Dr James Van Alstine


James Van Alstine is Associate Professor in Environmental Policy at the Sustainability Research Institute (SRI) in the School of Earth and Environment. James is an interdisciplinary social scientist whose research and teaching explores environmental politics and governance in the global North and South. With over 15 years of experience in the field of natural resource governance, James studies the political ecology of resource extraction, the politics and governance of energy transitions, and opportunities for low carbon, inclusive and climate resilient development.

James seeks to bridge the academic-practitioner divide by pursuing action-oriented research that aims to co-produce policy and pro-poor development impacts. For example, he recently led a four-year (2012-2016) donor-funded project with local partners that explored opportunities for community-driven accountability and deliberative decision-making in Uganda’s oil-bearing regions. He works closely with development partners, policy makers and regulatory agencies at the international, national and local levels, as well as with industry, NGOs and communities. James’ research spans a variety of countries, including Brazil, Ghana, Greenland, Ireland, South Africa, Uganda, United Kingdom, United States and Zambia.

Prior to joining SRI in 2008, James was a fellow in environmental policy at the London School of Economics and Political Science (LSE), where he completed his PhD on corporate environmentalism in the South African petrochemical industry. He is a member of the Centre for Climate Change Economics and Policy, which is co-hosted by LSE and the University of Leeds, and is a fellow of the Royal Geographical Society. James leads the Social and Political Dimensions of Sustainability research group within SRI. He is also a writer, editor and team leader for the International Institute for Sustainable Development's Earth Negotiations Bulletin at United Nations multilateral environmental negotiations. James holds an MSc in Environmental Assessment and Evaluation from LSE and a BA in Philosophy from Northwestern University in the US.


  • Social and Political Dimensions of Sustainability Research Group Leader

Research interests

Current and recent research projects

  • 2018-2019: Principle Investigator, Oxfam America, “Stuck in Transition? High Carbon vs Low Carbon Development in Southern Africa
  • 2018-2023: Co-Investigator, Economic and Social Research Council, Centre for Climate Change Economics and Policy: Phase III work package on Integrating climate and development policies for ‘climate compatible development’
  • 2017-2019: Supervisor, Marie Curie Fellowship for Daniela Portella Sampaio, From an environmental to a resource regime? Institutional innovation for the management of Tourism and Marine Protected Areas within the Antarctic Treaty governance; funded by the European Commission
  • 2016-2018: Principal Investigator, The future of polar governance; funded by the British Antarctic Survey
  • 2014-2015: Principal Investigator, UN institution-building and sustainable development: Rio+20 follow up and the High-Level Political Forum; funded by the British Academy
  • 2013-2014: Co-Investigator, Developing compatible energy and climate strategies; funded by the World Universities Network
  • 2013-2018: Co-Investigator, Centre for Climate Change Economics and Policy: Phase II work package on governing rapid transitions in mitigation and adaptation; funded by the Economic & Social Research Council (ESRC)
  • 2013-2014: Commissioned report, Localising transparency: Exploring EITI’s contribution to sustainable development; supported by the International Institute for Environment and Development
  • 2012-2016: Principal Investigator, The Governance of Hydrocarbons in Uganda: Opportunities for Community-Driven Accountability in the Albertine Rift Region; funded by the Democratic Governance Facility
  • 2012-2013: Principal Investigator, Developing a research agenda for the study of the politics of good governance in the emerging petro-economy, Uganda; funded by the British Academy
  • 2008-2012: Principal Investigator, Rights, Risk and Responsibility: Building Capacities for Community-Company Engagement in the Extractive Industries; funded by the Alcoa Foundation
<h4>Research projects</h4> <p>Any research projects I'm currently working on will be listed below. Our list of all <a href="https://environment.leeds.ac.uk/dir/research-projects">research projects</a> allows you to view and search the full list of projects in the faculty.</p>

Student education

James manages the following modules in the School of Earth and Environment:

  • SOEE5472: Environmental Policy and Governance
  • SOEE5020: Research Project
  • SOEE2680: Environmental Policy and Governance

James also contributes teaching to the following modules:

  • Contemporary Africas: Politics, Society and the Environment
  • Frontiers in Environmental Research

PhD students

  • Emrah Akyuz: Human rights issues, environmental human rights approach and nuclear risk governance: the case of the Fukushima accident
  • Claire Bastin: New forms of governance and the sustainability of ‘new coal’
  • Arturo Andersen Chinbuah: A study of the physical economy of selected developing countries of West Africa; Completed 2017
  • Will Davies: Scale in environmental policy: exploring stakeholder perspectives of Arctic offshore petroleum; Completed 2018
  • Ross Gillard: Governing turbulent transitions: the politics of climate and energy during austerity in the UK, 2006-2016; Completed 2018
  • Imogen Rattle: The influence of social movements' use of online resources in the Lancashire shale gas debate
  • Clare Richardson-Barlow: Trade Governance of Renewable Energy in the Asia-Pacific
  • Laura Smith: The impact of oil capital on spaces of governance in Uganda’s Albertine Rift region

Research groups and institutes

  • Sustainability Research Institute
  • Social and Political Dimensions of Sustainability
  • Environment and Development
  • Energy and Climate Change Mitigation
  • Business Organisations for Sustainable Societies

Current postgraduate researchers

<h4>Postgraduate research opportunities</h4> <p>We welcome enquiries from motivated and qualified applicants from all around the world who are interested in PhD study. Our <a href="https://phd.leeds.ac.uk">research opportunities</a> allow you to search for projects and scholarships.</p>