Kathryn Harrison


Relevant Thesis-Based Degree Programs


Graduate Student Supervision

Doctoral Student Supervision

Dissertations completed in 2010 or later are listed below. Please note that there is a 6-12 month delay to add the latest dissertations.

Border carbon adjustments in support of domestic climate policies: explaining the gap between theory and practice (2019)

A growing number of scholars, environmentalists, politicians, and business leaders have recommended border carbon adjustments (BCAs) to support domestic climate policies. BCAs can levy a domestic carbon price on imports. By extending domestic policies beyond a jurisdiction’s boundaries, BCAs can put domestic and foreign industries on a level playing field, counter carbon leakage, and incentivize other jurisdictions to take climate action. In theory, BCAs offer the promise of environmental, economic, and political benefits. However, despite their potentially substantial benefits and backing from prominent leaders, BCAs are largely absent in practice. Although an increasing number of carbon-pricing policies have been adopted throughout the world, very few examples of BCAs exist, and so far none have been implemented at a general scale in any jurisdiction. In order to explain this puzzle and investigate the conditions under which policy-makers do, or do not, adopt and implement BCAs, this research empirically tests a series of hypotheses using four case studies of experiences with BCAs in the European Union (EU) and in California. The case studies comprise the inclusion of international flights in the EU’s cap-and-trade system, stationary installations in this system, the inclusion of electricity imports in California’s cap-and-trade program, and industrial facilities in this program. This research draws on information from 43 expert interviews and a wide range of published materials, including quantitative data. The research finds several barriers that prevent the adoption and implementation of BCAs in practice. Policy-makers are likely to meet domestic political opposition to BCAs, may run into opposition from other governments, and may encounter concerns about the circumvention of BCAs. In fact, domestic industry stakeholders overwhelmingly oppose BCAs since they prefer alternative measures, such as free allocation of emission allowances. They also oppose because BCAs may result in a stakeholder’s increased exposure to carbon pricing, and export-oriented industries fear trade war and retaliation from other jurisdictions. Therefore, the circumstances in which BCAs may be implemented successfully, and thus the scope for applying BCAs in practice, appear to be more narrow than acknowledged in the literature.

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Local Solutions to a Global Problem? Canadian Municipal Policy Responses to Climate Change (2016)

Urbanization and global warming are two of the most pressing issues facing humanity over the next 50 years. Why do some local governments enact more climate change mitigation policies than others? What makes some cities leaders in urban sustainability, while others lag far behind? Over the past decade, global climate change negotiations have repeatedly failed to produce binding commitments and robust responses by national governments. These failures have led academics and practitioners to put increasing emphasis on the potential for sub-national governments, including cities, to undertake commitments that might substitute for national action on climate change. Applying concepts from the comparative public policy literature to the study of urban politics, this dissertation puts forward and tests a new theory to explain variation in Canadian cities’ climate change policy. I find that political economy factors reduce the likelihood that cities will adopt climate change policy that will significantly reduce greenhouse gas emissions, but the presence of independent municipal environment departments makes the adoption of such policy more likely. This dissertation employs a systematic and explicit process tracing methodology. It examines the decision-making of four Canadian cities (Brampton, Toronto, Winnipeg and Vancouver) across four policy areas (landfill gas management, fleet services, cycling infrastructure and building standards). The analysis is based on data gathered from primary and secondary sources and expert interviews with over 70 local politicians, bureaucrats, journalists, and NGO and business representatives. This dissertation argues that cities cannot solve the climate change challenge on their own, but knowledge of the dynamics of climate change mitigation policy adoption at the local level may permit scholars and practitioners to increase the effectiveness of municipal governments’ climate change policy choices.

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Risk and advantage in a changing climate: business preferences for climate change policy instruments in Canada (2012)

How do major business associations and firms determine their preferences for public policy instruments? This dissertation examines the puzzling case of business preferences for climate change policy instruments in Canada in which businesses supported a carbon price over cheaper voluntary policy instruments. It presents the findings of a qualitative study that included 13 major industrial associations (representing chemicals, gas refiners, petroleum producers, natural gas, forestry, mining, steel, vehicle manufacturers, electricity, aluminum, cement, railways and the chief executives) and 17 firms in the cement, oil and gas, and forestry industries. The study found that, in 2008 and 2009, participating firms and associations were strongly in favour of a carbon price – either a cap-and-trade program or carbon tax – despite the higher costs entailed by these policy instruments for industry when compared to voluntary programs. Moreover, Canadian corporations and business associations shifted their policy instrument preferences almost en masse away from voluntary agreements and subsidies to carbon pricing around the same time in 2006-2007.What explains variation in business preferences for climate change policy instruments in Canada over time and between organizations? This dissertation creates a model of business preferences for climate change policy instruments based on the findings of interviews with firm and association executives, as well as government and environmental NGO officials and consultants working in the environmental policy field. In particular, the model suggests that business officials determine climate change policy preferences by weighing risks to capital investments and external investor concern against the competitive advantages entailed by each policy instrument. As these assessments require predictions about an uncertain future, they are strongly influenced by expectations about future government policy choices. These expectations are in turn influenced by the political context, particularly public opinion, and previous experience with a policy instrument. The model, developed inductively from interview data, is validated in the dissertation using new data from the same case and methods such as process-tracing and falsifiable tests. The model is found to offer a good explanation of business preferences for climate change policy instruments in Canada, and may be generalizable to other areas of public policy.

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Pharmaceutical programs and social policy development: comparing Canada, Australia and the UK (2010)

Canada is the only OECD country that provides broad public health benefits but lacks a universal, nation-wide system for funding prescription drugs. This puzzle cannot be explained by the literature on national health insurance, which suggests that the tendency to consider all health services as a single policy has missed an important source of cross-national variation. How can we explain the lack of a major pharmaceutical program in Canada, in light of the country’s own extensive health system and the experience of almost all other welfare states? More generally, why do some countries adopt universal, comprehensive pharmaceutical programs, while others do not? To answer these questions, the study compares Canada to the UK and Australia using a process-tracing approach, and finds that the range of services in a country’s public health system is determined by the earliest decisions about how to approach policy development. Where institutional, ideological and electoral conditions allowed for large-scale change and all services were introduced simultaneously, countries tended to maintain the full scope of services. But where institutional barriers, ideological dissensus and low issue salience made radical change difficult, health programs were introduced incrementally, and policy development tended to stall after the first priority. Although incrementalism was initially less politically risky, it was also inherently limiting. Barriers to the introduction of services increased over time, and services that were initially lower priorities (such as pharmaceuticals in Canada) were pushed off the public agenda. In investigating this phenomenon, I provide specific mechanisms by which a more limited “path” of policy development becomes “dependent,” and argue that we must consider not only the role of ideas in policy making, but also the role of ideas over time. The study also investigates the implications of the approach to policy development for subsequent policy outcomes. It finds that factors that support the simultaneous adoption of a full range of health services also make it more difficult to retrench these services later on.

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Master's Student Supervision

Theses completed in 2010 or later are listed below. Please note that there is a 6-12 month delay to add the latest theses.

Parking is political : explaining the failure of the City of Vancouver's Climate Emergency Parking Program (2023)

This thesis examines two policies within the City of Vancouver’s climate action strategy: The Climate Emergency Parking Program and Zero Emissions Amendments to the Vancouver Building By-law. As both of policies reached City Council for implementation, the Climate Emergency Parking Program was defeated while the Building By-law, though a delay was proposed, stuck to its initial timeline. With a focus on the Climate Emergency Parking Program, which sought to implement city-wide overnight parking permits on street parking and to enact a pollution charge on new, high emission vehicles, this paper examines five factors to explain why, although vetted by Vancouver City Council, this policy was defeated: (1) the City’s limited jurisdiction over vehicle emissions, which necessitated an indirect approach via parking restrictions; (2) the resulting visibility of the costs on the consumer and a disproportionate reaction to these costs; (3) different interpretations of fairness; (4) the salience of the private vehicle and the precedent of free parking; and (5) left-right divisions on climate policy. This thesis argues that both cases support the conclusion that left-right ideology is relevant in municipal climate decisions at the City of Vancouver, however in the case of the Climate Emergency Parking Program the city’s limited jurisdiction over vehicle emissions acted as an institutional barrier. With limited policy tools at its disposal, the City of Vancouver thus had to wade into the challenging politics of parking regulation in order to enact a pollution charge, resulting in a policy with visible costs to consumers, prompting different arguments of fairness being brought forward and accepted by different parties and members of Council. This was further amplified by the prevalence of the privately-owned car and the precedent of free parking.

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Vocal opponents and silent supporters : how Saskatchewan politicians framed the carbon tax on Twitter (2023)

Carbon taxation has been widely advocated for by economists as a cost-effective tool to reduce GHG emissions. However, previous studies have found that implementing carbon taxes is politically challenging and often evokes misinformation. Political communication literature indicates that because social media, particularly Twitter (recently renamed X), allows politicians to speak directly with the public, it has been used to spread misinformation and selectively frame policy issues. The province of Saskatchewan provides an opportunity to explore the intersection of carbon tax politics and political communication via social media. There is strong opposition to the Liberal federal government’s carbon tax on households, imposed in 2019, among the general public in Saskatchewan and the governing right-of-centre Saskatchewan Party. In this study I analysed tweets from Saskatchewan politicians, elected at the federal and provincial level, to explore how they framed the federal carbon tax on Twitter. This study finds that, as expected, right-of-centre parties at both the federal and provincial level opposed the tax, employing framing familiar from carbon tax debates in other jurisdictions. Furthermore, only politicians from the federal Conservative Party and provincial Saskatchewan Party shared misinformation about the carbon tax, mainly through misleading and selective statements. The federal and Saskatchewan NDP were largely silent on the issue, and when they did tweet there was little overlap or coordination in how they framed the tax despite the federal and Saskatchewan NDP being a single party. Their silence was notable because, in the context of a subnational jurisdiction on which a federal carbon tax was imposed, and with almost no provincial representation from the federal party advancing the policy, there was next to no defence of the carbon tax on Twitter from Saskatchewan’s own elected politicians.

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Understanding the relationship between Canadians' energy conservation actions and their support for carbon pricing policies (2022)

This thesis examines the relationship between Canadians’ energy conservation actions at home and their support for the carbon tax. The literature on the factors that impact support for carbon pricing and the literature on the factors that impact the completion of energy conservation actions do not intersect; this thesis lies at the heart of this intersection and aims to link them together. This thesis seeks to gain a better understanding of whether people who support carbon pricing policies are more likely to undertake energy conservation actions and, inversely, whether people who undertake energy conservation actions at home are more likely to support carbon pricing policies. The analysis is conducted using panel survey data from five provinces during the time of the implementation of the Canadian carbon tax from 2019 to 2020. The thesis does not find enough significant evidence to ascertain whether those who support carbon pricing are more likely to undertake energy conservation actions, and whether those who undertake energy conservation actions are more likely to support carbon pricing. However, the thesis confirms results from research on support for carbon pricing and finds that educational attainment, increased worry of climate change and partisanship increase support for carbon pricing. It also provided statistically significant evidence that financial incentives such as homeownership and increased utility bills increase support for carbon pricing.

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Transportation habits, motor fuel prices, and public support for carbon pricing in Canada (2020)

This thesis explores the relationship between transportation habits, motor fuel prices, and public support for a carbon tax in Canada. It lies at the intersection of literatures on public opinion, environmental taxation, and climate politics. The thesis analyses an original panel survey conducted in five provinces around the implementation of the Canadian federal carbon tax in 2019. The thesis finds that driving as principal mode of transportation decreases support for a carbon tax by 11.3%, and an additional one cent increase in the price per litre of gasoline over the past month decreases support for a carbon tax by 0.3%. The thesis also finds that living in an urban center increases support for a carbon tax by 9.4% to 9.9% in Canada, as opposed to living outside of an urban center. This could be because more reliable transportation alternatives are available to urban dwellers. Partisanship is also found to have a strong effect on support for a carbon tax in Canada, in accordance with previous literature on the topic. The role of respondents’ overestimations of the impact of a carbon tax on gasoline prices is explored but remains inconclusive. Several avenues for future research on the matter are presented in this thesis.

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In Hot Water: Explaining Vancouver and San Francisco's Responses to the Impacts of Climate Change (2015)

In the past decade the scientific literature on climate change has increasingly focused on adaptation to climate change-related hazards and vulnerability. Most of the climate change policies designed thus far in North America have been at the municipal level. One of the most visible impacts of climate change will be an increase in frequency and severity of natural disasters like coastal flooding, heat waves, and drought. Although scholars emphasize the importance of community resilience in responding and recovering from disaster, the majority of these municipal climate change adaptation policies have sought to increase physical, not social, resilience. Vancouver and San Francisco are two cities that have recently begun planning for the impacts of climate change, and both are leaders in mitigation and adaptation planning among North American municipalities. While Vancouver has adopted policies to increase the resilience of physical infrastructure, San Francisco has addressed both the resilience of social and physical infrastructure in its climate change adaptation planning. My thesis will explain this divergence in response to the effects of climate change at the municipal level in Vancouver and San Francisco. I find that differing critical events and policy legacies in the area of disaster management in the past have resulted in Vancouver and San Francisco’s divergent responses to the impacts of climate change today.

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Subnational Carbon Pricing Policies in British Columbia, Ontario and Quebec: Economic and Political Factors Influencing the Choice of Instruments to Abate Emissions (2015)

While climate change is widely considered to be one of the major challenges facing the planet today, the Government of Canada has yet to apply market-based instruments to abate greenhouse gas emissions. Canadian federalism, however, allows subnational governments to take action on climate policy. The purpose of this research is to understand why Canada’s three most populous provinces – British Columbia, Ontario, and Québec – implemented different carbon pricing policies after committing to a unified policy route under the Western Climate Initiative (WCI) in 2008. Since then, BC adopted a carbon tax; Québec followed through with their WCI commitment and now trades emissions permits with California; and, to date, Ontario has yet to price carbon. This study seeks to explain the carbon pricing instrument of choice (dependent variable) as a function of the political systems and economic structures (independent variables). The first hypothesis is that differences in provincial party systems determined different carbon pricing policies. A two-party system, for example, tends to allow right-of-centre parties to implement carbon pricing more easily, as the BC Liberals maintained support from the business community and limited the hemorrhage of disaffected conservative voters while implementing a robust carbon tax. Right-wing parties in three or multi-party systems pose a greater threat to preventing governing parties from implementing aggressive carbon pricing mechanisms, as observed in Ontario and Québec. Québec’s multi-party system permitted less aggressive action, while Ontario’s three-party situation may have played a role in preventing the ability to implement carbon pricing to date. The second hypothesis considers carbon pricing as a function of the differences in the structures of the provincial economies. BC avoided capital outflow by not trading emissions with jurisdictions that have superior potential to reduce emissions. In Ontario, the previously promised coal phase-out and a unique economic structure, including economic dependence on competitive, trade-exposed, and fragile carbon-intensive industries during a recession, and a shifting taxation landscape, prevented carbon pricing to date. In Québec, the recognized risk of capital outflow did not prevent the selection of cap-and-trade. The economic structures of each province interacted with the party systems to help determine instrument choice.

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Diversity and engagement in alternative food practice : community gardens in Vancouver, British Columbia (2012)

Community gardens are experiencing a popular resurgence. Across North America, there is growing support for more sustainable food production and consumption practices distinct from the conventional or industrialized food system. Despite increasing popularity, these alternative food practices have been criticized as non-inclusive, catering to privileged segments of the population. This research investigates the criticism of non-inclusion by examining participant diversity in community gardens within the City of Vancouver, British Columbia. Multiple elements of demographic diversity are considered, including age, gender, and income, although there is particular emphasis on racial and ethnic background. Overall, results from 12 semi-structured interviews and a survey of 192 community garden members reveal significant demographic differences between garden participants and the general public. In particular, visible minority, non-English language speaking, lower-income, and lower-educational status individuals were disproportionately under-represented among the garden participants surveyed. Demographic variations in participants’ gardening motivations were also found; lower income participants placed a much higher level of importance on using their garden to save on food cost, as opposed to high income participants. Despite such differences, the majority of participants report a high sense of community and satisfaction in their community garden, suggesting feelings of inclusion, at least among garden members. Based upon these results, it is recommended that the City of Vancouver should continue to support community gardens, but revise garden policy priorities to encourage wider participation among visible minority members, as well as better enable low-income populations to meet food security needs.

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Renewable energy in oil-intensive jurisdictions: a comparative study of wind energy growth in Texas and Alberta (2011)

The state of Texas has experienced an enormous growth in its wind energy sector in recent years. By contrast, growth in Alberta’s wind sector has remained comparatively moderate. This study seeks to explain what has caused this relative lag in wind energy development. To do so, this thesis addresses two questions: first why did two similar sub-national jurisdictions adopt very different policies for wind energy development? Second, did these policies result in asymmetric growth of wind power capacity between Texas and Alberta? On the first question, this thesis argues that a combination of decades-old policy decisions and natural resource endowments played a central role in prompting Texas legislators, but not their counterparts in Alberta, to adopt renewable energy mandates. Specifically, a shortage of coal in Texas led to an increased reliance on imported coal in the 1990s, which became a source of concern for Texas officials who had long pursued a policy of energy independence. With near unanimous support from diverse sectors and on the recommendation of state officials, Texas legislators adopted a Renewable Portfolio Standard to mandate development of alternate sources of electricity. Although Alberta also has long pursued a policy of energy independence, the province’s coal industry supplies all of the coal needed for electricity production. Therefore, with weaker incentives to pursue renewable energy and stronger reasons to protect the local coal industry, Alberta politicians have not pursued strong policies to promote renewables. On the second question, this thesis argues that Texas benefited from both a Renewable Portfolio Standard and a generous federal tax credit for renewables. The renewables mandate served to initiate interest in wind energy by forcing utilities to produce energy from renewables, while the tax credit made wind more attractive to investors by making it more competitive with other sources of energy. In the case of Alberta, a weaker federal financial incentive together with a lack of a provincial renewables mandate has kept the wind industry from experiencing comparable growth.

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Regional Politics of Carbon Taxation: Lessons from British Columbia (2010)

This research examines the reactions of British Columbians to the provincial carbon tax legislation implemented in 2008. It focuses particularly on northern interior communities and commuter suburbs in the Lower Mainland. In studying these jurisdictions, the paper attempts to explain the vocal opposition to the policy from communities in British Columbia’s northern interior and the quiescent reaction in the Lower Mainland. These responses are complicated by the fact that numerous sources have shown that northerners are not disproportionately impacted by the carbon tax, and in fact, commuters in the Lower Mainland tend to drive farther on average to get to work than rural British Columbians. Thus, the evidence indicates that the residents that appeared undisturbed by the carbon tax, and not the vocal citizens of northern BC, feel a greater impact from the implementation of the carbon tax policy. In light of this regional development, the paper attempts to address two questions. First, how can we explain the paradoxical reactions displayed by these jurisdictions? Second, what do the distinct reactions tell us about the politics of carbon pricing and about regional political dynamics in British Columbia? To answer these questions, the paper employs three theoretical approaches; Mancur Olson’s theory of collective action, electoral incentive theory, and an ideational argument. While each theory builds upon and reinforces the others, ideas are argued to have the greatest capacity to explain the outcomes in these distinct regions. Community identities that were perceived and formed long before the carbon tax policy was ever imagined manifested themselves in this new policy debate. The longstanding sense of regional alienation in the north was significant in fostering northern perceptions of the carbon tax policy, while the absence of such historic world views, as well as some with good policy motives, encouraged the reserved approach in the Lower Mainland.

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News Releases

This list shows a selection of news releases by UBC Media Relations over the last 5 years.

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