Sara Hughes

ASP/ISP Postdoctoral Fellow
Climate Science and Applications Program
(303) 497-2872

  • About
  • Publications
  • Biography

Current Projects

My research is currently focused on understanding the political and institutional dimensions of urban sustainability and climate change planning in large cities, primarily in developing and newly industrialized countries. I have conducted field work in Delhi and Mexico City with the aim of answering three questions: (1) what is the relationship between the institutional features of climate change planning and the structure of the science-policy interface? (2) within each city, what populations are benefitting from climate change planning and what vulnerabilities are being reduced (or not)? (3) what role do the international bargaining positions of India and Mexico play in each city’s climate change response strategies? I use quantitative and qualitative methods to analyze data from interviews, secondary data sources, and spatial information systems.

I also participate in the Inter-American Institute-funded ADAPTE project (ADaptation to the health impacts of Air Pollution and climaTE extremes in Latin American cities), led by Patricia Romero Lankao, to help evaluate climate change risks and responses in Bogota, Buenos Aires, Mexico City and Santiago.

I am interested in understanding the role of equity in urban sustainability plans in the U.S. Toward these ends I am working with colleagues to use survey data about economic development and sustainability policies in cities to understand why and under what conditions cities choose to address equity concerns (one of the three “E’s” of sustainability”) in urban sustainability programs.

Research Areas

Environmental politics and institutions; urban sustainability and climate governance; environmental justice; science-policy interface; comparative politics; democratic institutions and participation; quantitative and qualitative methods


Ph.D., University of California, Santa Barbara, 2011, Environmental Science and Management
M.S., Michigan State University, 2006, Fisheries and Wildlife
B.S., Michigan State University, 2004, Fisheries and Wildlife

Hughes, Sara. “Voluntary Environmental Programs in the Public Sector: Evaluation of an Urban Water Conservation Program in California,” Policy Studies Journal (Accepted)

Hughes, Sara. “Authority Structures and Service Reform in Multilevel Urban Governance: The case of wastewater recycling in California and Australia”. Urban Affairs Review. (Accepted)

Hughes, Sara and Stephanie Pincetl. “Evaluating Collaborative Institutions in Context: The case of regional water management in southern California” Environment and Planning C:
Government and Policy. (Accepted)

Pincetl, Stephanie, Guido Franco, Terri Hogue, Sara Hughes, Eric Pardyjak, “Urban Areas” in the Assessment of Climate Change in the Southwest United States: A Technical Report
Prepared for the U.S. National Climate Assessment, Washington, D.C. (Accepted)

Hughes, Sara, Annie Yau, Lisa Max, Nada Petrovic, Frank Davenport, Michael Marshall, Timothy R. McClanahan, Joshua C. Cinner, Edward H. Allison. “Assessing National Level Vulnerability to Coral Reef Fisheries Decline from a Food Security Perspective” Environmental Science and Policy. 23, 95-108 (2012)

Hughes, Sara and Joan Rose. “Governing Global Aquaculture for Human Security,” with Joan Rose, in Sustainable Fisheries: Multi-Level Approaches to a Global Problem, eds. Michael Schechter, Abigail Lynch, and William Taylor: Bethesda, MD: American Fisheries Society Press. (2011)

Braden, John, Jeffrey Dozier, Patricia Gober, Sara Hughes, David R. Maidment, Sandra L. Schneider, P. Wesley Schultz, James S. Shortle, Stephen K. Swallow, and Carol M. Werner. “Social Science in a Water Observing System,” Water Resources Research Vol. 45, W11301. (2009)

Hughes, Sara, Lena Partszch, and Joanne Gaskell, “Virtual Water: A critical link for integrating global water, energy, and development goals,” Sustainable Development Law and Policy, 7, 58-62 (2007)

Non-Refereed Book Chapters

Romero Lankao, Patricia, Hua Qin, Sara Hughes, Melissa Haeffner and Mercy Borbo-Cordova. “Urban vulnerability and adaptation to the health impacts of air pollution and climate extremes in Latin American cities” in Research in Urban Sociology, ed. William G. Holt, Bingley, UK: Emerald Press. (Accepted)

Hughes, Sara and Jennifer McKay. “The Contribution of Actors to Achieving Sustainability in Australia through Water Policy Transitions,” in Policy Entrepreneurs: A research companion
to water transitions around the world, eds. Dave Huitema and Sander Meijerink, Cheltenham, UK: Edward Elgar Press. (2010)

Partszch, Lena and Sara Hughes. “Food versus Fuel: Governance Potential for Water Rivalry,” in Food Ethics, eds. Franz-Theo Gottwald, Hans Werner Ingensiep and Marc Meinhardt, New York, NY: Springer Publishers. (2010)

Hughes, Sara and Lena Partszch. “Greening the Streams: US and EU Water Foreign Policy,” in
Environmental Change and Foreign Policy, ed. Paul G. Harris, London, UK: Routledge Press. (2009)

Other Publications

Hughes, Sara. “Urban Governance and Modern Challenges: Evaluating Urban Water Services,” in Urbanization and Global Environmental Change Viewpoints (2009).

Harris, Melissa, Sara Hughes, Arturo Keller, Patrick Roenhardz, Sam Bennett, and Robert Wilkinson. “The Energy and Water Nexus: How to maximize conservation bang for the efficiency buck,” in Water Efficiency Magazine (2009).

Hughes, Sara. 2008. “Assessing the Character and Content of Public Communications for Water Management Strategies,” Report to the South Australia Department of Water, Land, and Biodiversity Conservation.


Sara Hughes is a postdoctoral fellow at NCAR through the Advanced Studies and Integrated Science programs. Prior to joining NCAR, Sara was a postdoctoral associate at the University of California, Los Angeles in the Institute for Environment and Sustainability with the Center for Sustainable Urban Systems.

Sara received her Ph.D. from the Bren School of Environmental Science and Management at the University of California, Santa Barbara in June 2011 under the supervision of Oran Young. Her specialization areas are political institutions, science in policy, and water resources management. Sara's dissertation was supported by fellowships from the Australian –American Fulbright Commission and the CALFED pre-doctoral science program. Sara received an M.S. in 2006 and a B.S. in 2004 from the Fisheries and Wildlife department at Michigan State University. She has a master's degree specialization in Gender, Justice, and Environmental Change and her master's thesis examined a new model of collaboration in policy making for groundwater resources in Michigan.

Sara blogs about cities at