressing these gaps? What are the governance implications of indicators and improved data for decision-making? Methodologically, I draw upon policy science frameworks, incorporating the use of qualitative and quantitative methods, including remote sensing analysis and geographic information science. I have applied these questions to primarily the global and national scales, through projects like the Environmental Performance Index (EPI) to assess national environmental performance and at the subnational level within China through case studies of air quality management and environmental governance.
My dissertation was comprised of four articles that analyzed the strengths and limitations of applying empirical approaches to environmental policy evaluation and decision-making. From a theoretical standpoint, my dissertation challenged traditional environmental Kuznets theories of growth that countries must “pollute first, clean up later” by identifying underlying drivers of good governance, institutional models of environmental management, and an understanding of how quantitative indicators can aid in spurring global environmental results. While demonstrating the disparity in environmental results between industrialized and developing countries, my dissertation contributes to understanding the possibilities for major emerging economies like China and in the global South to leapfrog prolonged polluting industrialization phases with a “third wave” (command and control; and market-led being the first two) of environmental management that is information-based. Finally, I developed new mixed-methods approaches to evaluating environmental quality by leveraging scientific data to improve governance.
This year, I am developing a research agenda that builds upon my dissertation, focused on the urban scale. The questions I plan to address are three-fold: how will the growth of urban areas, particularly in Asia and countries in the global South, impact the environment; second, how will urban areas be impacted by environmental change; and last, how can new indicator frameworks and metrics focused at the urban scale provide comparisons between urban growth models and policy choices between countries? Applied to China, these questions are especially salient in the context of top-led government policies to encourage urbanization as a means of stimulating domestic consumption, while simultaneously emphasizing the development of ‘eco’ and ‘green’ cities. This paradox necessitates a better understanding of the contribution and impacts of urban areas to environmental change and pollution, particularly in rapidly developing countries.